I had an EKG stress test yesterday, and it was good news and bad news. The good news: I got the test done. The bad news: I have some complications that will require more testing, and likely some pretty notable changes in my life.
It got me to thinking about an old Confucian story. In brief, a farmer’s horse runs away. His neighbor consoles him, “Too bad!” The farmer says, “Who knows what’s good; who knows what’s bad?”
The next day, the horse returns with six more horses following him. The neighbor congratulates the farmer on his good fortune, and the farmer says, “Who knows what’s good; who knows what’s bad?”
A couple of days later, the farmer’s son is trying to ride one of the new horses, falls, and ends up with a broken leg. The neighbor commiserates with the farmer, who says, “Who knows what’s good; who knows what’s bad?”
The next week the army comes along conscripting soldiers, but they pass over the farmer’s son, because he has a broken leg. The neighbor congratulates the farmer on his good fortune, and the farmer says….
You guessed it.
The point is, it’s hard to know what’s for the best and what isn’t. I’d been putting off my test for quite a while. If something hadn’t come up that caused me to go ahead and have it, who knows what might have happened? Of course, if I go on to have one of the more invasive tests, who knows what might happen? Or, if I don’t have them….
One of the most important things we can learn in recovery is the difference between the way we’d like things to be and reality. The fact is, they have no correspondence at all, and wanting things we haven’t got or aren’t able to get is one of the major causes of misery in human beings. If I insult you, I have two choices: say “I’m sorry,” and forget about it, or – apology or not – spend my time thinking “I should be a better person; I’m so rude; I have to improve myself!” So, I’ve gone from being unhappy because I insulted you – which I either “fixed” or I didn’t – to more unhappiness because of dwelling on my mistake and my need to “fix” my manners, then more discomfort when I slip up again (which I undoubtedly will, being human), and so on, and on, and on. I want…but I spend so much time wanting, I don’t allow myself to act.
What can I do instead? I can simply notice that I was rude, apologize, and then let it go. The results of my mistake, combined with my initial regret may impress it on my mind, and perhaps I won’t make it again when a similar situation arises. Or perhaps I will. I’m human – unskillful in many ways. But I don’t develop skills of any kind by obsessing about them; I do so by being mindful of my behavior and trying to do it better the next time.
The same is true of mistakes I make in my recovery program. It does no good to berate myself or anyone else. The best thing I can do for my program is note the mistake, and then accept that I’m not perfect, I never will be, and neither is life. Stuff happens, and I’m far more likely to progress if I don’t let my mistakes rule my thinking and distract me from living in the present. My job is to live as well as I can today, and I can’t do that if I’m mooning about the past or plotting about tomorrow. If I see clearly what’s happening now, and act appropriately, that’s all I really need to do.