Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers – An Interesting Book

Visualize a scene where a zebra is being chased by its predator, say, a lion. That is the moment of do or die for the zebra. Aided by its evolutionary instinct for survival, it will run like hell for its life. In a few minutes after the chase begins, it’s all over for the zebra – either it is chased down and killed by the lion or it manages to escape. Either way, it’s all over. During the chase, its blood pressure could peak to 180. However, once the chase is over and it saves itself, it’s back to its normal self within a few minutes. How does it get back to its normal state of health so fast? The zebra does not brood over the past nor does it get anxious worrying about another possible chase by yet another predator in the future. It won’t ask questions like – why did it happen to me? If it happens again, how will I face it? Will I survive another attack? etc. It knows only one thing, that is, to keep running if a predator chases. That’s because it doesn’t have a well-developed brain which is, in a way, a great blessing. This is the major difference between we humans and all the other primates. Unlike a zebra, the human mind would not rest after a traumatic experience. It will keep brooding for ever on the same episode. Add to this our anxiety about insecure future and you have a deadly combination causing chronic & continuous stress. It’s this chronic stress, according to the author, that makes human beings susceptible to a variety of diseases such as diabetes or hypertension.

This book reminded me of a story I read long time back in a scripture called Yoga Vasishta. The story goes like this:

Long time ago there lived three princes in a city which did not exist. Of the three two were not born and the third one was not even conceived. The princes having lost all their relatives started wandering.They arrived at the banks of three rivers out of which two were dry and the third one had no water. The princes had a refreshing bath and quenched their thirst in them. Then they arrived into a huge city which was going to be built. Entering the city they found three exceedingly beautiful palaces. Of the three, two were not built at all and the third one had no walls. They entered the palace and invited 3 holy men to be their guests of which two had no body and the third had no mouth. After the 3 men had taken food the princes ate the left over. They felt happy and happily lived ever after in that city….

What does one make of the story? One is likely to dismiss it as ridiculous and non-sense. However, tell me how is it different, for instance, from a typical Indian parent worrying about the marriage of their son or  daughter? Here’s an example of a parent agonizing over the delay in fixing his son’s marriage:  What will happen if his marriage is delayed — what if he doesn’t get a suitable bride.. he will end up marrying a girl who is not educated .. not belonging to our caste…or worse still, he may remain unmarried… in which case he will have no one taking care of him.. . when my son reaches old age he will have none to support him… so on so forth.

To my mind this is no different from the story from Yogavasishta.

I have an over-simplified explanation (a mere speculation) of how a complex mind functions. It is as if we have a circuit for creating misery and one for unnecessary excitement.  What is common to both the circuits is endless analysis of ifs and buts of any given situation. So the subject lives in a non-existent future feeling either elated or miserable. The story from Yogavasishta falls in the second category of an excitement-seeking mind.
Human mind thrives on problems and worries. If there are no real problems to solve, it will create imaginary ones to worry over.

Let me narrate one more story from YOGA VASISHTA which depicts the same phenomenon of mind inflicting misery upon the body. Here is a very short version of the story:

There lived in a dark forest a man with thousand hands. Terrified with the darkness all around in the thick forest, he was roaming about restlessly in the jungle. He was beating himself with all the thousand hands. Seeing this, a sane person meets him, tries to bring him to senses and gets him out of the dark jungle . But then he feels uncomfortable in the daylight, having lived in darkness of the jungle all his life. He runs back to the forest blaming and cursing the sensible man for all his problems.
The story again may seem ridiculous. It’s just symbolic. The thousand hands represent his miserable mind filled with negative thoughts inflicting injury on himself. Troubled by his mind, he can neither help himself nor be helped by others.

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