Nature is amazing and full of symbolism if we’re willing to recognize it.
The other afternoon I was caring for the flowers and plants in my backyard and was shocked to see a camouflaged snake chilling out in my garden about one foot away from my bare ankles. Admittedly, I was a little freaked out & paralyzed with fear as I thought of my next move.
“Um, snakes, lizards, and reptiles are supposed to be seen in the zoo, in a cage, or on hikes, not in my backyard.”
This was one of the clear thoughts that came to mind, followed by “I’ve gotta take a picture because this is unbelievable.”
Fortunately, my phone is now a permanent appendage somewhere on my body and was readily available to snap a picture of this critter. I shared the picture with family and received texts of amazement, as well as one of a GIF with Indiana Jones surrounded by snakes. I appreciated the shared surprise, the humor, and the acknowledgment of my right to be afraid.
It’s likely a harmless garden snake, but I have never seen a snake so close to my home or in a place I love. It was surprising. It had also been awhile since a physical object had triggered my primal fear response. After pausing and letting the variety of thoughts run through my mind, my fear regarding the snake slowly turned to awe and wonder.
“How did it get here? Is it alone? What is it doing? Why don’t the dogs seemed bothered? What’s its purpose?”
Letting these thoughts simmer, I realized neither of us was moving and it was getting hot under the sun. My warming skin and the roses demanded I take action. My intent in coming to the garden was to care for the roses and I needed to get to it. The intention and purpose of the snake was unknown to me. I went about my business in the opposite direction of the snake while keeping an eye on it in my periphery. As I ruffled a bush, a branch touched the snake and caused it to slither away in the other direction.
“Whoa! What the *!?%!!”
Yes, the sight of the snake moving triggered another primal instinct causing me to fly back and hold my breath in this moment of fear. I didn’t know what to expect. After another moment, I returned to my breath realizing there was no danger. The snake was gone.
In the safety and shade inside my home, I began reflecting on this encounter. Why is there fear around snakes? I’ve held one before. They’re not slimy. Some people keep them as pets and some kids can hold a pile of them with huge smiles on their faces.
Reportedly, snakes are one predator that can kill primates, which offers a good reason to trigger a fear response like Indiana Jones’. Also, in religion, there’s the story of Adam, Eve, and that snake that helped get them kicked out of the Garden of Eden. So I see why snakes get a bad rap.
However, snakes are also used as bold and healing symbolism. Moses uses a symbol of a bronze snake to heal those in the wilderness. Jesus references this healing in the Bible. Greek mythology offers us the Rod of Asclepius, a single snake surrounding a staff, which continues to be a symbol of medicine and health care. The Chinese calendar includes the year of the snake; Gandhi, JFK, and Oprah Winfrey were born in years of the snake. We even see its symbolism in pop culture. Taylor Swift teased the release of her latest single and music video with short images of a moving snake. The song and video declare a new version of her has been born.
Furthermore, I later showed the picture to my gardener who enthusiastically responded that the presence of the snake was a good sign, adding that it eats bugs, mosquitoes, and rodents.
With all of this bold symbolism and the positive endorsement of my gardener, there’s obviously more to snakes than fear. There’s a duality in the symbolism. The fear associated with snakes taps into thoughts surrounding mortality, death, or the end of something. For most, these are uncomfortable thoughts and we want to avoid them. However, taking a breath and managing the fear allows us to be curious and open to a different or synergistic interpretation that provides a more useful meaning. Snakes are considered intuitive, protective, and wise. The shedding of the snake’s skin represents rebirth, fertility, rejuvenation, healing, and salvation. Broadening our perspective and reframing the symbolism creates hope, confidence, and clarity that helps us respond from a stance of strength.
The human response to fear is fight, flight, or freeze and is controlled by our limbic system, which happens to be referred to by some as “the lizard brain”. It’s the primitive part of the human brain that is also found in reptiles. Fortunately, the evolved human brain can manage the primitive one. With it, we have the ability to respond differently to our fear. We can manage our fear by examining its trigger. We can become aware of our fear, return to our breath, and choose how we want to respond and move forward. Just as the fear might recur and elicit a different primal reaction, we remain able to return to our awareness, breath, and control of our actions.
Sometimes the things that scare us have other symbols, messages, and benefits that might not be readily apparent. By connecting with others, being curious, asking questions, we can gain a new perspective on that which scares us.
Some questions to consider include the following: What is the other purpose of this fear? How is the fear serving me? Am I stuck in fight, flight, or freeze? What was my initial intent in being here? What good or growth can come from this fear if I could learn more about it and shift my perspective of it?
The dogs and I returned to the backyard a couple days later and unexpectedly met a lizard. It looked a lot like that snake and was again only a foot away from my bare ankles when I noticed it. Having learned and accepted that wild, unexpected things like my backyard, I met this critter with curiosity, awe, and wonder instead of fear. It was just doing its own thing and might see me as the threat. Instead of freezing or jumping back, this time I gave the critter a head nod in acknowledgement of its existence and right to be here too. I then went about my business …. after taking a picture of it, of course.
What triggers you to fly, fight, or freeze?
What could help you to shift your perspective on this trigger?
How could you grow or benefit from making this shift?
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