One day a local farmer known as ClearSky was tending to his fields when a great crowd of people came running out of the woods. They shouted, “There’s a bear! A bear is coming!”
ClearSky knew what to do. He immediately took off in the opposite direction of the crowd, heading into the woods where the bear was supposed to be.
A rancher saw this happen from afar. He was impressed by ClearSky’s bravery. He grabbed his shotgun thinking that he’d go and help with the bear.
The rancher picked up ClearSky’s trail and followed him until he finally found him serenely seated at the top of a mountain. After catching his breath, the rancher asked, “Where is the bear? Did you already kill it?”
“No. There was no bear.”
Confused, the rancher asked, “Then why did you run all the way up here?”
“To avoid the riot.”
Sure enough, smoke rose in the distance of their home village, Peurville.
The rancher hurried back to the town, and he found everything in disarray. Some villagers had barricaded themselves in their homes in their fear of the bear, and others had taken advantage of the empty marketplace to steal. Still others saw people taking advantage of the situation and had come out to stop them, starting a series of conflicts that turned into a riot to engulf the village.
After things finally settled down, the rancher returned to his ranch. He saw that both ClearSky and his homes and land had been spared.
The next day, the rancher asked ClearSky about this. He said this, “I’ve found that initial problems that we face are often small in comparison to the reactions we have to those very problems.”
This little allegory works on a couple of levels–internal and external.
The external level is the most obvious level to understand; human beings tend to create more problems when they are scared. For those of you who know French, Peurville means Fear City. Interestingly enough, in English, it could be easily re-arranged to be Pureville. But that re-arrangement hasn’t happened in the story. This re-arranging is what the process of spiritual transformation is partially about; we can transmute fear into a kind of spiritual purity–but don’t get hung up on the idea of purity too much.
The villagers and most human beings’ reactions to go away from a problem tend to either exacerbate the initial problem or make other problems. The bear is simply a metaphor for a problem as well as an image of fear. The riot is a metaphor for the resulting mess caused by all kinds of actions people take to get away from an initial problem.
Can you think of some times in your life when your reaction to an issue caused more problems?
On the internal level, the initial fear or perception of a problem happens within us, and the crowd is a metaphor for our emotions and thoughts that goes storming off. Left unchecked, our anger, blame, depression, anxieties, pride, and so forth create tons of suffering for us.
The wise thing to do is what ClearSky did–go towards the problem to surrender to it. In this story, it turns out that there wasn’t even a real problem. And the image of him sitting serenely as the riot goes on is a metaphor of how we watch from awareness all of our emotions and thoughts without giving them more energy. He is surrendered, and eventually, the thoughts and emotions run out of energy.
The result of that is we often find that our inner landscape (the farm) has somehow been untouched despite the emotional uproar. Furthermore, the more we surrender, the less disturbed we are by any thought or emotion.
Where ClearSky represents the maturing spiritual person, the rancher acts as an image of a spiritual seeker earlier on the path. He tries to do the right thing to help confront the problem. He is, however, confused because his mind still thinks in the materialist way of facing actual problems rather than realizing that we often create the problems we fear–and then we create more. By following ClearSky’s example–going towards a problem and surrendering to it–the rancher/seeker has been spared of damage to his ranch (mind/body/heart), and this experience is like many experiences people need to have on this path to see that surrender is powerful while ego reactivity is incredibly destructive.