The Chinese “Year of the Snake” is upon us. When you think of snake, what do you think of first – is it positive or negative? If someone said “he’s a snake” would you want to be buddies with him?
Interestingly, a number of animals have been used to describe individuals and situations metaphorically. Metaphors happen to be one of the most powerful qualities of the subconscious mind, and so keeping that part of the mind in focus, I was thinking of animals and especially snakes, attributes, and meanings to the mind.
Some Animals are More Equal than Others
I once had a client who came in for weight release – when I asked her what she said to herself when she looked in the mirror, she said “Hippo!” Now, the hippopotamus is a powerful, amazing creature but I don’t think that she was talking about the positive attributes of this majestic beast. Instead she was looking at the physical attributes and saw herself similarly (it wasn’t true, but that doesn’t matter with the subconscious mind).
Unfortunately, I usually hear more negative animal attributes than positive ones. This seems to align with the number of negatives vs positives that are spoken to children (and adults), not only in the ‘outside’ world, but within our own private dialogue (when we stand looking at ourselves in the mirror perhaps?)
When I think about how perfect each animal in the wild is – how each has adapted to its climate, food chain, environment… I wonder how we can be so harsh to them, and to ourselves.
My big, tall husband often refers to me as a little barky dog while he sees himself as a lumbering, affectionate puppy. Could I take that negatively? Sure. But I know when I sink my teeth into a project, it’s (for the most part) going to happen. And I literally had to use my voice in a crowd of bigger people to let them know I was there so I wouldn’t physically be crushed. Maybe some of the animals we’re likened to aren’t far off, when we look at the positive attributes. As I’ve mentioned before, in the book “What Shamu taught me about life, love and marriage” the author found marital bliss by understanding what ‘animal’ her husband was and created an environment and appreciation for his particular species. As you’ll see with snakes, the reptile that’s often publicized as the ‘baddie’, may look different when viewed another way.
Protector or Predator?
In Texas there are a number of snakes that are poisonous if you’re bitten by them. Now, I can tell you that when I’m hiking in snake territory, I’m careful where I put my hands on rocks when climbing or steadying, and I don’t jump into long grass without some fair warning. Yet one thing I don’t do that others have, is vilify the snake because it can hurt people. And I do that because I understand the subconscious mind. And they are a lot alike.
Because the mind can function the way it is ‘supposed’ to yet will strike when attacked (perceived attacked as well). Like the snake, the mind learns how to do certain things to survive. These same skills that may be used to collect food, defend family, or grow can also hurt others (or ourselves). Have you ever been ‘bitten’ by another person – the words or reactions might be over the top when weighed to the situation. Maybe you’ve even done it yourself. Because of internal, instinctive training, we strike to defend ourselves from perceived danger. With snakes, it’s often when their safe habitat is being infringed upon – and it’s often the subconscious mind’s job to counter an encroachment on our comfort space.
The way I look at it, snakes and the subconscious are similar in that they are both powerful, both reactive, and at the same time as being a deadly slayer are a keen survivor in the face of great challenges. Just like the twisted snakes represented in medical symbols, both life and death are in their hands.
Regulate Out of Necessity
Snakes don’t have an internal heating/cooling system, so they need to sun themselves and shade themselves in turn to make sure they don’t get too hot or too cold.
What can we take from this? Fortunately, most humans have a physiological system that favours homeostasis and equalizes our temperature control during times of extremity. Yet, do we naturally do that with our emotional state? I know that many people come in ‘too hot’ or ‘too cold’ emotionally and want to find ways of coming to balance from the inside. While hypnosis is a very effective way of doing this, there are also some more snake-like exercises you can do to even out the ups and downs.
Image being cold – what warms you up? Imagine being hot – what cools you down? Start first with the physical – it could be a shady tree on a hot day, or a cool glass of water… it may be a cozy sweater on a cool day, or a fireside seat when you’re in a chilly place… These can be created in your mind and can be recreated on demand. When you do so, what are the feelings that go along with them? When we practice a certain thing – a skill, a technique and even a feeling – we tend to get better at that same reaction. Take a bit of time out and imagine changing your ‘temperature’ state and see what goes along with it. How could you transfer that expertise to mental and emotional challenges? How can you, like the snake, regulate yourself without all the natural supports others may seem to have. The more you practice, the more you can self-regulate and feel more in control of the way you feel.
Strong but Fragile
Many people think of snakes as slimy, but I know from having touched them, that they are cool and dry. Similarly, we often see snakes as prehistoric survivors that can take care of themselves. And, for the most part, they can. However, when they are surrounded by ‘unnatural’ changes to their environment, they can be placed in jeopardy and their survival may be threatened.
A little like humans, right? We are similarly resilient, yet can become ‘endangered’ when we are exposed to too many shifts in our natural habitat – too little sleep, too much stress, too much/little food, not enough meaningful relationships, etc. I’d like you to take a moment and think about yourself as an animal that might go on the extinct list if you don’t provide the necessities for yourself. What would it mean if you changed to look after yourself better? How would it affect those around you? What would it mean to give yourself a ‘preserve’ if even for a few minutes a day, to rest, restore, and feel safe?
Just like the snake, we can be both tough and delicate – at the same time. We often are proud of the strengths and embarrassed about our delicacy… but they are both our strengths. If a snake wasn’t flexible and soft-sided, how would it slither and move so easily amongst the grasses, barely making a sound? What are some of your ‘soft’ spots that may be your greatest strengths – like compassion, empathy, understanding…?
Letting Go of Old Skins
One thing I love about snakes is that they shed their skins. We do too, but not as dramatically. And it is the metaphor that I’d like to focus on right now. The snake changes on the inside, and at a certain time when that new layer is ready, the external layer is just left behind. Because the snake doesn’t have clothes in his/her closet that don’t fit, the snake creates the perfect new version and does away with the one that no longer fits. How could we learn from the snake?
Have you been working on a renewed you but are afraid of the revelation because of what others might think? Are you holding on to your old ‘skin’ because it’s familiar? What would be the best and worst thing about an internal/external change of ‘skin shedding’? I mention the worst because sometimes we don’t acknowledge that we may lose (actually or just in our minds) something/someone/a concept of ourselves when we make changes. Looking at the positive and negative puts it all out in the light so we can better judge what may be ‘real’.
There may be several ‘skins’ you’d like to release – at work, at play, physically, mentally, emotionally, with others, with yourself… Pretend that you can shed the older, dead layer and move forward with the change in place – how would it look, how would it feel, what would it be like? While the shift from old to new may not be as straightforward as the snake’s, starting to consider the change helps you look at the steps that need to take place to get there.
Take a moment before you get back to your fabulous life to think about whether or not you have positive attributes of the glorious snake, or of any other creature that is suited perfectly for a particular life. What could you learn from them? Where could you focus your energies on the strengths of that animal? How could you understand others more compassionately if you looked at them as part of the natural world of ‘different but equal value’?
Here’ssssss to a great year ahead,
PS – while I was looking up more information about snakes I discovered that snakes that are ‘charmed’ follow movement, not sound – was watching some clips and they look hypnotized to me!