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What's Good or Bad?


I think about what makes a day “good" a lot. What things should be checked off my list of mundane accomplishments to consider one rotation of this planet a personal success? And when I write a sentence like that it already has me laughing, and proving a point: the little things we consider the ingredients of a good or bad day - they don’t matter. Not in the big picture. Not at all.


I used to think a good day was one where I checked new work off my to-do list (freelance and farm tasks), took care of the animals, exercised my body, and earned some money. And if any part of that didn’t happen - I went to bed in a bad mood. Which is ridiculous. And I know if I make it into my seventies or eighties I will be so angry with the woman in her late thirties going to bed despondent over not running a 5k one day that week. Or not having a sale. Or if an animal needs to see a vet because of a limp or a cyst....


But all of those things: not running because of the rain, or a sheep stubbing her toe on a sharp thistle, or a bad day of sales - isn’t any more the ingredients of a bad day than anything else. It reminds me of that old Buddhist story of “Whats Good or Bad?*”


One day a wise Chinese farmer's horse ran away. His dumb neighbor showed up to console him. The farmer said,


“Who knows what’s good or bad?”


But the next day the mare returned with an entire herd of wild horses! So the neighbor returned the next day to celebrate! What great fortune! He was rich!


“Who knows what’s good or bad?” Was his reply again.


And that very next day the farmer’s son broke his leg trying to ride one of the wild horses. And that foolish neighbor came to console him again.


“Who knows what’s good or bad.” Was his reply.


The next day the army came, looking for young men to join the ranks in a pointless battle over rich men’s property disputes. That broken leg saved him from certain death marching off to an unwindable war.


See how the story goes on forever? So does our own.


These days I no longer pin my worth up with my daily work. I don’t attach it to luck or money either. A good day is one where I realize who I am and where I am in the moment. I’m Jenna, current farmer and steward of a small piece of land that I am trying to heal and prosper with. Some days will have run away horses and some days will have herds returning - but all of it is just happenings as the earth spins about.


We don’t know what will be favorable or unlucky in the moment, but we do have the moment. Learning to sit with the moment itself, that is the good. Ignoring it, abusing it, wasting our limited heartbeats fretting over unchecked lists or rainy days - that is the bad.


May your own days be filled with patient luck and quiet understanding. May your farms, families, pets, children, and pasts not be the place you go to for comfort or sadness, but instead just pages in the front part of your own story. We are all stories being written as we walk along. All we can do is live them, and hope the herd doesn’t buck.


*Story paraphrased from Steve Hagen's book "Buddhism Plain & Simple"

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