I observed this snail slinking along the side of a porch railing in a lovely seaside town one day. Maybe you think of snails only as pests; maybe you never think of snails at all. In either case, please allow me to share with you the Wisdom of the Snail, or, “what one little terrestrial gastropod taught me about moving forward in the face of uncertainty” (also know as “being an artist,” also known as “being alive”).
As this snail was making its way in the world, I noticed something that made my jaw drop. Here’s what it did: it put its little eyestalks out and inched (millimetered?) forward. Pretty soon, it discovered a porch railing in its path, and when that obstacle brushed up against its eye, it immediately pulled back that tentacle.
I know, my dear mollusks, the world can so often feel like it’s poking you right in the eye.
Of course, the most natural thing to do after we’ve made ourselves vulnerable and hit a wall is to pull our soft parts right back in close.
The railing was immovable, what choice did the little snail have?
But then the most amazing thing happened. Do you know what this snail did next? You won’t believe it!
It stuck its little eyestalks right back out and tried moving in a slightly different direction.
And as I looked on in awe, I witnessed this little gastropod actually navigating its whole world this way: sticking out a tentacle, getting poked right in the eye, pulling back and regrouping, shifting direction ever so slightly, and, wonder of wonders, trying again.
It’s that last part that I always feel I get hung up on. Putting out feelers, putting what I think is my most open-hearted self into the world, that I’m pretty good at. And pulling right back when I hit an obstacle? That part I’m pretty good at too.
But what I want to remember from this tiny, humble creature is the final step of the maneuver: making a course correction, if needed, but then putting my feelers right back out there again.
We talk about things moving at a snail’s pace as a measure of slowness, but if I’m going to anthropomorphize the poor snail, I want to lift up its sticktoitiveness and willingness to put its vulnerable little self out there again and again.
So, my dear little mollusk, what keeps you moving forward?