STRENGTHENING OUR SAGE BRAIN: THE PARABLE OF THE CHINESE FARMER and THE SAGE PERSPECTIVE

Image from craftdeology.com

In my quest to continue creating a space for others to learn about and grow their Mental Fitness, I would like to share the Parable of the Chinese Farmer: 

There was once a Chinese farmer who had a prized stallion. One day the stallion was stolen so all the farmer’s neighbors showed up to commiserate with him about the misfortune, but the farmer simply replied, “Who knows what is good or what is bad.” A few days later, the stallion escaped from the thieves that had stolen it and returned to the farm accompanied by several other stallions. Again the farmer’s neighbors showed up, but this time to remark on how lucky he was to have his stallion back plus all the other horses. Again the farmer replied, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.” A few days later, the farmer’s son was trying to break in one of the new stallions, but fell off the horse and broke his leg. The neighbors once again came to the farmer to say what terrible luck that had been, and he again replied with “Who knows what is good and what is bad.” Finally, a couple of weeks later, the Emperor’s soldiers came to the farmer’s village to conscript all the able-bodied young men to fight in the war. Seeing that the farmer’s son had a broken leg, they left him alone, and did not force him to serve. This time the neighbors didn’t bother to visit the farmer for they knew how he would reply: “Who knows what is good and what is bad.”


You must be thinking, “Okay, nice story, but what does this have to do with Mental Fitness?” Well, this parable exemplifies the perspective of the Sage. If you don’t recall, the Sage is the part of the human brain where all positive thoughts and emotions arise and/or are processed. It is the antithesis of the Saboteurs- the areas of our brain where judgement, shame, anxiety, fear, guilt, frustration, etc.. live.

This parable makes it easy to see that ascribing something as “good” or “bad” is simply a naming. Circumstances simply are. However, when an unexpected circumstance that may jeopardize a wanted outcome arises, our saboteurs immediately jump to judge that circumstance as “bad”. The saboteur part of the brain (area where our survival brain is) makes us believe that we know that something is “bad”. This causes our brain to immediately go into distress/survival mode causing tunnel vision to set in. The distress brain focuses on problems rather than opportunities further activating the saboteurs, causing a spiraling snowball effect. This leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy that guarantees that the “bad” situation will indeed lead to “bad” outcomes. However, when we instead engage the Sage part of our brain, a similar spiraling effect occurs, but in reverse. Instead of being taken down a rabbit hole of worry and anxiety, we are lifted to a place of possibility and choice. From the Sage perspective, there is no such a thing as a “bad” situation or outcome. Every circumstance is simply the next step towards the next positive outcome. The Sage perspective is about accepting what is instead of resisting or rejecting it. The Sage perspective sees the possibility of a gift or opportunity in any outcome.


In reading the parable of the Chinese farmer, it may seem that the farmer was a passive participant in his own life, and that he was simply taken along by fate. However, the Sage is not passive at all! The Sage perspective is not based on blind faith or wishful thinking. Instead, the Sage uses its five powers to turn its perspective into a reality and actively create a gift out of a challenging situation. The five powers that the Sage brain has access to are empathy, exploration, innovation, navigation, and decisive action. With these powers the sage is always able to meet all the challenges that we face in a way that generates the best results and also leads to the highest level of personal satisfaction, peace of mind, and happiness.


So how can we access the wisdom of the sage perspective when we are facing a particularly challenging situation that has our saboteurs completely riled up? One way to do this is to use the three gifts technique.
The three gifts technique refers to coming up with at least scenarios in which the supposed “bad” situation can give rise to a gift or opportunity. The time frame does not matter- it can be within days, weeks, months, even years. Unsurprisingly, initial attempts to do this often present with skepticism. However, if you just give it a real try, you will always be able to come up with a minimum of three scenarios. If you find significant resistance, one thing to keep in mind is that by accepting a “bad” outcome as a gift does not mean that you are inviting more of that to happen, or that you are doing nothing about it. It simply means that you are choosing not waste your energy dwelling on the negative emotions generated by the saboteur brain and instead using that energy to access your wisdom to create the best path of action.


Once you begin to fully trust that you can choose to turn any “bad” outcome into a gift or opportunity, you can actually also choose to just let it go and put it behind you without any unhappiness, distress, worry, or anxiety. Ironically, choosing to just let a “bad” situation go, instead of actively converting it into a gift, is a gift in itself. The choice of letting it go is a process that weakens your saboteur brain’s neural pathways and strengthens the sage neural pathways making you even more capable of dealing with the next difficult situation to arise.


It may appear as if the reasoning here is circular, and, in fact, it is. We can choose to initiate the upward spiraling, self-reinforcing, and self-fulfilling perspective of the Sage or the downward spiraling, self-reinforcing, and self-fulfilling perspective of the saboteurs. Which of these do you want to guide you through life?

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