“Once upon a time in ancient China, the people at a village received orders from the regional governor to build a shrine for the emperor. If they could meet the deadline, the governor would reward them handsomely. The chosen location for the shrine had a well, so they needed to fill it up before construction could take place. They brought in a donkey to transport piles of sand and mud for that purpose. An accident occurred. The donkey got too close to the exposed well, lost his footing, and fell into it. The villagers tried to lift him out but could not. After many failed attempts, they realized it would take too long to rescue him.
Keeping the deadline in mind, the villagers decided to sacrifice the donkey. They proceeded to shovel sand and mud into the well, thinking they had no choice but to bury him alive. When the donkey realized what they were doing, he began to wail pitifully. The villagers heard him but ignored him. The value of the donkey wasn’t much compared to the rewards they would get, so they continued to shovel.
After a while, the wailing stopped. The villagers wondered about this. Was the donkey dead already? Or did he just give up? What was going on?
What a great parable! There are some great lessons for dealing with “bad stuff” that suddenly comes upon us here. First off, the harsh truth. I’ve seen this manifest in coaching, counseling, recovery work, and religion across the board. It is the idea that if you just “get on board with the program” (i.e. do what you’re told by the leader/guru) that life will be clear sailing from that point on. This is completely wrong. If someone tries to sell you this idea, especially if using their own life as an example, move along swiftly before you get hurt. Nothing could be further from the truth.
During my time as a parish pastor (and now as a life transformation coach), I can’t tell you how many times people have rang me up in a panic because something big and unpleasant had just dropped into their laps. Whether it was the diagnosis of cancer, the loss of a retirement fund, the death of a young child, the arrest of their spouse, the suicide of their brother, or whatever–one of the first things I always find myself doing is explaining one important truth: Sh*t happens! (* to preserve our PG rating here!)
That’s not to sound flippant or to denigrate anyone’s suffering. I’ve had my own share. And that’s precisely the point! When these huge, over the top things happen to you, you’re not being singled out. They happen to everyone, all of the time. Most of the time, it’s smaller inconveniences that we shrug off and blog about. The hotel didn’t find the reservation you made six months ago and so you had to take a downgrade. You missed a connection at LAX and so you didn’t get to the product launch on time. Sometimes the scale is quite a big bigger. The housing bubble bursts and you’re out on the street. The gamblers on Wall Street roll the dice and your 401K is suddenly half of what it was. The tropical depression you’ve been tracking in the Atlantic decides to become a hurricane and make landfall in front of your house.
Derek Lin, as well as those who promote the Law of Attraction, point out that the WRONG question to ask is “What have I done to deserve this?” This will get you nowhere!
The events themselves are simply what they are–neither inherently good or bad. They only take on meaning when you invest them with whatever significance you choose to associate with that event. Inside every dark cloud is a silver lining. Conversely, every silver lining encompasses a dark cloud. It’s all in how you REACT to the event. The only thing you can actually control is your own state of mind. If you learn to control your mental and emotional states, less negative stuff is likely to invade your life. The Law of Attraction, based on both psychology and quantum physics, teaches that you get what you focus on in life. Expectation sets the stage for good things to manifest.
Look at the way the donkey choose to deal with his situation. He shrugged off the mud and dirt and sand that the villagers kept piling on. And he made use of that material to climb out of the pit. He kept his head about himself and didn’t take it personally. The villagers are a perfect illustration of one of the key principles of neurolinguistic programming (NLP) which says that people always choose the best option they think is available to them. In the story, the villagers didn’t have a vendetta against the donkey. In fact, they really wanted to rescue him and set out to do precisely that. Likewise, it’s easy to fall into thinking that God, the Universe, the government, industry, neighbors, family, and friends all have something against us and are taking great pleasure in our situation. One of the four tenets of Toltec wisdom is “don’t take it personally.”
Secondly, when bad things happen to you, if you can control your reaction, you’ll be far better positioned to make better choices on the basis of what has actually happened – not what a panicked, fearful, stressed-out you thinks has happened.
One of the tools that I recommend to clients to cultivate a calm, clear state of mind is a daily practice of meditation or contemplative prayer. This is something common to all of the great religious traditions of the world. A calm, clear mind is crucial for navigating the daily ups and downs of life with ease and grace. Meditation is not a silver bullet that prevents anything negative from happening to you, but it can be a fantastic resource to equip you to deal effectively with whatever life throws at you.
From a calm perspective, it becomes so much clearer that any negative event can be a helpful stepping stone that moves us further along the path that we need to traverse to get to where we need to be. The benefit is that we grow in our ability to remain peaceful and rational, while learning to deal with whatever comes our way. The close of the story showed the donkey leaping out of the well. Lin comments, “Negativity and adversity no longer have any power over us and may as well not exist. The prison of bitter complaints disappears below us as we make the leap. We are no longer trapped in the well!”
Are you still feeling like you’re deep in the well? As a transformational life coach, helping people shake it off and climb out of the well to do things they thought were impossible is something that I do on a daily basis. A great way to get started on moving into the life you really want to have would be for you to contact me for a 45 minute FREE life transformation strategy session.
In this session we will:
- Uncover hidden challenges that may be the cause of chaos, stress and discord in your life.
- Create a crystal clear vision for your “ultimate life” of tremendous success on your terms with ample quality time and energy for all your priorities.
- Leave the session renewed, re-energized, and inspired to transform your life and accomplish all of the things that are really important to you.
Click here to schedule your complimentary session!
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Dr. Steve Stutz, CC is a Life Success Coach, specializing in helping clergy and professional church workers not only survive but to thrive during periods of crisis, transition, and renewal. To receive periodic personal development tips and success mindset articles, please join his e-list by visiting www.forwardpathcoaching.com