Learn how to live more peacefully



Convent stained glass


Your heart is thumping, you can’t sit still, you try to relax but find yourself pacing restlessly around the house. When you speak your voice is high and excited, you go on and on, probably repeating yourself, and pity the person who wants to barge in with a story of their own. You try to find the perfect piece of music to express how you feel, but nothing is quite right. Your appetite is all over the place, the world is at your feet, and you’re feeling giddy. You might find yourself dancing madly around the house, or almost in tears with the emotion of it all. What on earth is happening to you?

It could be that you’ve had some good news. Perhaps hard worked-for, perhaps out of the blue. A major turning point in your life, something much less dramatic – whatever it is, it has upset your equilibrium, and you are, quite frankly, all over the place. If this is what you’ve always wanted, then why does it feel so stressful?

There is a well-known Zen story of a farmer whose horse ran away one day. When his neighbours heard about it, they visited him and commiserated,

‘What bad luck!’

‘Maybe,’ the farmer replied.

The next day, the horse came back, bringing with it three wild horses.

‘How wonderful!’ the neighbours exclaimed.

‘Maybe,’ the farmer said.

When the farmer’s son tried to break in one of the wild horses, it threw him, and he broke his leg.

‘What terrible luck!’ the neighbours all gathered at his place to offer their sympathy.

‘Maybe,’ the farmer shrugged his shoulders.

The next day, military officials came into the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing his leg was broken, they passed by the farmer’s son.

‘How wonderful!’ the neighbours exclaimed when they heard the news.

‘Maybe,’ the farmer replied.


The reality is, we never know how our good news will turn out. Years ago I was approached to apply for what seemed like a dream job. When I got it, I was over the moon. Within a week of working there, however, it was clear that everyone hated the boss (with good reason), and spent much of the day venting their resentments against her and each other. Apart from one notable exception, they were the most unfriendly colleagues I’ve ever worked with, and I was soon desperately job-hunting again. When I did find another job, it turned out to be the one which set my career in a new direction, including teaching mindfulness. That job had its difficulties as well, but I was passionate about working there, and many of my professional skills were developed and deepened during my years in the position.

It is more challenging to make an effort to regain our equilibrium when we are dealing with good news, than when we’re struggling with major difficulties. However, I’ve learnt from experience that the effects of happy excitement are not dissimilar to those of the stress response. Of course I want to celebrate good fortune, and to enjoy it. But there is a lot of wisdom in keeping our excitement grounded, in not getting too carried away with the thrill of it all.


Weekly practice idea:

Take the time to notice what pulls you away from simply being in the present moment.

Anja Tanhane