Alan Watts: The Story of the Chinese Farmer

Some of Alan Watts most influential lessons and ideas emerged from lectures he gave at universities across the United States, including his story of the Chinese farmer.

The story, recorded and transcribed below, is also part of a collection of lectures entitled Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life: Collected Talks: 1960-1969

“You never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.”

The Story of the Chinese Farmer

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.” 

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.” The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.

Alan Watts

‘Maybe' we pick up clues as we go along, labeling situations as either misfortune or good fortune. But the yin can't exist without the yang, the shadow depends on light and vice versa.

The nature of experience proposes a game of chance. The future is too unpredictable to force an outcome. We never know the consequences of any event other than the one we can emotionally control.

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Why everyone should blog

Everyone should blog. You do not have to publish 500 words a day. You do not even need to post at all. In fact, writing comes easier when you can write for yourself, in private. #blogging

Everyone should blog. You do not have to publish 500 words a day. You do not even need to post at all. In fact, writing comes easier when you can write for yourself, in private.

Use a smartphone journal like the Day One app or the ever popular Morning Pages Journal where you write by hand. When it comes to blogging effectively, you have to be a little vulnerable. Don't tell all but don’t hide everything either, especially if your advice will benefit the lives of other people.

“Everyone should write a blog, every day, even if no one reads it. There’s countless reasons why it’s a good idea and I can’t think of one reason it’s a bad idea.” 

Seth Godin

I have been blogging for years (click here to view my guide to setting up a blog on WordPress). It is harder to get an audience who cares to read your stuff today than it has ever been. You have to assume nobody wants to read your shit because he or she is busy or would rather be social networking or playing games instead. However, for those readers who do read your blog frequently, they have subscribed for a reason.

Luis Suarez has been blogging since 2002 and recently offered some advice about using your blog to reflect the real you.

“It’s all about having a meaningful presence and how you work your way to make it happen, to leave a legacy behind, to share your thoughts and ideas others can learn from just like you do yourself with other people’s vs. pretending to be who you are not…Just be yourself with your own thoughts and share them along! It is what we all care for, eventually. The rest is just noise.”

No, blogging is not dead

People like to say blogging is dead. But not only are new platforms emerging like Medium, but blogging is just writing. Words will always be a powerful way to say something meaningful, whether it is in print, online, graffiti, or the walls of a cave.

I started this blog so I could show the world what interests me. It is no surprise that what you read here is information I learned from other blogs. In other words, blogging acts like a canvass where you synthesize, remix and interpret in your words. Above all, blogging is free, what Seth Godin calls “the last great online bargain.” Blogging gives you a voice, and it is an excellent incentive to think in a world that just wants us to consume.

Blogging is a bicep curl for the brain. Write daily, and practice the art of conviction.

“Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t “network” or “promote.” Just talk.”

Neil Gaiman

Want to focus? Seek ambient sound

The gentle hum of a coffee shop…

One of the greatest myths of our time is that silence is golden. But complete silence will keep you from working effectively. It may even put you to sleep.

J. K. Rowling left the solitude of her own home to write the Harry Potter series in a coffee shop amid the cacophony of people chatting over grinding espresso machines. The noisy environment inspired her to work.

Sound creates an ambient environment conducive to working by drowning out an unpredictable noisy background (by the way, if you're looking for scientifically optimized music to help you focus, you must give the app Focus@Will a try. You get two FREE weeks).

Studies show that learning to play an instrument makes it easier for children to learn how to read. Additionally, the “Mozart Effect” is said to improve concentration and study habits. Popular music is used during operations to relax both patient and doctor. Muzak takes the awkward silence out of the elevator.

The right type of noise is critical to working effectively. In fact, many CEOs expect disruptions in the form of email and calls to ensure the business is actively operating. Silence is the antithesis of productivity.

In order to stay motivated and remain productive, we need perpetual sound rather than peace and quiet.

Sound is productive. It is the silence that can be deadly.

art via giphy

Faith can move mountains

“There is a positive correlation between the fear of death and the sense of unlived life,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote (Amazon).

Futuring is a tough business. We toggle between our present number of choices along with desires and goals that reinforce the prioritization of time.

Knowing that we can’t do it all, most people reach for what’s most immediately accessible and end up regretting about what could be. They stifle themselves in exchange for feeling ‘safe.'

For others, death compels action. Their gut instinct refuses to accept standing still and succumb to mediocrity. Yet, their expedition may incorrectly rest in jealousy, a fear of missing out, rather than chasing a purpose.

Faith in the unseen

Our vocation chooses us. We grade our impact by how much we cling to that sense of priority rather than chasing other people’s dreams.

In reality, there is nothing out there that will make us fulfilled forever. But the attempt to cultivate happiness by pursuing what's meaningful remains a noble attempt to maximize our time on Earth.

The link between boredom and creativity

The link between boredom and creativity #gif #creativity #daydreaming
via giphy

Boredom drives creativity for no other reason than that your mind needs something to latch onto in idle times.

When you’re bored, anything goes. Ambiguity and hyperbole are the name of the game. Your mind loves stretching the imagination and failing reality.

Sometimes people are too corrupted by reality and everydayness. To perceive something that doesn’t even exist is a bicep curl for the innovative brain.

So try this: take a seat, put the phone down, and do nothing. You’ll have no choice but to think outlandish thoughts to keep yourself entertained.

Do nothing for as long as possible. From Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies #books #creativity #writingprompts
Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies

Image via Darran Anderson

‘Even with an entire dictionary in one’s head, one eventually comes to the end of words’

“Every sentence is a wispy net, capturing a few flecks of meaning. The sun shines without vocabulary. The salmon has no name for the urge that drives it upstream. The newborn groping for the nipple knows hunger long before it knows a single word. Even with an entire dictionary in one's head, one eventually comes to the end of words. Then what? Then drink deep like the baby, swim like the salmon, burn like any brief star.”

Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World

Paper for permanency

Everything we post online gets sucked into the web somewhere. The mere thought that our words, images, and videos are living on some server in Indiana or India is interesting yet frightening. #gif #amwriting #tech
via giphy

Everything we post online gets sucked into the web somewhere. The mere thought that our words, images, and videos are living on some server in Indiana or India is interesting yet frightening.

The cloud stores our content just as loosely as we own a Kindle book. While we get to enjoy the ease and ubiquity of the infinite digital file, it can also go defunct in a moment’s notice with the flip of the switch.

On the other hand, everything can start and end on paper. It’s more durable than bytes, having passed on ideas and notes for centuries. Paper is inexhaustible.

The evolution of data changes ledgers from one minute to the next. Notebooks can be stagnant things, and within them more permanently owned memories.

Art as psychoanalysis

Salvador Dalí’s ‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ (1937) is a nod to his relationship with Sigmund Freud, the originator of the Narcissism Theory.  Dali told Freud that it was "the first painting obtained entirely through the integral application of the paranoid-critical method.” #art

Salvador Dalí’s ‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ (1937) is a nod to his relationship with Sigmund Freud, the originator of the Narcissism Theory. Dali told Freud that it was “the first painting obtained entirely through the integral application of the paranoid-critical method.” Meanwhile, Freud read more about archaeology than psychology with a keen interest in sculpture. The synthesis between art and psychoanalysis will forever be linked.

Read Analyse this: Freud, Dalí and the Surrealists

Placebos: the lies we make true

Placebos are the lies we make true #gif

What the mind believes, the body can achieve. Look no further than a placebo who’s sole power is in its real effects.

If it’s broken, only then do you fix it. But placebos work just as an app’s colors dupe the brain into submission. The slightest taste of sugar helps the medicine go down.

The placebo is cleverer than any of us. It works for no other reason than the belief that it’s supposed to. We are skilled storytellers, especially when we’re full of shit.

Prescribing a walk in nature

Prescribing a walk in nature #gif #nature #walking
gif by @Vic

Get yourself a prescription to nature. It'll improve your mental and physical health. That's according to doctors in Scotland who are recommending that people in the Shetland Islands get outside.

The program outlines a recommended outside activity per month. For instance, in January you can create a windsock to grasp the full power of the wind. In March, one can “borrow a dog and take it for a walk.”

We belong in the wild, unmoored from the tyranny of our seats. When we disconnect and move outside, we connect with terra firma and reconnect with ourselves. Take your body and thoughts for a walk.  

‘The enemy is our chattering brain’

Don’t prepare. Begin. Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account. The enemy is Resistance. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do. Start before you’re ready. Good things happen when we start before we’re ready. For one thing, we show huevos. Our blood heats up. Courage begets more courage.

Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

Aiming for the start

Always preparing, practicing, aiming, but never actually doing. Tackling heaps of emails instead of taking on tiny productive actions that drip toward your long-term goal. 

The heart to start and the mechanics of a working process are not something you learn in school. Habits may be copped from others but discipline is self-taught. 

All hard work requires head-work, figuring out not only what's the most important to spend your time one but also what to ignore. It's all about continuity from there on out.

Integrative thinking, a definition

The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.

Roger L. Martin, The Opposable Mind

Life means spontaneity

Life means spontaneity, unplanned and devoid of goals. It doesn’t need a teaser to get it moving. Chance is still the superior option. #gif #life
via giphy

The needs of the day always try to get in the way of impulse. Unpredictability liberates us from the trap of everydayness.

Life means spontaneity, unplanned and devoid of goals. It doesn’t need a teaser to get us moving. Excitement about chance is still the superior option.

The present is perpetually amplified. Aliveness dies quickly at the hamster wheel of unnecessary action and attention. Learn to live and let go.

Craving light

Never bored, always on, perpetually entertained. That describes the 21st-century in a nutshell. #gif #tech

Never bored, always on, perpetually entertained. That describes the 21st-century in a nutshell.

We medicate all our boredom, stresses, and frustrations to external stimuli on a tiny screen. All an Instagram like does is produce a temporary shot of dopamine. All Facebook does is serve our voyeuristic inclinations and spike envy. Does this behavior sound healthy to you?

I'm not imploring you that you throw your phone into the ocean, at least just yet. Having the internet in our pocket is the best thing ever. Just ask David Bowie.

But the long-term consequences of feed-based culture are not only narcissism but also feigned action. One can't start an important and impactful revolution through a sedentary nor solitary lifestyle. We have to use our legs to go places, to stretch our perspective, and unplug ourselves from the tyranny of virtual attention.

If you are immune to boredom there is nothing you cannot accomplish.

David Foster Wallace

Humans crave light, albeit more artificial these days. If we could just pay attention to real life beyond the rectangular glow and stare into sunsets and bright moons instead, perhaps we'd feel even more connected to our conscious selves.

gif by ailadi

Meet the shoe-billed stork

Talk about a badass beak. This shoe-billed stork lives primarily in swamps from Sudan to Zambia. The bill itself takes 1.5 months from hatching to fully develop. But some think it's the most frightening bird on the planet, as chicks are known to fight each other off to the death with even Mom picking favorites. The five-foot birds are also known to take on crocodiles without any hesitation.  #nature #birds #photography #art

Talk about a badass beak. This shoe-billed stork lives primarily in swamps from Sudan to Zambia. The bill itself takes 1.5 months from hatching to fully develop into its slipper-like shape. But some think it's the most frightening bird on the planet, as chicks are known to fight each other off to the death with even Mom picking favorites. The five-foot birds are also known to be patient hunters that rip their prey apart, including crocodiles.

Play by keeping score

The same goes for failure — it’s a motivator in disguise, telling us to make improvement more present. #gif #life #motivation
via giphy

Disorder creates progress. It is within the mess we find out what needs to be cleaned up and what needs to be improved.

The same goes for failure — it’s a motivator in disguise, telling us to make improvement more present.

Unlike sand, problems never escape counting. They are easy to keep tabs on as the things we know we need to do but procrastinate and put off. The resistance usually wins.

But chasing ideals make one happy. In facing our difficulties, challenges, and vices while dreaming big, we do more than just try, we participate in the struggle.

Any positive exertion coupled with sticktuitiveness is a passport to inner-freedom.

A dent in free will

The frustrater reveals its entire hand but still can’t be resolved. Because even when it tells all, its outcome is predictably unpredictable. #gif #philosophy
via giphy

The frustrator reveals its entire hand but still can’t be resolved. Because even when it tells all, its outcome is predictably unpredictable.

There is no such thing as chance, with most things in life predetermined at the outset of infancy. Free will, liberating in theory, presents its own constraints.

We are living in simulation, with even our slightest tweets pre-populated.