Around our cottage in Orkney there are fields filled with cattle, sheep, wheat, grass pasture, or wild growth. The ocean, with cliffs rising from it, is within walking distance. Spotted around are farm compounds. No stores. Virtually no people for us to see or hear. The main landmark, high on the ridge two miles away, is Marwick Head. Entertainment is quiet.
So when a farmer arrived with two women right outside our cottage we went to see what they were doing. I watched the man attempt to herd cattle using a truck. The purpose was to get the twenty cattle, each worth around £1500, through a gate across the narrow road, down the road for ten yards and into a field adjacent to our cottage.
For forty minutes the man used his truck, driving back and forth, back and forth in the field. Rather than working with the cows, he was fighting them. And the cows won. He kept pushing them one way, and they kept moving any way but the way he wanted. The man even hit the cattle with his truck. Frustrated, angry, he seemed sure that if he continued the way he was going he would force the cattle through the space down the road and into the designated field. The women stood in the road on either side of the gate, ready to direct the herd.
We watched this battle between animal and man with truck. I was sure there was a better way. Aaron, who has worked on a cattle farm, could name three better ways, all of which would not have entailed a fight. There was no question both parties wanted to fight. Finally, the cows looked like they had conceded when they went through the space onto the road—and then smashed through a barbed wire fence as if it were nothing and into the wrong field. They won. There was nothing more to do, except the man now had to at least fix the fence before the darkness settled in.
How many teachers and students have we all seen that work this way? What a great lesson.
And ‘low’ and behold, today, the cattle are back in the original field. The farmer opened the gate between the two fields and the cattle went back to where this present dance started. In the meantime, the field he wanted them to go to is empty and covered with lush green grass. The cattle never even saw that field. So everyone wins. The cows are back at their original place and feel smart. The farmer knows he is smarter than the cattle because he thinks he has now manipulated them. Nothing has changed.
Both have a poor sense of agency, though they each believe they are in charge. Neither made a conscious choice. Consciousness was in neither the farmer nor the cattle. Both were being instinctive, impulsive, and of course animal. No consciousness, no agency, no choice. All decisions and actions were based on reaction.
Yet we believe we are controlling the situation, don’t we?
If we are focused on God completely, then we know that we are not the ‘doer’. God is. We should just focus on God and be still; then, even if we are moving forward one inch, we are not the doer and movement is happening. We are moving forward. We are riding the cow in the direction it is going.
Neither the cattle nor the farmer moved forward. They danced the same dance and landed in the same spot. They were the doers. When we are the doers, this is what happens to us.
Stop the fight. The farmer did not ride the cow in the direction it was going. What could he have done? He could have coaxed the cattle with apples. Using instinct, they go for food. He could have gently herded the lead cow instead of chasing with the truck. We do not need to fight. And if fight is all the other person wants, then we can quietly walk away. The cattle wanted and were trained to fight with the farmer.
The Siva Sutras say that the three impurities are ‘we are separate’, ‘we are imperfect’ and ‘we are the doers’. The truth is ‘we are not separate’, ‘we are perfect’ and ‘we are not the doers’. If we stop our small selves, our characters, from dancing the same steps, saying the same lines, feeling the same feelings, and let God be in charge, we will witness moving forward the way God wants for us, which is Love.
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