The Three Companions

Indonesian Legends and Folk Tales. Told by Adele de Leeuw, 1961

Every year Cholera made a visit to the Holy City of Mecca with her companions Death and Fear. One year however, Fear came to the city before Death and Cholera. The old gatekeeper, who did not know Fear, let her enter.

When Cholera and Death arrived at the gate, the gatekeeper shouted,
“Cholera, how many victims will you take this time?”
“Not more than 500 I’m sure this time,” Cholera said.
“Death, how many will you take?” the gatekeeper cried.
“As always, I will take only what Cholera gives me.”
The gatekeeper let them enter.

Weeks later, Death and Cholera returned and called to the gatekeeper,
“Open the gates.”
“Cholera, how many victims did you take?” the gatekeeper asked.
“Only 499,” Cholera answered.
“And Death, how many did you take?” asked the gatekeeper
“I took more than a thousand.”
“You promised you’d only take what Cholera gave you!” the gatekeeper cried.
“Yes,” Death answered sadly, “Most of those who died were taken by Fear who entered your gate alone before us. Now you know that Fear does more harm and causes more deaths than Cholera!”

Fear as Transformation
By Sydney Solis

Years ago, when I was living in San Francisco, I took the BART rail system to and from work each day. Terror struck me every time I descended the steps at a station. I was afraid of earthquakes and always filled with visions of being trapped underground when “the big one” struck. Worse, I imagined being electrocuted because the earthquake would hit at the exact moment that the train would be traveling under the bay.

A friend told me, “Sounds like an earthquake is exactly what you need.” I thought she was crazy until one day at the office the floor began to rumble. The lights in the rafters swayed. Fear rose up as I waited to see what would happen next. It was a small earthquake. I was alive. And somehow the experience lessened my fear of earthquakes. The Sanskrit word, per, to go through, is the root word of fear. It became the English word fare as in the payment for passage. It was meant to express the emotion experienced from a cause. This first usage was to describe the disaster undergone. Over time the word’s meaning shifted to the dread of the event, indicating a psychological response to an anticipated event rather than an emotional response to an experienced event. This shift from the heart to the head, from the internal to the external, has gripped our modern world.

In these troubled times, fear is epidemic. The story “The Three Companions” illustrates that the true enemy is psychological fear in our lives. Fear is constantly creating a fantasy in our minds rather than presenting itself as a reality that we can confront and pass through to transform our lives. “To hate and to fear is to be psychologically ill. It is, in fact, the consuming illness of our time,” according to H.A. Overstreet, professor of psychology and philosophy at City College of New York.

The media via our television sets can distort reality and manufacture delusion, creating a mind-made monster lurking in the recesses of our dread rather than allowing us to confront a problem when it is a reality in the present moment. Death and Fear are working hand in hand to reach into people’s minds as the ultimate weapon.

In order to continue as a human race, I feel we must confront our fears. We must pass through our fear of death and impermanence to reach transformation. How do we do that? Through the present moment. By showing up and confronting our fears and difficulties as they arise, instead of avoiding pain and change or dreading a mental illusion, we are able to become flexible, unlimited and whole.

In this understanding, I offer the story of The Three Companions. It is a potent story to use as a touchstone for personal storytelling of how fear confronted became a teacher. In today’s world, it is an important story that can help us move toward a larger understanding of fear as the teacher or vehicle of transformation rather than something to sell for sensation or avoid at all costs. To avoid fear is to avoid the unknown and change which is the mystery of our lives.

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