Discovering true fear

By Paulo Coelho

A sultan decided to travel by sea with some of his favorite courtiers. They joined the ship in Dubai and sailed out into the open sea.

However, as soon as the ship moved away from land, one of his subjects – who had never seen the sea before, having spent most of his life in the mountains – began to be overcome with panic.

Sitting in the ship’s hold, he cried, shouted and refused to eat or sleep. Everyone tried to calm him down, saying that the journey wasn’t as dangerous as all that, but although he heard their words, they had no influence on his heart. The sultan did not know what to do, and the fine journey upon calm seas and under blue skies, became a torment for the passengers and crew alike.

Two days passed without anyone being able to sleep because of the man’s cries. The sultan was about to order the ship to return to port, when one of his ministers, who was known for his wisdom, came over:

– Your Highness, with your permission, I will be able to calm him.

Without a moment’s hesitation, the sultan said that not only would he allow it, but that he should reward him if he succeeded in solving the problem.

The wise man asked that the man be thrown into the sea. Right away, content because their nightmare was about to end, several crew members grabbed the man struggling in the hold, and cast him into the ocean.

The courtier thrashed about, sank, swallowed plenty of seawater, returned to the surface, screamed louder than ever, sank again, and managed to surface once again. Just then, the minister ordered for him to dragged back on board.

From then on, no one heard so much as a single complaint from the man, who spent the rest of the journey in silence, and even commented to one of the passengers that he had never seen anything so beautiful as the sky and sea touching on the horizon. The journey – which had before been a torment to all those on board the ship – became a pleasurable, peaceful experience.

A short time before they returned to port, the Sultan went to see the minister:

– How did you guess that, by throwing that poor man into the sea, he would calm down?

– Because of my marriage – replied the minister. – I was always terrified of losing my wife, and was so jealous that I never stopped shouting and screaming like that man.

“One day she could take no more, and left me – and I tasted the terrible experience of living without her. She only returned when I promised never again to torment her with my fears.

“In the same way, that man had never tasted salt water, and had never known the agony of a drowning man. When he felt that, he understood only too well how marvelous it can be to feel the planks of a ship under his feet.

– Wise counsel – commented the sultan.

– In the Bible, a holy book of the Christians, it says: “all I most feared, came to pass.”

“Some people can only value what they have, when they endure the experience of loss.”

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  1. Raphael Aguilar says:

    No creo que sea bueno ocultar el miedo a la perdida de alguien que se quiere. Talvez lo mejor seria mostrar ese miedo sin presionar, o simplemente no tener miedo.

  2. Jo Maria says:

    Never knew how much I loved my brother…till he left to heavenly abode. Tears never seized to flow….pain was terrible. Never even had time to say good-bye!!! I still believe he with us… only grief I can never see him again in person…Today every moment I spend with my parents is a blessing…. coz they are the only ones I have. No professional trouble ever worries me now….coz I know life is about the ones you love!!

  3. Sheng says:

    Yes, its a question of what if? what if it will never came back to you again? is there any way how you could be prepared and know that you wont do this and that.

  4. Neilina says:

    Very true! But why to experience loss? Is there no other solution? What if that thing won’t come back to you? I am just thinking on this………May be so many ‘What if?’

    Bless You Always! ~Namaste~

  5. I thought of the phrase ‘walking the plank’ as I read this – balance and control. The loss can neither be too great nor too small but only sufficient. So the wisdom is less, to my mind, in the precise solution than in knowing how far to let things go.

    In part it is the wisdom of Solomon. The knowledge of how to care for someone by pushing them to a limit they desire, even though it scares them, and do not yet understand.

  6. karen says:

    Dear Paul,
    thankyou for your kindness in giving me this website about overcoming fear of flying.
    Very much appreciated by me.
    blessings brother,

  7. g (uk) says:

    I would never have thrown this man in the sea, although it seemed a positive lesson for him in the end: it wasn’t kind one. He probably feared the ‘wise’ man more than the ship he was on.

    The greatest fear is generated when one’s child or loved-one is in danger. How many people, women, mothers, must be out there fearing losing a child (no matter what age) or a partner in a pointless war? More than we can imagine…

    and besides, there is nothing wrong with fear; it’s natural and I believe that it is best to accept the fear rather than pushing it away, forcing it into a deep sea or a dark corner.

    “Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it.”
    —- Lt. John B. Putnam Jr. (1921-1944)


  8. LIANA says:

    Pure truth…
    Nearly every time I read a story by Paulo Coelho,I find myself,I can recognize my own entity,fears and mistakes… That’s why I appreciate his wonderful writings… They are about EACH of US,they help us to hold on and overcome the obstacles which perhapes we have made for ourselves… Thanks a lot,dear senor Coelho !!!

  9. Aman says:

    i agree… so very true indeed…

  10. Tania says:

    So very True ..Love Tania

  11. Osbaldo Gutierrez -Los Angeles says:

    Mr. Paulo,
    I just finished Veronika decides to die. Amazing! “Vitriol” is our fear/anger. It relates so much to this story as well! Amazing! ” “Visions of paradise….” I am amazed at the point in my life and everytime I read one of your books. I’m going on a spiritual retreat in the desert, Sedona AZ. for my birthday in August. I hope I will be able to experience some of the “blessings” you have experienced in your own journeys. God is good.

  12. THELMA says:

    Dear Paul from Austria[from which town??], Thank you for ‘noticing
    my note. Sometimes, I think, we are more demanding and expect more from our ‘loved’ones!!! Me, being a ..Libra I cannot stand a minute of ‘bad words’, quarelling or misunderstandings. I need peace and harmony. But, sometimes, to ‘keep face’ is needed in order to make our point clear! Love, Thelma

  13. Caris Noor says:

    It’s quite unfortunate that sometimes what it takes to mold one’s character is to put him through hell first. The Bible consistently pertains to one’s weakness as the platform for spiritual growth. I had to face the consequences of my unhealthy attitude towards my relationship with someone in order to start respecting the relationship. How can one know and truly appreciate what is good and beautiful in life when there is no dark and unhappy side to contrast with it? I’m very thankful to God that I’ve swallowed seawater countless of times, so to speak, and was still given another opportunity to breathe fresh air once again.

  14. THELMA says:

    This happens to every aspect of our lives. Sometimes, just because we happened to have something easily, we take it for granted.[ health, family, friends]. We do not ‘see’ how lucky we are, and we may complain for trivial matters. We forget to ‘water the flower of love’, because we are ‘prisoners’ in our ‘walls of egoism’. LOVE, Thelma

  15. karen says:

    Hi Paulo,
    A lovely story and very very true.
    On Wednesday, in the house where I rent a room, the father was beating and shouting at his small son.
    This was the third time in 4 days, and I had already tried to stop it on Sunday.
    So on Wednesday, I called the police.
    The same thing as what happened in the story happened to this man. The real possiblitiy of tasting REAL DISASTER made him come to his senses.
    He forced me to leave the house that same day, but through friends I am safe in a nice, new room.
    I threw him into the sea if you like, and even though I got very “wet” in the process, we have all won.
    much love
    PS: I still find flying difficult though. But I keep my mouth shut whilst on the plane.

  16. Agnieszka says:

    A little too harsh treatment as for me.
    although this is true many times:
    “Some people can only value what they have, when they endure the experience of loss.”
    A little bit of imagination would help too, even in the case of this man. If he was told he’ll be thrown into this deep sea, I am pretty sure he’d calm down.