Paying Attention: Ashley and the Snake

There’s a spot in southern Montana that calls to me sometimes. It’s nature-filled and close by, so it’s perfect for a day-visit when I’m feeling like I need to unplug from the world and clear my head.

This past weekend my husband and I made a visit to this spot without any particular agenda. I just wanted the experience of going. We ate our lunch along the river and hiked a short trail. We sat on a rock and watched, and listened, and breathed. I’d like to think the experience was practice in being present.

On our way down the trail, we had barely made it to the first switchback when I heard my husband’s characteristic scoff mixed with genuine surprise.

“You just stepped on a snake.”

I whirled around.

“What?!”

We stopped on the trail and my husband looked to the bushes where presumably the snake had escaped. He explained that in what was perfect and unfortunate timing, I had stepped right as the garter snake decided to cross the trail.

“It must have just run into your shoe. I watched it, and it sort of backed up and looked confused and then crossed the trail behind you.”

Had my husband not been there to witness the event, I would have had no idea that it happened.

For the past several weeks I’ve been having dreams about snakes, and I’ll admit I feel fear when I dream about or see them, even the small, harmless ones. I figured I was going to encounter a snake eventually. I’m a little glad that I missed the encounter; if I had been aware, I likely would have been startled and could have done actual damage to the snake.

But the fact that I had a literal run-in with the snake, and was completely unaware, made me think there was something more to this experience.

Snakes are sacred symbols and can represent a connection to Goddess energy, Elemental energy, and Transmutation among other things. Snakes have spiritual significance across many cultures, so in a way, I see my encounter with the snake as an encounter with the Divine. And what this encounter showed me is that I’m ignorant to much of the spiritual energy around me. That the Divine can run right into me, and I’ll keep walking. I’m not paying attention.

This is troubling. Yet, I appreciate the experience for the sake of bringing this unconsciousness to my attention. Of course, there’s the chance that I’m assigning meaning to a simple experience, but it felt meaningful to me, so that’s what matters.

And so, I find myself this week acknowledging my blind spots—the tasks and self-care I’ve ignored, the open-hearted acts I shy away from, the limiting thoughts and beliefs that keep me rooted in ignorance.

But now, instead of fear, I feel grateful to the little snake. I wonder what the bump on the head meant to him or her? Maybe we both learned a lesson.