“Freedom is what you do to what you are told to do.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre
“So do you know what your Shadow Totem is?”
This was the first thing that came out of my husband’s friend’s mouth when we sat down for dinner at a local downtown restaurant across the street from him and a few friends we were meeting.
I laughed at the choice of questions, but then paused with wide-eyed eyes and replied: Oh my Godthat is ant! ”
The backstory is that we’ve discussed animal symbolism before, and understanding what we perceive (spirit animals) or what we fear most (shadow totems) is a matter of self-reflection. I had no trouble identifying my spirit animal, the eagle, but for the rest of my life, I have been struggling to identify shadow totems. It was not possible.
A light bulb went off in my head that night when he asked that question. I was battling a weeks-long ant infestation at home that became the bane of my existence. Every time I saw one of those suckers, I was triggered again . It was ruined for days. So this makes perfect sense! Ants are my shadow totem.but why??
As I pondered this realization, I was able to ponder the implications of this and get some pretty incredible nuggets. I ran into sex.
I’m not the only one with the weird “control problem” that many of us jokingly refer to. But the truth is, if you have this deep urge, you know that you live your life on a high leash, trying to keep everything balanced and perfect. Just so. And when you are thrown out, you go into some pretty deep mental turmoil until you put the ship back together again. Ok, too many metaphors, but the point is that it sucks.
Back to Ali. A few days after dinner I took some time to think about their true meaning as shadow totems.
As an accompaniment, I was even able to identify three mindset alignments. While they tend to lean toward Buddhist thinking, I have found them to be a truly solid way to approach life. Let’s go!
1. The ant came out of nowhere. From anywhere. She couldn’t pinpoint the cause of the problem, which drove her crazy.
In retrospect, this is related to how often I feel like a sitting duck in my life just waiting for the next blow to come. The unpredictable nature of things feels like a constant threat. Also, I often find myself searching tirelessly for the “why” of things, but sadly I don’t always find the answer.
I have felt this emotion in many different situations, from the most trivial to the most profound. The latter is when you have a miscarriage. (as many of them do) could not be tied to a definitive reason. In this case, my only true course of action (easier said than done) was to accept and move on.
Not a sexy response to the above, but acceptance really is the best thing ever.
Life has surprises. And not always happy. I’ve heard that people who can expect the unexpected accept it as an “old friend” when it happens. Sounds a lot better than treating life’s downfalls as monsters under your bed (“up and downs” are easier to handle, right?!).
2. Dan Ali was ruining my days. But true.
I felt exploding and ridiculous, screaming curses every time I came across one of those evil little things. My poor husband (who has the combined patience of a saint, Zen master, and perhaps Jesus!) was hearing me from the next room. I didn’t want this for me (or him).
Just like in my larger life, small things that go wrong can really ruin me. Unfortunately, the feeling of having a bad day instead of just maintaining a bad moment is something I’m familiar with.
Enter mindfulness. This useful strategy allows for a sort of compartmentalization, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the reality currently in front of you. In fact, the ants were actually only in a few rooms of the house. I only encountered ants for maybe a few minutes during the day. But MAN, you wouldn’t have known that!
To cling to our routine or to stay in a certain way is certain death. Ok, that’s extreme, but it’s a source of certain anxiety. And that’s not the way to live this short life. Key Principle: Impermanence. Funny thing is, I have that word tattooed!With permanent ink… but Is it…”Permanent”? Digression.
3. I opted for the ant treatment option, but it was still fussing and walking around. I did everything I could, why couldn’t I just let go?
Long after choosing a course of action, we often find ourselves ruminating on other things in life. To me, it sounds like a waste of mental, emotional, and even physical energy (if you’re picking up the pace!).
Like when I made the decision to switch careers from business to education. “Is this a mistake?” “What if I change my mind again?” “Did I just waste my bachelor’s degree?” , the path forward became vague and uncertain.
It’s hard, but you have to let go of the knowledge that practice – the key word, PRACTICE – is limited in what you can do. There are so many sources of inspiration for this concept. Choose your favorite words: The famous quote “Let go and let God” or “Let it goooo” (Frozen) (Are there other parents at home?). you get the idea.
I would also add to the mantra list that nature always wins. This is true for ants (spoiler alert, they’re back) and life in general, and the wider scale universe. Think entropy. Everywhere in all respects. The sooner you adapt to the concept, the better!
I was strangely grateful to the ants for giving me the opportunity to reflect. It gave me (and maybe you too!) the opportunity to gain insights that I otherwise wouldn’t have. If you’re worried that we’ll forget this wisdom, don’t worry. These little reminders (aka ants) are always around the corner.
Edit after writing: Funny thing is, when I went into the bathroom right after writing this, I saw ants climbing the side of the mirror!