We don't always choose
the circumstances of our lives,
but we CAN choose our response.
is about transforming life's lemons,
and fully living the life you have,
even if it's not the life you wanted.

Stories and Poems

ONCE UPON A TIME: Stories for Transformation

Sometimes it is easier to “get” something when the idea is carried in a story, allegory or metaphor. Throughout history and in cultures worldwide, stories have been used to teach both children and adults. These are a few of my favorites.

  • Read the story.
  • What do you think the “moral” of the story is?
  • Think about the message it contains, and what meaning it might have in your own life.
  • Talk about it with others and compare reactions to the story.
  • If you have a favorite teaching story you’d like to send me, please do so (and include the author, if possible).

The Caterpillar 
Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath. In vain.

It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

The Flood 
Author Unknown

Once upon a time there was a man of great faith. The man lived in a small town. One day it began to rain. The rain continued until the streets in the town began to flood. The mayor sent police officers through the streets, knocking on doors and shouting through bullhorns for the citizens to evacuate their homes. But the man said, “No, I will not evacuate. God will save me.”

The waters continued to rise until the man was forced to climb the stairs to the second floor of his home. Soon the mayor sent the fire department on rafts through the streets of the town. They called to the man to get into the raft. But the man shouted from his second floor window, “No, I will not get into a raft. God will save me.”

The rain fell heavily and soon the water rose above the second floor. Now the man had to climb to the roof of his house. The mayor sent the rescue squad in a helicopter. They dropped a rope ladder and shouted over the din of the propeller blades for the man to grab onto the ladder. But the man called back, “No, I will not take hold of your ladder. God will save me.”

Soon the flood waters rose even higher and washed the man off his roof, and he drowned in the raging current.

When the man reached heaven, he angrily banged on the gates and demanded to see God. After some negotiation, he was taken to the Throne. The man said, “I am a man of great faith. Why didn’t you save me?’

And God replied, “Well, I sent you police officers … the fire department … the rescue squad …”

When Life Gives You Lemons …
Adapted by Jaelline Jaffe (original author unknown)

Two soldiers were paralyzed from injuries and confined to wheelchairs. Joe became angry and bitter, lashing out at nurses and visitors, taking every opportunity to remind others of the unfairness of his plight. After a while, everyone tried to avoid him, keeping his rage at a distance.

Al, though also grief-stricken, realized that there was nothing he could do but accept the fact of his disability. He recognized that the only choice he had about his condition was his attitude in response to it. Since he couldn’t change the situation, he decided to make the best of it. He was friendly, positive and appreciative of nurses and visitors, and he comforted newly injured soldiers, helping ease their sadness.

Both Joe and Al lived for many more years. Though their physical condition was similar, Al was a much happier person, while Joe remained angry, bitter, and lonely. The quality of their days was determined not by the tragic circumstances but by their individual response to it.

The Mule
Author Unknown

Once there was a farmer who owned an old mule. The unfortunate mule fell into the farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule braying – or whatever mules do when they fall into wells.

After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together and told them what had happened … and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.

Initially, the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back … it suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back … HE SHOULD SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP!

This he did, blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up … shake it off and step up … shake it off and step up!” he repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows, or distressing the situation seemed, the old mule fought panic and just kept right on SHAKING IT OFF AND STEPPING UP!

Of course, it wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury him actually blessed him … all because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.

The Farmer’s Horse 
Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way

[This story has appeared in slightly different versions in different places – sometimes called “Blessings in Disguise.”]

There is a story of a farmer whose horse ran away. That evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was such bad luck. He said, “May be.”

The next day the horse returned, but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came exclaiming at his good fortune. He said, “May be.”

And then, the following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy for the misfortune. He said, “May be.”

The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of the broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbors came to say how fortunately everything had turned out, he said, “May be.”

What is Failure?
Author Unknown

Thomas Edison tried two thousand different materials in search of a filament for the light bulb. When none worked satisfactorily, his assistant complained, “All our work is in vain. We have learned nothing.”

Edison replied very confidently, “Oh, we have come a long way and we have learned a lot. We now that there are two thousand elements which we cannot use to make a good light bulb.”

Another time, someone asked how he felt about failing more than two thousand times. Edison responded, “I never failed. This was just a process that had two thousand steps to it.”

Too Old?
Jaelline Jaffe

Suppose you are 45 and you believe that it would take 5 years to complete that degree you always wanted. You could say, “I’m too old to go back to school … I’ll be 50 by the time I finish.” True. But in 5 years, unless something unexpected happens, you will be 50 anyway – WITH OR WITHOUT that precious piece of paper. What will you say then? Whatever challenge seems daunting (changing jobs, finding a relationship, learning a new skill, or even becoming a parent), unless you are physically unable to accomplish that objective, you are never too old. Maybe tired, or discouraged, or scared, or worried you won’t be able to succeed – but not too old. So, what’s stopping you?

Our Deepest Fear
Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be. You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Portia Nelson

Chapter I 
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II 
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III 
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
see it there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV 
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V 
I walk down another street.

Attitude is Everything
(Author Unknown)

There once was a woman who woke up one morning,
looked in the mirror,
and noticed she had only three hairs on her head.
Well,” she said,
“I think I’ll braid my hair today.”
So she did

The next day she woke up,
looked in the mirror
and saw that she had only two hairs on her head.
“H-M-M,” she said,
“I think I’ll part my hair down the middle today.”
So she did

The next day she woke up,
looked in the mirror,
and noticed that she had only one hair on her head.
“Well,” she said,
“Today I’m going to wear my hair in a pony tail.”
So she did

The next day she woke up,
looked in the mirror,
and noticed that there wasn’t a single hair on her head.
“YEA!” she exclaimed,
“I don’t have to fix my hair today!”

Attitude is everything.
Be kinder than necessary,
for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Live simply,
Love generously,
Care deeply,
Speak kindly…….

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass …
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.


Psychotherapist with psychotherapy office serving Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Valley Village.