What the anteater and otter show us about success…
It’s been called the “ id” by Freud, and hedonism by zealots. In truth, the animal self is the part of us that seeks pleasure. Labeling this limits our experience of it. Still for the sake of reference I’ll describe this very free, intrinsically joyful aspect of being as “animal.” Animal encapsulates it. The living world seeks out pleasure and avoids pain without fear of appearing lazy, foolish or greedy. The irony is that for many animals this creates productivity, dignity and unselfishness. By looking at their actions from a spiritual rather than biological viewpoint we have a tool to unhinge ourselves from our hang-ups.
You otter play
Almost all animals play and act silly when young. Otters continue this into old age, making him a fun furry dude to be around. They romp, wrestle, snow slide, chase each other and play catch-and-release with their dinner. Most of us, myself include, are not nearly so free spirited. For example, I haven’t tobogganed since I was eleven and my romping is confined to a spirited jog. I could learn a lot from an otter. Most important: Play is good.
Play is good. We forget this in our rush to achieve and amass. In the otter’s game of dinner lost-and-found he shows us that losing can be just as much fun as winning. This is contrary to ego but so is spirit. In the otter’s dinner-game he loses lunch but finds freedom: He doesn’t need to eat if he doesn’t want to. Spiritual aspirants who fast for greater consciousness believe the same but have a lot less fun in the process. The otter has a better idea. He relinquishes without regret or strain.
Dances with spirit
Play is one of the few ways we can lose ourselves without trying. Caught in the moment we may realize a meditative type bliss. Dance can feel like play but for some it is meditation. The spontaneous spasms that characterize ecstatic dance allow us to express spirit with the body. When else can we do this? Compared to ecstatic dance our movements are rigid as a robot’s arm. When did we become so reserved? Play and dance help us to become more spontaneous. For some this will be met with cheers. For others, and unfortunately, jeers. It takes courage to march to the beat of a different drum. Yet in practicing courage we develop it. Dancing our private dance in front of the marching crowd is a challenge.
Besides unknotting our muscles, ecstatic dance unties our mind. Though historically this practice has been thought to exist only among humans it seems that the otter, with his flipping and wriggling, would make a great ecstatic dancer. Unlike us he doesn’t wait for the music to start to move in a musical fashion. His body is free and expressive. He chooses to move with the fluidity of waves rather than the rigidity of trees. We have the same choice. We don’t have to jump in the water to enjoy this experience. Mind-body exercises like pilates, yoga and tai-chi cultivate this creative body motion.
People make mistakes; animals evolve. We judge ourselves so harshly. Distinctions between right and are necessary in terms of moral issues but they have no meaning when it comes to trying new things. Yet when we make a mistake we are often the first to notice and hope to God no one else does. Nobody likes to feel humiliated. Most of us are concerned about looking foolish or feeling like we’re on display to be laughed at. Interestingly, feeling humiliated and being humiliated are two separate matters.
I once watched a show called Pet Star, where an anteater was called to perform an exceptional feat: Climb up a ladder, eat from a bucket, and climb back down. His trainer/owner watched anxiously as the scaly critter ascended the metal stairs. There were a series of clunks on his journey as his tail patted the ladder and a louder clunk when he reached the bucket. He had tipped it over. A heap of berries and throngs of audience members bore witness to shame. But it wasn’t the anteater that cringed- it was the owner. The blushing young man proceeded to stammer out excuses for the creature, which by this time had climbed down and was happily eating his dinner off the stage floor. Under the glaring stage lights that illuminated his owner’s red-face and sweaty brow, no change could be found in the anteater. He was intent on claiming his berry-delicious reward. Whether or not anyone was impressed didn’t matter.
That anteater didn’t catch any awards that day. He did, however, capture my heart. I remember what that anteater taught me: There are many mistakes on our way to victory, and others may have not feel we have earned it. We can let this bother us, or like the anteater, we can dine on what we deserve.
Failure is relative
Though his efforts were obvious the anteater didn’t perform as desired by others. The anteater dealt with this in a better way than most people. Unlike the anteater we try to interpret other’s interpretation of us. This is agony for both inner peace and performance. When feeling like we’ve failed we interpret every blink as shock and mouth twitch as dismay. This creates the disappointment we fear. We can turn a stumble into slapstick if we have the confidence of Chaplin. Similarly, a misplaced streak on a canvas can create abstract perfection if we desire. Either way we must persist. What if the anteater was to stop striving when applause wasn’t forthcoming? Motivated by the end result instead of appearances he continued. All he won was some berries, but then again that’s all he wanted.
Getting what you want
What is your heart’s desire? If it doesn’t seem important to others you may be told, or may feel that your efforts are wasted. It’s not. Nobody has the right to determine the value of your dreams. This is between you and the Universal Source. As natural beings our desires are natural, and as long as they don’t harm anyone it is our divine right to aspire to them. Whether you want enlightenment, a BMW or the ideal vitamin regimen your work will be rewarded. This is providing that you keep trying. You may not get your prize in the way or at the time you first imagined, but it will come to you. Just remember to dance and play along the way. This will make the journey a lot lighter.