Dr. Cressy Wang
At a snail's pace
I went for a run a couple of days ago. The weather was perfect - warm afternoon sun on my back and a gentle breeze rustling through the tree leaves overhead. As I trudged along, my mind wandering to various tasks I needed to complete, I leaped over something in my path that stopped me short. I slowly turned around. "Is that a...snail?" I thought to myself as I bent down to investigate the tiny movement on the ground.
It was indeed a snail. Its soft brown body was slightly translucent, and its shell a dark earthy tone that came to a cone shaped tip at the tallest point. It was moving, almost imperceptibly, from one side of the concrete sidewalk to the other. Perhaps sensing my closeness, it paused, waved its antennae around gently, then resumed its trek, leaving a trail of slime that sparkled like glitter in the sunlight. I found myself unexpectedly in awe. Time came to a standstill while I stayed next to this snail, watching, breathing, and admiring. I don't know how long it took before I stood back up, but during those minutes, nothing occupied my senses except for the presence of this creature and its gracefully slow movement from one place to another. Even after I said a silent goodbye and resumed my run, I could see this image vividly in my mind's eye, along with a feeling of gentle strength that hadn't been present before our encounter. When I again thought about my to-do lists, I found myself calmer, with a renewed focus on patience rather than results.
I talk to my patients often about mindfulness as a stress reduction tool. We even practice mindful breathing and gentle yoga forms in session when needed. Yet, this humble snail reminded me that there is a special place for mindful activities in nature. It's organic and intuitively beautiful, and it holds a softness that cannot be replicated through meditating in walled rooms. As so many of us spend our days sitting in offices or cubicles, I invite you to carve out time to fall into a mindful connection with other living beings around us, no matter how brief. Notice a blooming flower, a fallen leaf, a duck swimming on the pond, and of course, maybe a little snail on a journey. Allow your senses to return to the basics of sounds, colors, smell, and shape. Remember that all of us grow constantly, but gradually, so it's perfectly alright to dial back the pace from time to time.