Dancing Zebras

Dancing Zebras — Inside of each of us is a range of emotion, all in need of expression. Blaming externals or others only delays the release of the emotion.

zebra dancing

© www.goenzo.com — click to buy the shirt!

For the past few days Darbella’s been reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel,” (affiliate link) by Garth Stein, and she passed it on to me.
I’d highly recommend that you read it—however, you might just prepare yourself for a good cry, especially if you’ve loved a dog. I know. Odd, eh?

Anyway, the story is told from the perspective of an old, and incredibly wise dog. I thought, over the next few weeks, that I might segue off of some quotes from the book. I picked ones that were profound, yet needed little of the “back story.”

Here’s the first:

I suddenly realized. The zebra. The zebra is something inside of us. Our fears. Our own self-destructive nature. The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times. The demon is us!
p 292–3 (large print edition)

OK, I lied about the back story… you need some of it to understand this quote.

The protagonist is a dog named Enzo. Without giving up a plot point, he gets left home alone for three days. He survived, but on the third day began to hallucinate. He goes into the daughter’s (Zoe) room, and a stuffed zebra seems to have come to life. It’s dancing a malevolent little dance. Then, the zebra bonks the other stuffed animals, all the while grinning at Enzo.

Finally, Enzo decides to attack, but he sees the zebra rip itself apart. Enzo retreats, and soon, his family returns. There is pandemonium in Zoe’s room—all of the stuffed animals are shredded. Enzo assumes that the zebra came back to life and destroyed everything. The family blames him. The quote comes from much later in the book, as Enzo realizes that he, indeed, did the damage.

A key line: “Somewhere, the zebra is dancing.”

The demon is us! This is one of those, “OK, I get that about other people, but… but…” ideas. Now, demon is not being used in any sort of “devil and underworld” way, but rather as a descriptor for the destructive side of our natures. The word derives from the Greek daemon, meaning, “… a daemon is something which is not visible yet is always present and working its will…that which serves to define a person’s character.” Link to Wikipedia

devil angel

An apt visual is the guy with an “angel” on one shoulder and a “devil” on the other. It’s a benign cartoon known to us all. The two, metaphorically, whisper in our ears, one urging us to be our best selves, the other urging mischief, or mayhem.

This is being human. (And, from the book, being “dog.”)

The voice of conscience and the voice of turmoil are in us. They are us. Often, in either good or neutral times, our “best natures” prevail—we hear the zebra, and ignore it. But as times toughen, and situations emerge that are charged and fraught, the zebra voice rises to prominence, and we want to rip, to tear, to demolish.

And, oddly, if we choose the time and method, that can be just fine.

Many people have told me that, when they are angry, they want to “break stuff.” I recommend a heavy bag to punch, or that they climb into bed and pound a mattress. Or, that they buy cheap dishes at a Bargain store and throw them into a garbage can filled with rocks.

In other words, to deal with their emotion in an elegant, non-judgmental way.

This is not the norm. The norm is denial and suppression. People pretend that nothing of the sort—no destructive urges, (or, we might say, negative urges…) exist in them. And the list of negative urges might include, for example, passion and sexuality. They deny, they block, they swallow the stuff.

But, of course, nothing repressed goes anywhere. Here’s a second quote:

Suppressing the symptom does nothing but force the true problem to express itself on a deeper level at some other time. p 69

And that means one of two things: an inappropriate explosion of ripping and tearing, or a redirection of the emotion into one’s body.

Dar has just come through a 4 week excursion into Report Card Hell. Ontario, in it’s “wisdom,” has yet again changed report card requirements, and Dar was writing comments steadily, every evening for 4 hours, and all weekend, for 4 weeks. I’d see her frustration, and do a bit of bodywork on her, and she’d get the anger and frustration out.

Yesterday, I was hanging out with one of her teacher colleagues, who, during the same period, has developed pain in her legs. I asked her what she’d done with her anger and irritation over report cards. She said she’d pushed through, and then cleaned her house.

I suggested she might want to clean out the anger and frustration, so we worked on that.


Many people go the other route, and attempt to redirect the repressed stuff into blame, fighting, yelling, etc. It’s the “stuff it at work, yell at home, over the coffee cup left on the counter” ploy. The anger gets pointed at an object or a friend or a spouse, and a bit of the “edge” comes off.

But at a deep level we know better. We know we are putting off dealing with our own “zebra,” and in a sense this ploy only makes matters worse.

Like Enzo, many see the mess they have made, and whip about, looking for, and blaming the zebra. Or genetics. Or “the devil.” Or the situation, or others.

The best way to deal with all of this—to deal with what we are creating—is to express it, quickly, efficiently, and with respect.

By this, I mean that we acknowledge what we are doing to ourselves, ask ourselves how we can safely express the feeling arising, and then go and do it. And at no point do we give ourselves grief for feeling and enacting our feelings.

This is only possible if we creates for ourselves the safety and clarity to express who we are, without judgement, AND without the expression ever being aimed at another.

As above, with the heavy bag, mattress, chinaware.

Think about what you refuse to deal with, where you are afraid to go, how you divert yourself, and who you blame when things go South. Determine another path, another way.

Shake your head, stop blaming the zebra (the zebra is me, and it’s always dancing!) and learn to let go, without blame or judgement.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

2 thoughts on “Dancing Zebras”

  1. I just finished reading “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor…she talks about automatic physiological responses being triggered (chemicals being released), surging through the body then being flushed out, the whole process taking 90 seconds…(Chapter 17). She goes on to say that if she remains angry (or sad or whatever) after that, it is because she’s chosen to “…let that circuit run. Moment by moment, I make the choice to either hook into my neurocircuitry or move back into the present moment, allowing that (automatic) reaction to melt away as fleeting physiology”
    Sounds quite similar to what you’re saying, but with a bit of neurology thrown in…

    • Hey Ray,
      Yes, exactly. There is a hormonal reaction to everything… all that shifts is the intensity. The key, as you note, is to ‘be” with the feeling(s) generated, without reacting. I actually think that engaging the “mind” and simply watching what’s happening (a skill developed, among other ways, through meditation…) and to then decide what to do next.
      So, yes, love her stuff, and it seems to be an apt description of what the Buddha discovered…
      Cheers to you, too!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.