There’s an old story about a Chinese farmer that I’ve been thinking about lately. Perhaps you know it. It goes like this:

The Farmer & The Horse

Once upon a time, there was a farmer who tended his fields with his son and a horse. One day, the farmer’s horse ran away. 

All the neighbors said, “That’s so bad for you!” The farmer said, “Is it good? Is it bad? I don’t know.”

A few days later, the farmers’ horse returned with a herd of wild horses, and the farmer went to work taming the horses. 

All the neighbors said, “Good for you!” The farmer said, “Is it good? Is it bad? I don’t know.” 

While taming one of the wild horses, the horse kicked the farmer’s son and broke his leg. All the neighbors said, “That’s so bad!” The farmer said, “Is it good? Is it bad? I don’t know.”

A few weeks later, the Chinese army came into town and gathered all the boys to fight in a battle. Because the son’s leg was broken, he was allowed to stay home. All the neighbors said, “That’s so good for you!” The farmer said, “Is it good? Is it bad? I don’t know.”

Until recently, I imagined the farmer responding to his neighbors in a wise, serene tone. 

Lately, I’ve imagined him sounding baffled, shoulders shrugged, hands lifted toward the sky, humbly admitting to the world that he truly did not know.

This past week has made me feel a bit like the farmer.

As someone who loves to organize and plan, I’ve never been a big fan of the saying that goes: “Want to make God laugh? Show her your plans.” But in times like this, I realize how small I am, how much is out of my control.

Just writing this email to you has reminded me of how little I know. I wrote and rewrote this part many times. Each try seemed to either diminish the heaviness and inequities of the moment. Or to prescribe an inappropriately simple “what to do when.” None of which honored the complexity of this moment.

So I’m going to keep it simple (but in a good way, I hope). 

In systemic constellations, we have this concept called “evolutionary conscience.” Evolutionary conscience is like a big wind of life force energy that barrels through the status quo like a tornado or tidal wave. It can create and destroy without any notion of good or bad. It brings darkness, and it also brings light. It destabilizes existing patterns to such an extent that new patterns have space to emerge. 

This week, it has felt helpful to see the Coronavirus is an act of evolutionary conscience. 

Knowing that I cannot know what will happen next, that great pain and great gifts are both to come, and that the most helpful thing I can do is stay home, I’ve found solace in questions. Not in generating some prediction about what might come next but in asking myself how I choose to respond. 

There are three questions, in particular, that have helped me find guidance in the harder moments. Maybe they’ll serve you, too.

They are: 

  1. What are the gifts of this moment? 
  2. How can I serve?
  3. What is life asking of me now?

As far as gifts go, I’m taking this time as a mandate to slow down, be present with my family, rediscover patience with Kai and compassion for myself, and laugh at just how strange this whole situation is. As far as service, it all feels a bit meager from my couch at home. Still, I’m looking for little ways to help out: connecting with family members who are struggling with isolation, donating money to organizations who help hungry folks access food, signing petitions. And amid everything, I’m doing my best to show up for what I feel that life is asking of me, which is to prepare myself to share systemic constellations with folks working for social change.

I’m not here to prescribe a particular recipe of what gifts you will find or how you can show up. What I offer is an invitation to ask.

Guiding Questions for Times of Disruption

I invite you to get something to write with and take at least three minutes to write down your responses to each question now. You might want to set a timer for three minutes per question. Just write down the question and free-write: keep your pen moving, write down whatever comes up for you, and stop (if you want) when the timer goes off. If you feel stuck, ask yourself: “What else?” Keep going until you’re complete.

  1. What are the gifts of this moment?
  2. How can I serve?
  3. What is life asking of me?

When you’re done, if you didn’t come up with anything mind-blowing, that is perfectly okay. I invite you to tuck these questions into the crevices of your mind, knowing that they will work their magic as your subconscious periodically returns to them. 

You don’t need to know the answers. Just keep coming back to curiosity.

I wish you and your loved ones good health and many unexpected gifts in the weeks ahead. May you be well.

Much love,

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