What are You Afraid of?

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.

Tiger art by Michael MacKellow


This entry was posted in Etcetera, Personal Essay, Quotes, Wisdom, Zen and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What are You Afraid of?

  1. pauline says:

    That’s interesting. What EXACTLY about success frightens you?


    • Touch2Touch says:

      That can’t possibly have a simple answer, Pauline, considering that it only crystallized as a realization when I read John W.’s zen story.
      NOW I can begin to start thinking about it. So if you have a while to wait — some months? years? who knows? this will be continued!


  2. John Weeren says:

    Fun to read this, Judith.

    Here’s a link for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WbqwBac2O0


  3. Stef says:

    Hmm… interesting. I have to admit, my response was the same one as the student: “I still don’t understand.” I am not afraid of success; I truly do like it when I achieve something I have worked hard for; and I have worked hard for many different things in my life. Hmm… interesting story; but I still don’t get it.


  4. mm says:

    I think it’s not success itself, so much, it’s that success can make you rest on your laurels, and preen with “success” so much so when the next ‘tiger’ comes, you are all softened up and ready to be eaten by that tiger and not ready to grapple with that one – and even if it’s just a little itsy bitsy baby tiger, it’d have eaten you up!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      My goodness, Mercy, what a sobering thought! And yet, when I think about it, it certainly is true that many people can be blind-sided that way by success.


      • mm says:

        Yeah, look at poor Charlie Sheen – who couldn’t handle ‘it’??
        which is why I suppose in India the Gita praises “One who is unattached to the fruits of his work “;
        would be difficult to practise in the modern world, I guess, where winning (by hook or by crook, even!) is all that matters!


        • Touch2Touch says:

          T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets has Krishna say to Arjuna, “And do not think of the fruit of action.
          Fare forward.” Do it for its own sake —
          I always loved that long passage in the poem, and I knew Eliot was influenced by the Gita, and now you really make it come together for me, thank you.


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