Lessons from a Toad

I spent a few hours with a toad this week.  I sat with it in the garden, watching its movements and observing they way it lives.  I have had a fear of toads (and frogs and snakes too) since childhood, when I spiked a high fever involving hallucinations of amphibians and reptiles crawling out through a hole in the ceiling plummeting onto myself.  I felt trapped, unable to move likely due to being sweaty and tangled in the sheets.  I am over the worst of this fear now, as I no longer have anxiety when I see them, now I just experience surprise at their presence.  I am able to allow my logical mind to process their proximity as harmless.  So being able to sit with a toad for some time was cathartic in many ways.  While sitting with him, I learned some lessons that I thought I would share.

Toads spend a lot of time contemplating.  The toad I watched would hop a distance, then wait.  Then move slightly in a sort of walk, then wait.  He did much more waiting than moving.  There was no hurry.  There was no reason for him to rush.  He was not particularly threatened, so he could take his time in order to not become threatened. I have a tendency to want to rush into things, rather than waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.  I become impatient with the process.  The toad was all about the process.

Sometimes the toad took a great leap, and sometimes he just shuffled.  This is true for life.  There are times where a great leap is required to make ground.  Where I have to assert great energy toward inciting big changes, and other times where a small adjustment is required for a better view, or just to get more comfortable.  Both are necessary ways to move through change.

Toads have the capacity to turn their heads slightly.  I had always thought that they moved their eyes or had to move their entire bodies in order to increase their range of vision, but as it turns out, they have a neck of sorts.  They must have a pretty good range of vision, between their eyes being atop their heads and being able to turn their head slightly.  Movement might mean a toad would get noticed, so anything he can do to look around and take in the world from a place of stillness is an advantage.  Our culture promotes the opposite of this.  We are all hurried to keep up to the pace of life we’ve created for ourselves, and rarely slow down enough to make observations.  Our culture values productivity.  Looking is not productive…unless of course it could save your life!  Being at the top of the food chain has its disadvantages.  We have lost touch with our ability to be present because we don’t rely on this skill for survival.  When I consider it in these terms, I realize that getting back in touch with my alert and intuitive sense of self is the only thing that can save me from a crumbling society.

I spent nearly two hours with the toad, over which time he moved about a meter (3 feet or so) hopping a few times, adjusting himself several times, and turning his head a couple of times.  Meanwhile the rest of the garden was a flurry of activity.  Birds, butterflies, bees and insects hurried about while the toad by contrast waited.  It seemed as though his waiting was put forth in an effort to attain a goal, for after his movement toward the shade of the back of the garden, he found a hollow in the ground to hunker down into.  Perhaps it was a spot he’d visited before.  Once he reached his destination, he settled in by digging his hind legs beneath the soil slightly.  Then he waited again.  And waited.  And waited.  After some time, he fell asleep.  But even in slumber, he opened his eyes every ten minutes or so to make sure everything was still as he’d left it.

I have much to learn from the toad.  Pace.  Contemplation.  Careful calculation of when to exert my effort and when to reserve it.  The art of camouflage.  Knowing when to jump with confidence.  The beauty of stillness in a bustling world.  The slow pace with which I can pursue my dreams.  Look (a lot) before leaping.  Blending in doesn’t mean I’m lost.  The importance of  repeatedly checking yourself against your goals.  It doesn’t matter what the outside world sees, or think they see, what matters is the depth to which I understand my goals and how to reach them.  How to be fully present with what is on the journey.

What a gift it was to be able to sit with a toad.  For a few hours, I was able to avert my fears and learn from him.  Perhaps my fear of the toad extends beyond his exterior to what he represents…that which stretches me.  I have found an ally whose lessons I am grateful for.

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