The Sad Lady

Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a sage widely regarded for his wisdom. One day, he was passing by a village when it began to rain. He went into the village to seek shelter, and that’s when he saw the old woman.

She seemed very sad, slumped in a corner, sobbing uncontrollably, but other villagers seemed to pay no attention. This seemed odd to the sage, so he asked about her. They told him that she was known throughout the village as the “Sad Lady” because she was always crying.

Out of compassion, the sage approached her and asked what was wrong. She said: “Master, I am sad because of my older son. He has a store selling fans. I worry about him because when it rains, no one visits his store, so his business suffers. I can’t help feeling sad when I think about that.”

“Bad weather never lasts,” the sage pointed out. “Soon the sun will come out again. Everything will be alright.”

This seemed to make her even sadder. She wailed: “No, Master! My younger son sells umbrellas. When it is sunny, he gets no business at all. I can’t help feeling even worse when I think about that.”

“I see,” the sage thought about this for a moment. “I would like to take a look at his umbrella shop. Can you take me there?”

It was raining heavily when they got to the younger son’s store. Many travelers on the road were caught unprepared, so they came into the store to purchase an umbrella before continuing on their way. The more it rained, the more people came through the door. The old woman saw her son very busy, taking care of one customer after another. His business was doing well. Slowly, a smile broke through her tears.

Later, when the sun came out, the sage asked her to take him to the older son’s store. By the time they got there, there were quite a few customers around. It was turning into a hot day, so people wanted to fan themselves to keep cool. The older son was serving more customers than he could handle. The old woman saw that his business was also doing well. Now she was in a great mood.

The sage said to her: “When it was raining earlier today, your older son had very little business, but your younger son’s business thrived. Now, when it’s sunny like this, people are not interested in buying umbrellas, but they definitely want fans, as you can see. So, no matter what the weather happens to be, just think about the son that is doing well, and you will no longer feel so sad.”

The old woman took the sage’s instructions to heart and changed her thinking. Soon, she went from someone who was often in tears, to someone who was constantly smiling and laughing. Throughout the village, people began calling her by her new nickname: “Happy Lady.”

The Tao

This story is a reminder for all of us. Its underlying concept is simple: the old woman needed to direct her attention properly. In the same way, we also need to choose the focus in our lives, to see the positive no matter what is happening at a particular moment.

Knowing the Tao and walking the Tao are not necessarily the same thing. Although we can all agree that her problem was not a great challenge, we may still fail to apply the lesson ourselves. Sometimes, we forget the idea behind this story.

There is no denying that some events are considered negative by most people. The death of a family member, the end of a relationship, and the loss of employment are all examples of such events. We all go through such events every now and then, so we know there are certainly negative aspects in life.

We have all seen how negativity can incapacitate people. Like the old woman crying her eyes out, people can be so depressed that they have no willpower to do anything. They cannot get themselves out of the depression, and they certainly cannot go back in time to undo the problem — so they are stuck.

What might be the Tao to handle it better? First, we should heed the sage’s words, that bad weather never lasts. This echoes chapter 23 of the Tao Te Ching, that tells us strong winds and the rain cannot last indefinitely. No matter how bad things seem, there is an end of it. Sometimes, it helps to keep that in mind.

Next, we should keep the yin-and-yang nature of reality in mind. Everything has an upside and a downside, so in every crisis there is an opportunity, and in every setback there is a way to advance. If we’re willing to approach something negative with an open mind, we can find something positive somewhere. It’s just that sometimes we are so discouraged we don’t even look.

The death of a family member, for example, can mean a transition beyond the material world, at the end of a full and rewarding life. Similarly, the end of a relationship can mean an opening for a more suitable mate to show up. The loss of employment can mean an opportunity to take a break and reassess one’s place in life. Every coin has two sides — and nothing is absolutely, completely negative.

If you can use this concept for yourself, then you have learned the wisdom of this story. There will always be sunny days and rainy days in your life. No matter what your “life weather” is like right now, you can always handle it in a positive way. This gives you more happiness and energy, because you have chosen to bring more lightness and laughter into your world.

In the story, people ended up calling the old woman “Happy Lady.” In your life, people may also notice a difference in you. Your happiness is infectious. Everyone around you is affected by your upbeat outlook, and everything around you reflects your energy. Soon, the events in your life begin to turn in a better direction. All of this is possible, simply by following the Tao to manage your attention — and keep your focus on the empowering side of life!

Derek Lin

Derek Lin is an award-winning, bestselling author in the Tao genre. He was born in Taiwan and grew up with native fluency in both Mandarin and English. His background lets him convey Eastern teachings to Western readers in a way that is clear, simple and authentic.
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