Your Business is with Action
Dear Friends, Hi.
Here we are again at the start of the fall. I hope you all had a relaxing summer, and had time to put your feet up and just be. I have been thinking a lot about an old Buddhist story (it's possible that this story exists in many traditions) about the idea of good and bad, and leaving ourselves open to outcome. One version of the story goes like this:
An old farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "That's too bad," they said sympathetically. "May be," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "May be," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "May be," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "May be," said the farmer.
It's kind of a frustrating story because when we read it we can't get any ground under our feet. We can't understand what's good and what's bad, and it is human nature to want to be sure. I was reminded of this story a few weeks ago when I was in Paris with my 15-year-old son, Chuck, and we arrived at the airport ready to board our flight to Minneapolis. We arrived more than 2 hours early to find an enormous check-in line that took nearly an hour and a half to get through. When we finally got to the check-in desk, we were told that we didn't have any seat assignments and that we had to proceed to the gate to request seats there -- and that, by the way, the flight was oversold.
The flight from Paris to Minneapolis is over 9 hours long, and the thought of sitting in a middle seat in the last row, separated from my dear son, was making me very agitated. Adding to my stress was the knowledge that we were meeting two other groups of people at the Minneapolis airport: my husband and kids coming from DC, and our friends driving to pick us up so we could leave from the airport for their cabin in Canada. If we didn't get on this plane, we would be inconveniencing a whole bunch of people.
When we got to the gate, there were many people standing around, and the plane was already boarding. Within 10 minutes, the entire plane had boarded, and still no one was in sight to help us. My anxiety was rising quickly, but by luck (or grace) the story of the farmer and his son came to my mind. Was this situation as bad as I was making it out to be in my mind? Could I leave myself open to the outcome and the possibility that a different outcome might actually be positive? Maybe there was a reason that we shouldn't be on this plane, or that we shouldn't be sitting together. I found just that little bit of space, and started to feel like I could handle whatever came up. I still really wanted to get seats, and at the same time I knew that whatever happened would be the right outcome.
We finally got the attention of one of the Air France operators, and she sent us to the gate without seats. When I explained the situation to the gate agent, she said, "It's okay, you are getting upgraded to first class, so that's better." My son and I were thrilled to be sitting in the first row, next to each other, with huge seats that nearly turned into beds, full meal service and everything our little hearts could desire for the 9+ hour ride. I proceeded to tell my son how I had stayed open to outcome, and he pointed out that although we were enjoying first class, how did we know that this new outcome was indeed a good one?! Just like the farmer, there's always another chance to practice.
So I thought I would offer you this same practice. The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Indian text adored by Ghandi, says, "Let not the fruit of action be your motive to action...your business is with action alone, not with the fruit of action." Just keep doing the best we can every day, and try to let go of the outcome. Because we can never know what the larger picture is from our small vantage point. May be.
With much love and support for your practice,