October 8, 2012

The Myth of a Perfect Partner. ~ Shanan Harrell

Can we learn to accept the little wounds, understanding that we need each other for survival?

I’m inspired to share a beautiful fable that has been a great lesson to me. I can’t remember where I first read it, but I clearly remember the effect it had. Check it out:

It had been the coldest winter ever. The people had withdrawn from the bitter landscape. The birds fell from the sky, their wings frozen by the relentless icy winds. Trees and fields stood hard and barren. Many animals died because of the cold.

Word spread through the animal kingdom that death was closing in on the planet. The porcupines, realizing the seriousness of the situation, decided to group together to keep warm and survive. As they snuggled in close, covering and protecting themselves, they felt the quills of their closest companion wound and pierce their own flesh.

After awhile, the stabs from the sharp spears of their porcupine pals became so agonizing that they decided they must distance themselves from each other. As a consequence of their separation, they began to die; alone and frozen. They realized they had to make a choice—either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth.

Photo: Bluebison.net

Wisely, they decided to go back to being together. They gingerly nestled toward one another; once again creating the warmth so necessary for their survival. As their brother’s quills began to pierce and poke into their own flesh, they took a deep breath and relaxed into the knowing that the small pains were simply an inconvenient necessity.

They learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their companions in order to receive the life-affirming heat that came from the others. After all, their very survival depended on it.

If only we could be as wise and compassionate as the porcupine!

For much of my adult life, I believed in the myth of a perfect partner. I was convinced I would find someone who was my ideal fit. We would be in flawless agreement on every issue: morally, ethically, politically, sexually and spiritually. We would eat the same foods and watch the same TV shows.

And if somehow, someday, we ever had a fundamental disagreement (I’m PC and he’s Mac!) the relationship was doomed. The first sign of discomfort sent me running out the door.

And by the way, I blame Walt Disney for a lot of my misunderstandings about family and romance. I bought the Prince Charming malarkey hook, line and sinker. Damn Snow White.

A circle of friends, just like the circle of porcupines, can have the same predicament. Sometimes our closest companions are the ones who hurt us and the hurt becomes so powerful that we decide to withdraw or separate from the group. Then we learn we are herd animals. We actually need to belong to a group, a tribe. We long for community. Without it, we may (symbolically) die. Our divided country as well as our global society presents the same challenges.

Can we learn to accept the little wounds, understanding that we need each other for survival?

I’m taking a cue from our porcupine brothers and sisters. They learned that the best relationship is not the one that brings together perfect people. Rather, when each individual learns to live with the imperfections of others, we can survive the storm. When we are willing to bear the small disturbances while remembering the other person’s good qualities, our relationships can grow and thrive.We snuggle in close, take a big breath when the inevitable hurt comes along, and know that together we are safer, better, happier.

My friend’s quill may sting my tender skin, but I’m willing to stay close because I can also feel her warmth. I recognize that I too have quills that may wound my partner as I draw closer. We all carry a sharpness that can inflict great harm if not used carefully and skillfully.

So the next time you’re feeling a spiky poke from a beloved friend or partner, remember this fable. And, as all fables must, this one has a moral—learn to live with the pricks!


Shanan Harrell is a fusion of Iyengar-trained asana teacher blended with a powerful streak of Buddhist warrior and seriously devoted gong player. Her reverent and precise instruction coupled with an irreverent sense of humor make classes safe, fun and challenging. Shanan’s column, Yoga 101, is a regular feature of The Loop newspaper. She is also a recurring contributor to Tehachapi Lifestyle Magazine. Her book, Stumbling Towards Enlightenment: A Yoga 101 Collection is a compilation of her entertaining and thought-provoking columns. Her website can be found at www.tehachapiyoga.com.


Editor: Sarah Winner

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