The Nature of the Fence

A flower does not compete with the flower next to it, it just blooms

My first tryst with the word ‘competition’ was when I was 5 years old and I was asked to compete in a Lemon & spoon race for the school’s sport’s day. I never won, but I got to learn that I can certainly walk very fast, although not faster enough to reach the finish line by their standards but each to their own truth! Going by the dictionary meaning a competition is an event or contest in which people take part in order to establish superiority or supremacy in a particular area. But why do we have this strange and uncanny urge to be on top? What and where is this elusive top anyways?


Because she competes with no one, no one competes with her

Lao Tze


What a false sense of purpose we humans have laid down for ourselves, pegging our labour to the realms of deceptive highs and lows. How high is this high and how low is this low? A common man might fool himself into thinking that his professional designation is a neon marker of his position in the so-called people hierarchy and is also a direct indicator of his social height. But is that enough? Is top the end of it all? What’s next?


When you reach the top keep climbing

(Zen Proverb)


I have not seen any person who even after reaching the pinnacle is satiated with their respective achievements, there is always an inner dispute at play. There is always a fence to be crossed, a gap to mend.  After much pondering, I could deduce this fence is of breaking the chains that truss a person to participate in a never ending race to be better than others. The most contended of people are those, who refuse to recognize this form of pseudo validation. They are the ones who have successfully eradicated this morbid need out of their lives. For them, there is no place to be left and no place to be reached. Their competition is with their own thoughts and their own self, and this isn’t a loser’s perspective since there isn’t any winner at the end.


When you compete with the self, you become better; when you compete with others you become bitter


Recently, I got a chance to interact with a group of few under privileged school kids who are a part of my husband’s weekend teaching program initiative. It was such an enlightening experience to say the least. I asked them to do this simple exercise to make them understand the simplicity of thought reversal we tactfully ignore! I asked them to write on a piece of paper, everything they feel they are competing for. For example, one of the kid’s wrote “I compete for excellence”, the other one wrote “I compete for recognition” etc. and while doing this experiment, they felt despondent and uninterested. In the next part, I asked them to replace the word ‘Compete’ with ‘Contribute’. It was an instant energizer. So now no more, they were fighting for superiority, rather they knew they were now an integral part of it because they were now contributing towards it. It is worth noting the 180 degree shift in the connotations attached with these two words that make the whole difference.


“I compete for excellence”


“I contribute for excellence”


These kids appreciated their newfound perception, and even I could learn that life isn’t all about running and finishing first rather it is about pausing once in a while, empowering everyone around to eradicate the finish line.


I want to share this beautiful Zen story which is my most favourite and taught me great deal about the beauty of Zen philosophy. Here it goes…

A lion was taken into captivity and thrown into a concentration camp where, to his amazement, he found other lions who had been there for years, some of them all their lives, for they had been born there. He soon became acquainted with the social activities of the camp lions. They banded themselves into groups. One group consisted of the socializers; another was into show business; another was cultural, for its purpose was to carefully preserve the customs, the tradition, and the history of the times when lions were free; other groups were religious — they gathered mostly to sing moving songs about a future jungle where there would be no fences; some groups attracted those who were literary and artistic by nature; others still were revolutionary, and they met to plot against their captors or against other revolutionary groups. Every now and then a revolution would break out, one particular group would be wiped out by another, or the guards would all be killed and replaced by another set of guards. As he looked around, the newcomer observed one lion who always seemed deep in thought, a loner who belonged to no group and mostly kept away from everyone. There was something strange about him that commanded everyone's admiration and everyone's hostility, for his presence aroused fear and self-doubt.

He said to the newcomer, "Join no group. These poor fools are busy with everything except what is essential."

"And what do you think is most essential?" asked the newcomer.

"Studying the nature of the fence."


The fence can mean different things to different people, hence I said, each to their own truth. But I perceive this fence to be of competing for a spot which either belongs to everyone or no one. Henry Lodge says “Excitement is impossible where there is no contest” and that’s exactly what is wrong with this ideology – cheap thrills!


The ultimate position to defend doesn’t exist; the ultimate place to reach isn’t out there and the ultimate truth to attain is what breaks your fence!




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