It was early morning, around 7am, when I began to amble downstairs with my daughter to get ready for breakfast. My husband called to me from the family room, “Honey, we have a problem!” I rushed into the room to find out what was the matter and noticed something shiny all over the rug. He was crouched down on all fours, looking under tables with disgust. I couldn’t believe it as I recognized the unmistakable silvery trail weaving around the scattered toys. We had a snail loose in the house.
A snail, I thought – how could that be? How does a snail get into your home? We couldn’t have possibly left the sliding glass door open that long. Unbelievable. Our daughter found it funny that her mommy and daddy were crawling around on all fours, wiping up goo and looking under tables and couches. I tentatively reached my fingers into dark places behind things, feeling for a hard shell but worried I’d find a spider instead. It’s got to be here somewhere – how hard is it to find a snail? But to no avail – this critter eluded us.
Hide and Seek
The next couple days were about the same – clean up the slimy mess and play hide and seek, but seeking fruitlessly. What did we need to do to catch this guy? We consulted family and friends, who suggested a dish of beer to lure it out and drown it, apparently attracted to the yeast. We didn’t have any beer, so I tried wine one night. It didn’t show any interest, but the bug made a lovely lacey pattern around the dish and the entire width of the large rug. Ugh.
It’s surprising how much area this slow and tiny being could cover in a short period of time. We’d go to bed around 11, checking to see if it had emerged from hiding before retiring, and I’d even get up sometimes in the middle of the night to see if it was out. Nothing. Yet we’d still find the mess on the rug come breakfastime.
I don’t know if the snail was in a rush, but from our larger and faster perspective, snails move at an excruciatingly slow pace. For most of us, slowing down seems wasteful and unproductive. But not this snail – you’d be amazed how productive he could be in short order, leaving us
the concrete evidence.
We live during fast times. High speed internet connections, multi-tasking, microwaves and fast food, rapid transit. As a result, we always seem to be in a hurry. It’s as if we have to move ourselves as quickly as those internet connections in order to keep up.
Rapid action, rapid distraction
The strange thing is that, although it appears that we’re able to do more with this fast-paced activity, we’re often accomplishing less. The problem with rapid action is that it’s easily set off balance.
A mind that races is incredibly distractible. We may discover that we’re off on a strange train of thought or doing some trivial activity when we had set out to work on something entirely different. Running from room to room to fold the laundry, open the mail, check the food on the stove, pay the bills, and call a friend may leave the laundry basket half full, a pile of papers on the desk, a pot boiling over, letters put in the box unstamped, and the inability to focus on the conversation because you can’t remember what it was you originally set out to do.
The Tortoise (or Snail) and the Hare
Recall the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Although it’s obvious that the rabbit is fast, he stops paying attention. He becomes overconfident and easily distracted. Losing sight of the goal, he’d rather stop to eat cabbages or take a nap. His speediness leads to laziness, fatigue, and arrogance. In the end, of course, the tortoise wins, always intent on the goal, while the hare awakens from his delusion moments too late.
This renegade snail reminds me to slow down. Often, in my yoga practice, I want to hurry up and accomplish something. When I was only 6 weeks postpartum and still healing from birth, I wanted to get back to yoga class. I pushed myself too hard and too quickly, and suffered injuries that set me back months.
Isn’t this how we usually injure ourselves? Like my daughter did yesterday running down the street while looking around at the rose bushes, we trip, fall, and skin our knee. Maybe this snail paid me a visit to slow me down.
The rush of more desires
What’s the rush? What do I get when I collect another pose or perfect another movement? I experience satisfaction, of course. But I also experience more desires – it feeds the drive and need to do more. Faster, better.
When I slow down and allow the practice to unfold as it is in each moment, I find that my enjoyment of those moments increases. Simple things are sweet, and accomplishments are fulfilling, rather than leaving the aftertaste of “what’s next” constantly on my greedy tongue.
The unfinished things
When I move more slowly and mindfully, I am steady and balanced. Focusing on a task, taking my time, and staying attentive, I get the job done.
Gazing around at my office, there are several started projects that sit undone, the side-effects of a rushing and distracted mind. We don’t realize that all those unfinished things drain our energy, like the hare who got sleepy from goofing off. One at a time, a moment at a time, I can finish them and clear that unsettled energy out of my space. The mind can then be more at peace.
I’m fairly certain that this snail we’ve had visiting can feel every inch, probably every millimeter of the rug that it traverses. A snail is not likely to miss a crumb in it’s path. It’s rare for any of us to be so present and keen to our surroundings, conscious of every step and every inch of pavement or earth that we travel over.
Many things pass us by unnoticed: the new shoot of bamboo coming up through the stones in the living room pot; the tiny pine cones just forming amidst the sprig of needles on the tree by our driveway; the 7-Eleven cup tossed into the weeds alongside the sidewalk.
How do we know we’re not missing something important, something that may touch our soul, shift our perspective, or change our life forever? Our lives are lived solely in the present moment, yet our minds ruminate over the past and the future, blind to what’s happening right here and now. At the very least, we’re missing many precious moments of life as we rush ahead – worrying, complaining, preparing, avoiding – to things that may never come to pass.
The slug goes, but my practice slows
Although grateful for the perspective the snail shared with me, I grew tired of cleaning up the goo. On day seven, at 1:45am, I woke from a dream and tiptoed (as if the snail would be able to run and hide) down to the family room and flipped on the lights. There by the leg of the coffee table was a long slug, creeping along imperceptibly. What do you know – a slug, not a snail. Amused, I picked it up with a paper towel, opened up the sliding glass door, and walked over to the grass, where I tossed it as far away from the house as possible. Thanks, guy. No more slimy floor from you, but a good lesson nonetheless.
As I step on my mat again, I think of the slug. I move fluidly, slowly, consciously. Catching myself when I run off into the cabbage field, I draw back, breathing here again now. Doing less, but experiencing more.
Copyright © 2006 by Constance L. Habash