Porcupine's Dilemma, and Bob Dylan
Well met, my dear companion,
As we round the final curve of this calendar year, may we remember to be gentle as we move along. All too often, our busy lives have us moving at lightning speed. Obligations, responsibilities, and the multitude of choices we make whiz by before we appreciate the impact of our actions on each other. As we approach the next solstice, may we pause for reflection and remember the porcupine's dilemma offered by Schopenhauer:
"A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told — in the English phrase — to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself."
As we reflect on the relationships we have, whether they cause us great joy or sorrow, may we remember that they are all to nurture our capacity to experience the wholeness of ourselves. All our relationships stem from our relationship with our own conditioning. Some relationships, like family, are there for us upon arrival, but others are a product of choice, conscious or unconscious. How we relate to any of those people, the larger community around us, the world of humans and non-humans, and the cosmic context beyond it are all colored by our own experience of our nature. If we experience our nature as only the dense collection of our physical form, our relationships are colored by our relationship with our body. If we experience our nature as the loose collection of thoughts, feelings, and memories that we call mind, our relationships are filtered through the prism of our mind. If we experience our nature as something more subtle or intangible, however we are oriented towards that is how we experience all our relationships.In the context of yoga, the scriptures say that the first cause of pain and suffering is to mis-perceive our own nature. Thus unraveling the thorns that cause us to prick each other, becomes something within our capacity to examine, and neutralize if we realize them as transient and impermanent conditions like the weather.
The "man" alone, at the end of the story above is only likely to survive if he remembers that his whole experience is supported by a cosmic dance that includes him, and he can never really be apart from that. In our everyday lives, we cannot stop the conditions of others from harming us, just as much as we cannot by our individual desires or actions change the weather. What we are capable of doing is addressing honestly the conditioning that we are holding. We can ask ourselves whether our perceptions, our identifications, our patterns, habits, and actions are causing us to experience more harm or less as our lives progress. We can investigate our relationship to the cosmic forces that supports and nurtures our life, and ask whether what we do, think, feel, or say is in harmony with the natural order that surrounds us. No one else can do this for us. When we are attached or locked into patterns it is as if we are armored and armed against each other. But when we all drop our armor and our arms, we can begin to embrace each other. Whether we are free in any given moment to undertake such as a task is either a product of our own conviction, will, and dedication, or is, as Bob Dylan sang, A Simple Twist of Fate.
I'm so grateful for your continued support and curiosity as I navigate the strange journey of sharing my heart in this way. I'm also excited to announce a project that I've been working on since this summer: A Dharma Yoga and Surf retreat in Nicaragua! You can find details, prices, and the form to register here.