140: Parable of the Prickly Porcupine


“Anger, including the closing of the heart, and setting up of armoring is natural, necessary, and intelligent.”

Tara Brach

I first heard the Parable of the Prickly Porcupine from Tara Brach’s podcasts, Part 1: Awakening through Anger – The U-Turn to Freedom.

This particular podcast has helped me better understand both myself and Painter’s responses better.

Frankly, I didn’t understand this about anger before.

I didn’t understand a lot of things before.

“Even the best relationships are not conflict-free. Inevitably, we hurt each other. We misunderstand each other. We pull back,” says Tara Brach, “and we react out of our historic wounds.”

I realize now my anger and defensiveness – and my behaviors – were about armoring my heart. In reality I cannot get to where I want to go when weighed down by the anger’s armor.

Actually, this has also allowed me to better see people in a way that doesn’t require me to add my stories to their behaviors.

The Parable of the Prickly Porcupine

It was the coldest winter ever – so cold that many animals froze to death.

In an effort to save themselves from this icy fate, the porcupines decided to gather together to fend off the chill.

They huddled close to each other, covered and protected from the elements, and warmed by their collective body heat.

But their prickly quills proved to be a bit of a problem in close proximity – they poked and stabbed each other, wounding their closest companions.

The warmth was wonderful, but the mutual needling became increasingly uncomfortable. Eventually, they began to distance themselves one from the other, scattering in the forest only to end up alone and frozen. Many died.

It soon became clear that they would have to choose between solitary deaths in the frigid wilderness and the discomfort of being needled by their companions’ quills when they banded together.

Wisely, they decided to return to the huddle. They learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their fellows, in order to benefit from the collective heat they generated as a group. In this way they were able to survive.

Possible morals of the story

  1. We all hurt each other from time to time, it’s an inevitable part of being in relationship and community. But in the end we’re often better off together than we might be apart.
  2. Learning to accept each other’s imperfections can be a successful survival strategy.
  3. People are not perfect. Accepting and living with our own imperfections as well as those of others, is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and those close to us.
  4. A little needling can be a good thing.
  5. Learn to live with the pricks in your life – they may be serving some higher purpose.