Snakes, rocks, and hard places

When I look back on my life, I have often known when it was time to move on because I felt squeezed out of a particular situation. This is how I imagine a snake feels when it needs to shed. I imagine things start feeling constrictive, uncomfortable, irritating, and itchy. At that point, a snake will actually seek out a rock or a hard place and brush its body against it to tear its skin. Then it’ll work at the tear until it’s big enough, find something to catch the skin on, and wriggle out shiny and new.

Snakes shed so they can grow, and because they grow throughout their lives, they shed their skin until they die. I think we shed so that we can grow, too. Today, I realized that I have felt the constriction, discomfort, irritation, and itchiness of a situation that no longer fits. It is time to move on–to wriggle out of this situation so I can emerge into a new one.

If snakes were to look in mirrors (and I’m sure fashionable snakes do), they would see in their reflection everything they will eventually shed. What they shed is their outward appearance, their physical identity, the way they and others recognize themselves in the world. When I have faced sheddings in the past, I have found it impossible to imagine who I’d be without my old skin. Who would I be if I left corporate life to become a parent? Who would I be if I got divorced and raised my son on my own? Yet the skin no longer fit, and I knew it had to come off.

For me, the worst part of shedding is the sense of spiritual disconnection I feel. Before a snake sheds, it is virtually blind for a period of time, because the skin over its eyes becomes cloudy. This I understand, because I have felt blind in terms of my source of inner guidance lately.

A situation that was known and comfortable has become constrictive and irritating. I feel blind to my inner guidance, and am instinctively seeking out rocks and hard places that will help me tear open an escape hatch in this old skin. Seems like a bad thing, but is it? I feel confusion, grief, and a sense of loss around losing something that was known and comfortable. And this spot between the rock and the hard place is painful. But who am I becoming? Freed of my old skin, what possibilities and adventures await me?

An unexpected visitor

Most religions teach that we have spiritual companions–angels, guides, totems, the higher self–they have lots of names. I believe I have spiritual partners on my journey, but sometimes they feel like imaginary friends, and I just want one of them to sit at the foot of my bed and have a conversation with me like any two people would.

Sometimes, I can’t stand it anymore and beg for evidence–demanding something tangible to make me feel less alone. I have been doing more of that lately, while also asking for insight, guidance, and intervention without ceasing. Last night, I had the most amazing shift in perception, and this morning, I woke up and saw a pile of gray beside the shelter in the goat pen. On closer inspection, I saw that it was a great-horned owl.

I read up on how to rescue raptors on the Internet. Poke ventilation holes in a box, put a towel in the bottom, get another towel, and take the whole shebang out to the raptor. Then cover the raptor with a towel, wrap it up, and put it in the box. My 10-year-old son courageously took on the task, and soon the owl was in an undignified position on his back in the bottom of the box–defenseless against the affectionate petting of an enamored boy.

I took it to our local falconer, who immediately determined that it had a compound fracture in its left wing. He said he’d take it to the vet, nurse it back to health, and then determine whether it could survive on its own in the wild. If it couldn’t, he’d try to find a zoo or other institution that would take it in.

Great horned owl Great horned owl

There was something about having the owl only a few feet away and looking directly into its immense eyes that touched me to the depths of my soul. I feel blessed and less alone. The chances of this happening when and where it did are so slim that I feel I’ve been given the tangible gesture of spiritual solidarity that I craved. And tonight, I don’t feel quite as alone.

This has been a test of your inner guidance system

You know that story about the guy who is in a flood and winds up on the roof of his house to escape the rising waters? Some people in a boat come by and offer to rescue him, but he turns them down, saying, “God will save me.” Then some people in a helicopter come by and offer to help, but he waves them away and says. “God will save me.” Eventually, he perishes in the flood, and when he gets to heaven, he says to God, “Why didn’t you save me?” God says, “Well, I sent you a boat and a helicopter didn’t I?”

This is the position I am in right now financially—sitting on the roof of the house, watching the floodwaters rise, and wondering how I’m going to get out of this predicament.

One morning last week, I finally collapsed a whole page full of money-related goals down to one: “I easily and effortlessly draw $100,000 per year through activities that bring me great joy.” Later that day, I was walking into a store and heard someone calling my name. It was a friend who said that a few people were gathering at a coffee shop next door to talk about a business and asked if I was interested in joining them. I abandoned my trip to the store, told my son where to find me, and joined the discussion. Sitting around the table were five people for whom I have great respect and one person I hadn’t met yet. I figured that any kind of business opportunity involving these people could be interesting and listened as one of them addressed the possibility of easily earning $100,000 per year. And then I heard the words, “network marketing.”

“Shit,” I thought. “Anything but that.”

However, I remembered the story of the guy on the roof in a flood and wondered, “Is this God sending me a boat or a helicopter? Will I one day stand at the pearly gates wondering why God didn’t save me, only to be told, “Well I sent you that network marketing opportunity, didn’t I?”

So I did it. I paid the money and joined up. And then I became restless. My mind raced. I couldn’t sleep at night and when I did, I dreamed about network marketing. In an effort to better understand it, I created a web site to explain it to myself and others. I started telling my story to people and meeting with resistance that mirrored my own. How could I ask people to sign up for something I didn’t understand, believe in, or feel good about myself? The whole subject introduced static into every conversation because of the existence of a hidden agenda.

Finally, it occurred to me: are the negative emotions that I am experiencing a legitimate message from my inner guidance system? Or are they a response to a limiting belief around network marketing that needs to be addressed? I had been assuming the latter. If my negative emotions are a message from my inner guidance system, my only choice (based on years of experience) is to heed that message. If my emotions are a response to a limiting belief, continuing to hold on to it makes no sense, and I need to clear it.

This is the most subtle and sneaky test of my inner guidance system that I have experienced yet. I am sitting on the roof. A boat comes by. I get in. It feels wrong. Now what? How can something dressed as salvation feel wrong?

As little sense as it makes, I cannot stay in the boat any longer. I put full faith in my emotions, ask my would-be rescuers to pull the boat over and get out. They can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.

Yet, here I sit on the bank. And you know what? My mind has stopped racing. I can sleep at night. I can have conversations with friends that have no static in them. Regardless of what happens, I have been true to myself, and that is all that matters. I don’t know whether another boat or a helicopter will come, but I know I did the right thing for me.