Receive the Blessings of Failure

There’s an old Taoist story about a farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbors on hearing this came to him and said, sympathetically, “Such bad luck!”

“We’ll see,” the farmer replied.

The next day the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “So wonderful!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“We’ll see,” the farmer said.

Then the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. The neighbors offered their sympathy for his misfortune.

“We’ll see,” the farmer said.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated him on how well things had turned out.

You can guess the farmer’s reply.

I’m thinking of this story in relation to writers and publishing, how our emotions get jerked around as we anticipate, experience, and fail to experience others reading our work. The calmness of this farmer is a good model for all of us. Equanimity like his is born of resisting judgment and cultivating possibility.

Personally I’m great at the latter—I’m a dreamer and worrier; I have no trouble imagining possibilities. But the former is a challenge. Excitement, disappointment, anticipation, frustration, and the whole gamut of emotions tend to take me for rides. So when I submit pieces to journals I have high hopes, which are dashed when those pieces are rejected and elevated if they’re printed. Then my joy is fleeting because a bad review (or more often no review) tramples it. I’m a victim of my emotional attachments.

Honestly, I’m tired of it.

As an antidote I’m exploring how I might cultivate equanimity in my publishing practice and in life in general. It seems to me that if we foster a worldview broad enough to see the blessings of failure—not just “looking at the bright side” but actually living into whatever invitations present themselves—and deep enough to be unattached to success, we can walk the middle way.

I love how this Taoist parable unfolds, each event turning over to reveal a surprising alternative. Everything has creative potential, but that potential is almost never what we expect. For me, orienting my heart toward the bigger Story (not just whatever small story I want to share with readers but the larger unfolding of my life and our lives together and all of evolution) helps me remain engaged with whatever is coming alive, regardless of my small success or failure.

My admiration for that farmer keeps growing. I’m convinced that his practice of steadiness, an open heart, and receptivity is really the only way to freedom.  –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


A few months ago I spent a week digging around archives in Maschito, Italy, researching my Abereshe ancestors.  I haven’t had a chance to write their stories yet, which is why I’m super-excited about Diane Wilson visiting my spiritual memoir drop-in session this Friday.  Diane is the author of SPIRIT CAR, her story of uncovering her Dakota ancestors and their involvement in the Dakota-U.S. war.  Please join us to dive into memoir that connects our ancestors’ lives to our own!

Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.:  Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions.

March 8: All My Relations, with guest author Diane Wilson
April 12: Parts in the Whole: Form
May 10: Childhood, Revisited
June 14: Community and Revision

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