Fear is functional

Fear is functional

Since the beginning of history of mankind, if there is one thing that has prevailed consistently in lives of men and women, across centuries, it is fear. 
There is not a single soul on the face of this planet – be it a saint or a sinner – who can claim that he / she has not encountered fear. Ranging from mild trepidation to mortal threat, not a single day passes by without each one of us experiencing fear in some form or other. Fundamentally being fear of loss, it shows up whenever we feel threatened in terms of loss of life or love, respect or relevance.

What could be the reason for fear to be so pervasively present in human lives? As we know, there is nothing in this world that exists without a cause. So, what about fear? Something that we have been conditioned to dread and avoid, what could be so functional about it?

Here is popular Zen story which may speak to you and leave with some insights. 
There was a very well known thief who was considered to be the best of the lot. He was so adept in his art that he had never been caught.
As he grew older his son requested his father to teach him the art of theft that the thief had mastered.The thief replied,”If you wish to learn come with me tonight when I go to work.” 
That night both father and son set out on their mission. The father drilled through the wall a hole for entrance as the son stood watching. The thief was so absorbed in drilling the hole that it would have put any artist to shame. It was as if he were lost in prayer. The son was awed by his father’s proficiency. No wonder, he was a master thief, the guru of so many others in his fraternity.

The son stood trembling with fear even in that warm night. His eyes darted everywhere, watching in all directions, but his father was lost in his work and didn’t lift his eyes even once. When they entered through the house through the hole the son was trembling like a leaf. Never before had he been so petrified. Yet, the father moved about as though the place belonged to him. He took the son in, broke the locks, opened a huge cupboard filled with clothes and jewels, and told the son to get inside.

As soon as the son entered, the father closed the cupboard, locked it and left the house for his home, taking the key with him. As he left, the father shouted, ”Thief, thief!”waking up the inmates of the house. The son was horrified and completely at a loss. He was sitting their in the wardrobe, locked out having no idea of how to escape.

He heard the footsteps of the servant who approached the wardrobe, looking for the thief. The poor boy was completely at his wits end, his mind completely blank. He had never imagined that such a thing can happen and was unprepared to deal with the situation.
Just as he went completely blank, at this very moment, something got awakened in him. Suddenly, as if in the grip of an unknown force, he began making a sound which resembled that of a rat, gnawing at the clothes inside the cupboard. He was astonished with this behavior of his; he had never done such a thing before. The servant brought a bunch of keys and opened it. As soon the the doors opened, he blew out the lamp she was holding and, giving her a push, ran out of the house through the hole in the wall, a whole multitude from the neighborhood chasing him.
There was a great deal of noise. The whole village was awake and looking for the thief. The boy ran for his life – ran as he had never run before. He had no idea it was he who was running. Suddenly, as he reached a well, he picked up a big stone, probably as heavy as he was and threw it in the well – all this without the slightest idea of what he was doing. It seemed that he was possessed by someone else. At the sound of the stone falling in the water the crowd gathered around the well, thinking the thief had fallen in. Thinking that he would have died, they gave up the search and went back.
All this time the boy stood behind the tree to rest a bit, then continued home muttering to himself. When he went in, to his surprise and annoyance, he found his father fast asleep with the blanket over his head. The son pulled off the cover to wake him up but the father continued snoring away. He shook him hard, yelling, “Why did you do this to me? Did you want to see me killed?” The father opened his eyes for a minute and said nonchalantly,”So you have returned? Good. I’ll hear the rest in the morning,” and appeared to fall back asleep. The son pleaded with him,”Say something, father. Ask me what I went through or I shall not be able to sleep.”

Relenting to the boys request the father woke up and said,”Now you are an expert in the art of theft. You don’t need to be taught anything. Nevertheless, you may share your experience, if you must.” After the son recounted all that had happened the father answered, “So my son, you know now that this art cannot be taught. It can only be learnt the way you learnt. You are my son! My blood flows in your veins. You know the secret of success. I am pretty sure that you will carry on this heritage with the same expertise and deftness even after me. As long as you respond the way you did today, you will never get caught. Each time it will be a totally new experience, a new moment. And each time it will warrant a totally new response and the old experience will not be of any use.”

Zen fakirs say: ”If you want to enter the house of God, you must learn the burglar’s art.”
Wonder how many of us can relate to this experience. How often do we get caught unaware in a scary situation to find an absolutely new way out? How does it all happen? What in us makes it happen?
Here’s an invitation to the readers to may be re-read this story, this time imagining one’s self to be the boy and reflect upon the insights that surface in you. 
Would love to hear them, as comments left behind. 
  • Mita Jain
    Posted at 18:47h, 29 September Reply

    “So my son, you know now that this art that cannot be taught. It can only be learnt”. To me, this holds the essence of the entire essay.

    In my humble opinion, Fear is as destructive as it is functional. All religions and norms, exist because we want to control. We want to control because we fear the unknown.

    I face this all the time. People, including my close ones, want me to be “normal” – in their definition – “Like everyone else”. When I say, “I am different and I have a path”, they laugh. They even get angry. But never accept.
    I see this around me all the time, Fear of being an individual, fear of being different and hence not being accepted, fear of being abandoned. Yet, these fears are functional. They teach us something about ourself! Because we surpass our own limitations in our need for approval and acceptance sometimes.

    I loved ur blog Indroneil, very insightful!

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