General Mental Health

Bad, Good; It’s Hard to Tell–A Zen Story About Mindfulness

Bad, Good; It's Hard to Tell--A Zen Story About Mindfulness | Libero Magazine 2

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I recently read something in a recovery workbook and thought I would share it with you guys. It is a great Zen story that exemplifies a Mindfulness Skill known as equanimity, which is “The ability to approach both desirable and unwanted situations with the same state of mind.”

The book says this ability is important to learn because when people pre-judge a situation as “awful” or “wonderful” they are more likely to have an extreme emotional reaction to it, which could impair their ability to approach the situation in a healthy way.

Here is the story:

One morning after a terrible storm, a wise old man was taking his morning walk into town on his usual route past the corral of a neighbouring rancher. On this particular morning he met the rancher, who was repairing the fence around his corral.

The wise man asked what had happened, and the rancher explained that the storm had frightened one of his stallions. The horse bolted into the fence, destroying it and freeing all of his other horses. The rancher lamented this by saying what a very bad thing this was.

The wise man answered by saying, “Bad, good–it is hard to say.”

The wise man continued on his way, and the upset rancher had no idea what to make of this statement.


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During the wise man’s next daily walk, he approached the rancher, who was beaming with happiness. When asked what made him happy, the rancher pointed to his corral, saying that his stallion had returned with all of his horses and several wild mares as well. The rancher concluded by saying this was a good thing indeed.

The wise man answered again, “Good, bad–it’s hard to tell.”

The next day, the wise man encountered another development, as he passed the rancher’s corral. The rancher was again quite distraught, and he explained that his son had tried to ride one of the wild mares and was thrown to the ground, breaking his leg. The rancher complained that this was very bad, a terrible thing that had happened.

Once again, as you might have guessed, the wise man said, “Bad, good–it’s hard to tell.”

Also, as you might have guessed, the rancher was starting to have his fill of the wise man’s craziness.

Well, on the next day, the wise man passed the rancher’s corral again. This time, the rancher was quite exuberant.

The wise man asked how the rancher’s son was, and the rancher explained that the army had come through yesterday, forcing young men into their ranks under threat of execution. They had to pass the rancher’s son over, however, because of his broken leg.

The rancher cheered that this was a very, very good thing for sure. The wise man responded, of course, by saying, “Good, bad–it’s hard to say.” And the rancher finally understood.

Consider this story the next time you are faced with a situation and are tempted to react out of pre-judgement.

As for me, the background on my computer is now: “Bad, good –it’s hard to tell”

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Author’s Note: Although this is a popular parable, I first came across this story in the book “The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bulimia” by Ellen Astrachan-Fletcher and Michael Maslar. This book is an excellent resource, and I highly recommend it.

Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash

Founder + Editor at Libero

Lauren is the Founder and Editor of Libero. She started Libero in April 2010, when she shared her story about her struggles with an eating disorder and depression. Now Lauren uses her writing and videos to advocate mental health and body positivity. In her spare time, she enjoys makeup artistry, playing Nintendo, and taking selfies with her furbaby, Zoey.

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