Good luck, Bad Luck, Who Knows?

26. Good Luck, Bad Luck, who knows?

In early 2000 at the height of mergers and acquisitons in North America, our company was bought over and hundreds of jobs were made redundant. A week later attending the career transition services with a well-known consulting company the trainer began the highly charged first session – where emotions were still raw with most participants openly angry, sad or in denial with this Zen story:

A farmer had a horse but one day, the horse ran away and so the farmer and his son had to plow their fields themselves. Their neighbours said, “Oh, what bad luck that your horse ran away!” But the farmer replied, “Bad luck, good luck, who knows?”

The next week, the horse returned to the farm, bringing a herd of wild horses with him. “What wonderful luck! You had only one horse and now many” cried the neighbours but the farmer responded, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”

The next day the farmer’s son was thrown as he tried to tame one of the wild horses, and broke his leg. “Ah, such bad luck, your only son and now broke his leg” sympathised the neighbours. Once again, the farmer responded, “Bad luck, good luck, who knows?”

A short time later, a war breaks out and all young men were recruited to join the battle by army. The son, with his broken leg was spared. “What good luck that your son was not forced into battle!” said the neighbours. And the farmer remarked, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”


Change is inevitable and the reactive mind (our learned internalized neighbours/others voice) is just too eager to rush to label events as “good or bad”, “positive or negative”, “lucky or unlucky” … perhaps as an attempt to simplify things in the hope of better managing or controlling change. But unknown to itself by attempting to over-simplify, it actually over-complicates matters as it identifyies with its own reactive, narrow and primitive interpretations that lack depth and truth and diminish our ability to respond.

It is perhaps to the dangers of these quick conclusions of our own mind that the wise farmer repeatedly directs our attention and encourages us to refrain to submit and capitulate by repeating “Who Knows?”.

Can one be non-judgingly aware of the labelling acts the moment they make an appearance on the mind stage? So that we are not Infinitely Involuntarily Intimidated by the Initial Interpretations of an Inherently Interfering mind.


Can one be non-judgingly aware of the labelling acts the moment they make an appearance on the mind stage?

And as per the career counselling sessions? The participants identified with the labelling-mind – in spite of the consultant’s forewarnings – failed to continue with the informative and insightful program. Entangled in the mind’s web of narratives, stories and drama the emotional, mental and physical exhaustion depleted their energy and distracted their focus. Unable to continue, they quit.


The quick labelling surely has its own merits. It can be life saving. See a car coming at you at 200 Km/h and the mind goes “Not good, get out of the way”, in this case one would be wise to listen to the mind’s prompting and immediately get out of the way. “Not Good, Good, Who Knows?” in this situation is not an intelligent choice. Any hesitation and the outcome would be highly undesirable. The same is true when facing an emergency like a fire, a rattle snake …

The question arises, under what circumstances subscribing to the wise farmer’s point of view is then prudent? And when it is not? What do you say?