Tuesday, May 17, 2011

hard truths

There's a Russian woman in our Zen sangha. She's very happy to not be in Russia, and of course she has some marvelous stories. The talk last night was about fear, so she shared her story.
When I was younger in Russia I couldn't swim very well. I was terrified of going underwater, so I could only dog-paddle. I almost drowned a few times, because I could only dog-paddle.

One day this guy sees me and he says, "You can't swim like that, you're going to drown. I'll teach you how to swim."
"I can't, I'm afraid of being underwater!"
"You'll be underwater when you drown because you swim like that."
"Who are you?"
"I was the national swimming champion [for the Soviet Union]. Come on, I'll teach you."
"I'm afraid."
"What are you afraid of?"
"I'm afraid you'll drown me when I'm underwater."
"I'm not going to drown you. You're going to drown yourself, because you can't swim right."

Now I can swim for a mile, and I'm never afraid.


  1. Fear is awesome. I won't swim because I'm afraid to drown, so I am actually much closer to drowning. Heeding my fear causes the life-threatening thing the fear is warning me of! Is this the hundred foot pole? The only reason you have to step off the damn pole is because you allowed it to be built in the first place?

  2. That's the funny thing about fear. I wish it were simpler to conquer because I feel that we miss out on precious opportunities because we're either afraid to fail or afraid to be truly great.

  3. It's simple to conquer in the sense that it mostly consists of just plowing ahead and doing what you're doing ("Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear."). Whether we make that happen, and our subjective experience in doing that, depend on us.

    Many of us in Chile had a lot of fear and anxiety in common, but what we were afraid of and anxious about, and how we handled it, was all pretty different. =)