Friday, November 27, 2009

The Wisdom of Uncertainty

There is an old story about a Russian farmer in the late 1800's, who happened to own a horse. As you can imagine, back then if you had a horse you were considered a person of property. A horse could help you work the land, you could rent it out to your neighbors, it was reliable transportation, and so forth. This farmer, therefore, was considered very fortunate.

"How lucky you are to have a horse!" his neighbors would tell him.

"You never know," the farmer would always reply.

One night, a sudden and violent storm blew up, and the frightened horse broke down the fence of the corral and got away.

"How unlucky you are to have lost your horse!" they all said.

"You never know," replied the farmer.

Sure enough, a few days later his horse returned, accompanied by a beautiful wild stallion.

"Two horses! How lucky you are!" everyone told the farmer, who only said, "You never know."

The farmer had a son, which was another good thing to have in those days. Extra hands were always needed to do the chores around the place, and this particular young man was strong and hard-working, so he decided to tame the wild stallion. While doing so, however, he was thrown from the horse and broke his leg.

"Your son broke his leg!" the neighbors lamented. "How terrible!"

"You never know," said the farmer.

Less than a week later, Cossacks swept through the village and neighboring farms, and conscripted every able-bodied young man for service in the army. Since the farmer's son was unable to walk or ride with his broken leg, he was not taken.

And so it goes...

The fact is that we never know what is going to happen next, and we never know what fortune, good or ill, will arise out of any event. Alan Watts coined the phrase "the wisdom of uncertainty" to describe the existential fact that the seeds for our enlightenment rest in the unexpected events of our lives, not in our constant and fruitless search for security.

According to Deepak Chopra:
The search for security and certainty is actually an attachment to the known...The known is nothing other than the prison of past conditioning...Without uncertainty and the the unknown, life becomes the stale repetition of outworn memories. You become a victim of the past, and your tormentor today is your self left over from yesterday.
Today, factor the unexpected into your plans. Experiment with letting life take you where it wants to go, and begin to trust that this path will lead to something new and exciting. By releasing the tight fist of clinging to an imagined outcome, you will find freedom.

We Grow Accustomed to the Dark by Emily Dickinson:
We grow accustomed to the dark -
When light is put away -
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye -

A Moment - We uncertain step
For newness of the night -
Then - fit our Vision to the Dark -
And meet the Road - erect -

And so of larger - Darkness -
Those Evenings of the Brain -
When not a Moon disclose a sign -
Or Star - come out - within -

The Bravest - grope a little -
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead -
But as they learn to see -

Either the Darkness alters -
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight -
And Life steps almost straight.

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