Here’s something I wrote a while back, but it’s as relevant now as then:-
“The Three-Legged Stool Lesson
“In his rickety old barn, Tom Evans Dolcoion used to milk his herd of fifteen cows by hand. Even in the early 1950s, that seemed rather old-fashioned.
“He would steady the big pail with his feet as he sat on his three-legged stool. I would watch him, wondering if I would ever be shown how to milk by hand. My Mom and, especially, my Dad had learned while working on Australian farms how to milk – “milk properly” as my Dad called it. He had been brought up in farming country so knew the old methods of doing everything manually.
“While I watched old Tom milking, he taught me something.
“ ‘Keith,’ he said in his very accented Welsh voice, ‘do you know why this stool has three legs?’
“ ‘No, Mr. Evans.’
“ ‘Well, that’s to keep it steady while I’m milking.’
“He could see I didn’t understand, so he explained.
“ ‘The barn floor isn’t very level, is it?’
“ ‘No,’ I said.
“ ‘No barn floor ever is. Nor cowsheds, nor anything. So the stool has to have three legs. It’s to keep it . . .’ He paused, thinking of the right English word. ‘Three legs mean it doesn’t rock about when I’m milking. If it had four legs, and one of them was on a bump, it would rock. I could fall off.’ He grinned.
“I remembered that lesson. Indeed, when we got home from Wales to Wolverhampton, I experimented by putting a stick under one of our four-legged dining-chairs (though we had no dining-room back then!). What Tom Evans Dolcoion had told me was true: a four-legged chair with one leg on a bump does rock.
“With three legs, each one of them is on a steady surface. Even though the seat itself may tilt, the stool will not rock and make the milker fall off!
“And, eventually, I realised that the human condition is very similar. It needs – and has – three legs (‘pillars’ if you like) on which to stand so that it cannot rock when trials come.
“It is advisable to keep each of these legs the same length.
“To me, they are The Physical Leg, The Mental Leg, and The Spiritual Leg.
“Put them in any order you choose. Now let me try to clarify what I mean:-
“Firstly: Your Physical Leg.
“Obviously, it’s important to be in good physical shape. That’s not always possible, and may be out of our control at times. But we must not simply neglect trying to keep physically healthy, even if we are temporarily incapacitated or permanently disabled. There are exercises which we can do in almost any state of physical health, and we don’t have to be weightlifters or cross-country runners to do them.
“Walking (or strolling) is something most of us can do. Set a target of, initially, walking (or strolling) one mile each week. Raise that target slowly – when you’re feeling fitter – to five miles a week, and so on as you progress. Do not count a walk round the shops as part of your walking-programme!
“You can do other things to help your physical wellbeing: simple free-standing (or sitting) exercises to tone up your muscles, for instance. Do it on a regular basis, of course.
“You will be able to think of other exercises to suit you. Just do them.
“Next: Your Mental Leg.
“Our minds are there to be used, just as our physical bodies are. Sitting watching telly is what most people do – sometimes for long, sitting-in-a-chair hours. (The same applies to using one’s computer, as you know.) We – as a society – have been conditioned to do these things by those with vested interests, and peer-group pressure has reinforced that conditioning.
“It is not the time we spend watching telly or going online which is bad – it is the type of thing we watch, or what we do online. Ask yourself the obvious questions: “Does what I am doing need mental effort; does it really teach me anything; do I learn anything of value from it?”.
“Yes – that is a hard thing to do! Rarely does anything which is worth having come easily . . .
“If you don’t do so already, start reading non-fiction books. Fiction has its place, of course – but you and I both know that there’s a lot of trash novels on the market. (“On the market” is a good phrase, I think: they are written and published simply to make money from the less aware people who buy them.)
“And develop the ability to use the world’s most dangerous question to every situation. That question is “Why?”.
“Now: Your Spiritual Leg.
“ ‘Spirituality transcends religion,’ said a great philosopher.
“It is also a quality difficult to define exactly.
“Think, then, of the qualities of “goodness” which you know about: kindness, empathy, forgiveness, tolerance and – well, the one which encompasses all of them – love.
“Those are the qualities, the virtues, which one should be trying – constantly – to create and strengthen within oneself. One must not do that with any form of pride – humility is certainly one of those qualities of goodness! Neither should one be “nice” just because one wants other people to admire one.
“And learn to be a genuine “good-listener” – if people open up to you, don’t start giving advice or solving problems: ask them what they think they should do; help them to set their own goals.
“If one follows the advice of loving teachers – Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, and others – one is well on the way to becoming more spiritual. So you’re going to have to search for those teaching first.
“Do not accept other people’s word for what those teachers said. Other people might have vested interests and put a slant on those teachings which suits their own way of life. Study those teachings for yourself and put your own Mind Leg to work to understand them for yourself.
” The best spiritual teachings are the simple ones!
“The foregoing has, I hope, set you off on your Three-Legged Stool Journey. Keep working on each of your Legs. Then, should one of them be resting on a bump, you may feel the tilt a little, but you will remain upright, physically, mentally and spiritually.
“And that is how you can get through many – most – of life’s challenges.”
kjs, February, 2013.