One of the blogs I regularly check out is John Weeren’s About Zen. A while back he posted a story that really opened my eyes wide —
A zen student asked: “Can zen help you deal with fear?”
The master said: “Zen deals with reality.”
The student asked: “So?”
The master said: “Let me tell you a story about an adventurous couple that was traveling through the jungle when they found themselves eye to eye with a tiger. The woman was petrified. The man fought the tiger in a fierce struggle. Eventually, the man escaped with cuts and bruises and the tiger fled. The woman said to him: how brave you are. We are safe! The man suddenly began trembling and shaking with fear. The woman asked: why are you shaking? You showed him! The man said: I’m not afraid of tigers, I’m afraid of success.”
The student said: “I don’t understand.”
The master explained: “Zen helps you fight the tiger.”
The student said: “I still don’t understand.”
The master said: “Meditate on it.”
I didn’t have to meditate on it, though, because Master Weeren had got me at success.
Tigers are scary, certainly. I’m glad the Berkshires run only to black bears, not tigers. But in fact, in my life, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! have played a very small part. It’s that other fearsome creature — success — that has plagued me again and again.
An unexpected triumph, even a triumph that’s a result of great effort, can throw me into a panic. Success sabotages me so that the initial thrust of achievement is turned aside, dissipated, blunted, tossed away. But I didn’t recognize it, until I read John’s story, and just like they say it happens in Zen, I knew the truth in a flash.
It makes a big difference to know what I’m afraid of. And it isn’t tigers.