Sunday, July 27, 2014

Not Zen 120: Telltale Fears

When she was young, her older brother protected her from the bullies among the calves of the wildebeest herd.  As he grew older, he encountered bullying himself from an older male, probably their father.  Their father tried to drive away the younger male.  However, her brother was still immature, not yet ready to try to establish a springtime territory of his own.  He kept trying to return to his mother. 

So his younger sister faced down her father rather than see him injure her brother.  He was a terrible, strong bull.  She placed herself between him and her brother.  She kept her father from doing damage, although he tried again and again.  She always placed herself in his way.  Sometimes she got knocked down for it. She was too young and too small to help any more than that.  But within a month, her father endured as much shame as he could.  He'd hurt her and drawn wrath from her mother and from his peers.  He bowed to the consensus of the herd, gave up his anger, and left his son in peace.  A few months later, he disappeared from the herd entirely.  She never saw him again.

She grew to a young, strong adult.  She endured hard marches.  During her first  drought, she found that she needed to walk miles between watering holes.  Weaker wildebeests collapsed on those journeys.  She persevered.

In her second migration, she pressed into the front of the group.  She felt a thrill as she explored the grasslands.  The company of other forerunners, mostly males, acquainted her with kindred spirits. 

One afternoon during a grueling march, she smelled water.  Within half an hour, she glimpsed a rivulet running through a plain of mud.  The herd neared the banks of a stream that had been a wide river once during an earlier season.  A jolt of fear shot through her as she strode toward its shore.  She noticed movement.  The wet sands ahead were covered in alligators.  She slowed.  But the herd behind her kept driving toward the smell of water.  They were parched. Many wildebeests had to drink or risk death.  And she was in the lead.  It was her decision.  She crept closer.

The alligators would not move aside for her.  They watched her with glinted eyes.

"All right, then," she told herself.  She charged.  The alligators hesitated, then scattered.  She strode through the mud where they had been a moment before. 

"Nicely done," said one of the males as he caught up to her.  Other young leaders snorted and stomped through the footprints of the predators.

Months passed.  Rains ended the drought.  A warm summer ended the rainy season.  She mated for the first time.  The herd migrated from their mating grounds.  Grasses grew tall and lush around them.  She bore a calf in the midst of plenty.  One morning, as her wildebeest herd approached a river, they encountered a hyena.  The wildebeest leaders stopped and stared.

Another hyena trotted up behind it.  The first one lifted its head and let out a yell.  Other members of the hyena pack began to appear to the west of the herd.

"Should we run?" The father of her son approached.

"I don't think we should turn our backs on these," she replied.

He studied their mottled hair, sharp teeth, and thick bones.  They gazed back with darting eyes. Everyone in the herd felt the force of their anticipation.

"Well then," he said.

She nodded.  Together, with their child behind them, they charged the hyenas.  A throng of wildebeest followed, about a hundred strong. 

The hyena pack scattered.  They re-gathered behind the herd in an attempt to pick off the laggards.  But the leaders and their children were safe.

"Why are you so brave, mother?" her calf asked after it had regained its breath.

"I'm not, child."

Her mate snorted. 

"Well, if I am," she allowed, "it's only because life taught me to move towards my fears, for they tell me what problems to solve."


  1. The story started with some thoughts about what I'd read by Thích Nhat Hanh and the need to turn toward fears. Probably the monk said it better but I ended up with this story.