The Late Night Buddhist: In life, avoid absolutes and recognize the potential every moment holds

By Scott Taylor
Reader Columnist

Right or wrong, good or bad, Beatles or Stones; in Buddhist philosophy we learn to steer away from classifying the world and our experiences with these black and white absolutes and recognize the potential that every being and moment holds to be whatever we choose to see in it. 

The tale traditionally used to teach this is the story of a young Tibetan farm boy who must trek into the mountains to retrieve his family’s only horse that had run away (bummer), only to return with not just his horse, but a small band of wild horses (jackpot!). However, while training one of the wild horses he is thrown and breaks a leg (damn). The next day the Chinese army comes through the village conscripting every able-bodied male into forced service, but the boy is excused because of his broken leg (thank goodness for wild horses, and Keith Richards).

I recently experienced my own lesson in the relativity of “good” and “bad.” I booked a flight from Spokane to Indianapolis (Indy, to all of us super-hip cutting-edge Midwesterners) and Delta’s website refused to let me choose my own seat; I would have chosen a window seat, owing to my fascination with the topography of North Dakota. My boarding pass had assigned me a seat: 39E. I didn’t know there were 39 rows of seats in a plane. Would I be wearing an oxygen mask and hanging off the tail fin? And seat E was obviously the dreaded middle seat, so I’d be in the back of the plane and the middle seat (tough break old man).

Upon boarding the plane I decided I had, once again, gotten lucky. The MD90 on which I was flying had only two rows of seats, A and B, down the left side, which meant the right side was seats C,D, and E; I’d have the window (sweet)! I made my way down the aisle, fully expecting row 39 to be the last row, and it was. 

What I didn’t expect was that, inexplicably, there was no window there, just a window-sized depression in the white plastic panel curving over my head (stunned disbelief, side order of slightly amused befuddlement). Luckily, small dark confining spaces don’t bother me. In fact, I take comfort in them (all you Freudians should have a good time with that), so I squeezed my 6-foot 3-inch frame into the dark corner and chastised myself for letting expectations play ping pong with my emotions. 

The yang to this yin came when, due to me being the last to deplane, I encountered an older lady with a foreign accent who seemed to be lost and confused, so I had the privilege of escorting her through the Minneapolis airport to her connecting flight, which righted the whole day (not to mention racked up some good karma). 

The lesson learned? What first appears to be bad can actually be good, and vice versa. And remember, you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. Be happy!