What Is a Blessing in Disguise — A Reflection on a Chinese Fable

A recent conversation with my girlfriend about things in the past sparked our interest in the subject of blessings in disguise. We discussed our previous misfortunes in love and relationships, in financial losses and missed opportunities. In times of sorrow, our pain and suffering blinded us from recognizing the silver lining of the seemingly unfortunate events.

Yet, as we reviewed those events, it dawned on us that all those seemingly terrible experiences were exactly what we needed to grow, to expand and transform our lives. A famous Chinese fable about Sai Wong, an old man who lost his horse, teaches about being grounded and untouchable by external circumstances. Here is the story:

Once upon a time, an old man on the northern border of China was very skilled at raising horses. He was known as Sai Wong (which simply meant “an old man on the border”). One day, one of Sai Wong’s horses escaped from the stable and ran away. Once his neighbors found out, they came to comfort him. They were all surprised when they saw that the situation didn’t bother Sai Wong. He smiled and said, “A horse running off might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.”

That wise old man, Sai Wong, was right. Months passed, and the horse returned. The horse brought another horse with it. The neighbors found out and came to congratulate Sai Wong. Sai Wong surprised them again. This time, he frowned and said, “Getting a fine horse for nothing is likely a misfortune in disguise.”

Sai Wong had a son who enjoyed riding horses. One day, his son went riding on the new horse. He fell off the horse and broke his leg. Again, the neighbors found out and came to comfort Sai Wong. And again, Sai Wong’s response was the exact opposite of his neighbors’ reaction. Sai Wong was calm when he said, “My son breaking a leg might be a blessing in disguise!” His neighbors didn’t understand his line of reasoning, and they thought that Sai Wong had lost touch with reality.

Soon after, the Hu people began a large scale invasion of China. All the young, able-bodied men were drafted into the army to defend China, and most of those young men died in battle.

Since Sai Wong’s son was still recovering from his broken leg, he got to stay at home and wasn’t drafted into the army. His broken leg saved his life.

Then, Sai Wong’s neighbors recognized how wise Sai Wong was and how skilled he was with recognizing blessings in disguise and misfortunes in disguise.

Anything in life that looks like one thing could be something else entirely. What looks like misfortune could be a blessing, and what looks like a blessing could be misfortune. It helps to look beneath the surface and be prepared for anything.

Blessings in Disguise and the Art of Detachment from How Things Should Be or Ought to Be

Life is full of ups and downs. Human experience consists of cycles of life as highlighted in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

As the band The Byrds sang, “To everything — turn, turn, turn. There is a season — turn, turn, turn. And a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Therefore, we need to learn to surrender and refrain from attaching to a certain outcome. Life is unpredictable. Obstacles can be turned into opportunities. Disabilities can be turned into abilities. And what looks like a misfortune can actually be a blessing.

Learning to surrender and be non-reactive to an external situation, whether it occurs to be positive or negative, allows us to be unwavering and unaffected by the outcomes. Instead, we are able to be grounded and patient, and let nature and destiny unfold their own outcomes. No expectations, no assumptions, just a wait and see approach to how things are. In that manner, we won’t be conceited when things are smooth, and we won’t give up and be cynical in challenging times.

How My Life Lines Up With That Chinese Fable

In 2011, I met my ex-wife. Back then, I was in a pattern of being stuck with unproductive, irresponsible, and immature roommates and “friends.” That had gone on for years with seemingly no end in sight.

Meeting my ex-wife looked like a blessing. She came into my life as a provision for strength to move away from unhealthy associations. I thought I had found in her my best friend, companion, and lover for life.

What was initially good was only an illusion. I had diminished myself and my dreams to settle for someone who was incompatible with me, and who had an unmatched direction in life. We did not love each other enough to accept each other as we were. We both had the intention to dominate and to make the other change for our own good. I wanted her to weigh less than me, and she wanted me to do well enough financially so we could have biological children.

I was not honest with her about my choice of being child-free. Needless to say, we became cynical and disinterested in each other.

This relationship was parallel to the fable of Sai Wong gaining a horse. While others congratulated him, he only said that gaining a free horse may not be a blessing.

One year after our wedding, our union started to disintegrate. When the inevitable happened and my ex-wife left four years ago, I was devastated. I held on to the illusion that I had lost my best friend, my lover, and my companion. I tortured myself with that distorted identity of her when in fact, she was never my best friend, nor the woman of my dreams.

I used that self-deception to dive deep into depression and self pity for a long time. It seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen. I felt unloved, unwanted, and worthless. I felt like a broken soul. My soul was crushed like the broken leg of Sai Wong’s son. He was crippled from the fall, but his disability saved him from being drafted into the army and in turn saved his life.

My failed marriage saved me from self deprecation, self deception, and self destruction. It saved me from being a walking dead man and from living a stagnant life. I was wounded deeply, but I survived and I bounced back. I have begun a self discovery and healing journey that has transformed my life.

As I have picked myself up and learned who I truly am, I’ve seen that my break up and divorce was the best thing that could have possibly happened. It was truly a blessing in disguise.

How could that be?

We broke up in 2017. In 2018, I attended several self development seminars, which is where I met my current girlfriend. My world expanded in so many ways with my girlfriend that never could have happened with my ex-wife.

My girlfriend and I have traveled within Canada, and the United States, then Portugal, and Spain. We’ve lived in Portugal. We’ve had countless long, in-depth conversations, which still continue to this day. We have much, much more in common than my ex-wife and I ever did. My girlfriend and I really enjoy learning and being lifelong students. We really enjoy and appreciate cats.

This website wouldn’t exist without my girlfriend. She provided a resource that would help me create it, and she suggested its name. I’ve put in the work myself with the writing, but my girlfriend constantly helped me focus on where and how to have a creative outlet.

My girlfriend and I share many commonalities and interests in soul searching and self development. We also share interests in spirituality, metaphysics, and divine healing. We learned that we are together to create something impactful and meaningful. I’ve learned to listen, to love and care for others instead of dominating.

Every day, I strive to get in touch with the true essence of masculinity, and to become the man I’m born to be — a man with integrity, inner strength, confidence, and healthy boundaries. I’ve learned to see the value, the wisdom that my girlfriend has and is. Of course, we’ve had our disagreements and we’ve had our struggles, but we keep getting past those stumbling blocks.

Given what we’ve been through together, which is far more than I can mention here in a quick summary, we keep making our bond stronger.


The moral lesson from this famous Chinese fable is a valuable reminder that we should be slow to judge any situation. In richness, we don’t boast. In poverty, we don’t resent and whine.

We should be immovable and untouchable by external events and let nature unfold its lessons and purposes. We should be able to step back and look from a panoramic view at any major events in life to recognize the patterns of lessons that we need to learn for the betterment of self and others.

Most of the time, we will be able to see the silver lining in the hardships and trials that we encounter. Through our hardships and trials, we gain wisdom, and we grow and expand ourselves to unlimited possibilities.

What blessings have you recognized from previous losses? What misfortune in your life could you recognize as a blessing?

May your life be with ease and with many blessings in disguise.

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Until next time,

James Barnett

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