In this day and age we are surrounded by an abundance of mentors. They come in every shape and form. They pop up in videos, movies, song lyrics or in books. Some are experts we have never met who can appear to give us instant advice. Perhaps we meet them in person, through the Internet, or from somewhere far across the globe. Sometimes, a wise mentor, guide or magical helper appears along our life journey in a form we least expect. Let me share a story about one evening when I met a host of wise mentors while walking a labyrinth.
Before I set foot on the labyrinth, I paused as I usually do. I breathed deeply, closed my eyes and opened my mind and heart to whatever gift of knowledge, insight or emotion I was about to receive. And then I began walking… slowly. Loosely focusing on the first winding turn, I suddenly noticed the labyrinth was sprinkled with little brown orbs.
Snails! Helix Pomatia! Escargot!
I stopped in my tracks and observed. Then slowly, doing a 360 turn, I saw them everywhere! Hundreds of them! They had come from the bushes that skirted the labyrinth. I even saw a few in the labyrinth itself, making their own hero’s journey to its center. I no longer felt alone there. I was amidst a whole colony of air-breathing land terrestrials! I couldn’t help but laugh!
Can they see me, I wondered? What are they whispering to each other? Large and small, I imagined they were families. Parents schooling their little gastropod mollusks. Discoveries being made. Lessons learned. I carefully continued my walk to the center of the rain washed labyrinth, thinking on the symbolism of snails.
Right away, I thought of snails as slow, steady, humble and benevolent creatures, much like turtles, which I so dearly love. They exemplify deliberation, perseverance and protection of providence. Like turtles, snails carry their houses upon their backs, and therefore, are symbols of self-sufficiency. Because they seal themselves in their shells during the winter and dry periods, re-emerging in the spring, snails could be also be viewed as symbols of death and rebirth.
As I reached the center of the labyrinth, I paused to meditate more on the curves and turns of their shells. The shape of the snail’s shell is often associated with symbolism of the spiral. How fitting to find them among the winding paths of the labyrinth, or along the outside as if they were orbiting the heavenly body of the earth or the sun itself.
What do spirals represent, I pondered? I could almost hear the silky whispers from the colony surrounding me. “Cycles,” came a whisper. “Expansion” and “Contraction,” a couple more quietly proclaimed. “Mystery” and “Change,” some telepathically chanted. “Evolution” and “Continuity,” others wisely argued. “Beneficial spirals twirl to the right while destructive ones twirl to the left,” a long, studious snail seemed to distinctly and resolutely answer.
Do treasures and wisdom lie at the center of their spiral houses, I wondered, or do nightmares, Minotaurs, or other beasts dwell within?
Bending into a low squat, I followed the journey of one little fellow sharing the walk with me. Snails, I discovered, are indeed telepathic. It must be their antenna. Though I did not say it out loud, in my mind, as I watched his slippery little body inch its way along the path leaving a trail of shiny slime in its wake, I thought, “YUCK!”
And then I heard it, even past my own deaf ears: “I am not ‘YUCK’,” he rightfully asserted. “I am as much a part of the natural world as you.”
He was right. Slippery, slimy snails are a part of it all. They are a part of us. We are One. With a quick change of mind and heart, I bowed humbly in reply, “You are welcome here, little Master.”
The wisdom the snails gave to me that evening was this: That I cannot be at one with nature unless I am at one with ALL of nature, and being at one with ALL nature “out there” is a metaphor for being at one with ALL of my own internal nature. If I can’t enjoy my own garden unless it is free of pests, unless each leaf and flower is perfect, I will never enjoy my garden. Similarly, if I cannot accept myself because of my flaws and failings, or if I cannot accept myself as worthy of significance, belonging, abundance and love unless I am perfect, I will never enjoy my SELF.
When the student is ready, the master will appear.
~ Buddhist Proverb