Monday, April 30, 2007

Your reaction, please ...

Green Snake, Berlin Zoo, Berlin, Germany, July 2004, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/80 sec @ f4.2, ISO 200, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

So tell me, what is your first reaction when you see a snake? Do you have a "natural aversion"? Or perhaps you understand this as a "conditioned response". Conditioned from what or by whom? Maybe you have just the opposite reaction -- perhaps you have grown up with an affinity for snakes.

You see, for me, I have no problem with snakes. I was a camp counselor, and worked at a wildlife display where many snakes were present. We would routinely take out the snakes and handle them, even putting them around our necks for dramatic effect. But it is interesting how many people's reactions are inherently fearful or squeemish, rather than curious or friendly or interested. (BTW, I have my own squeemishness -- just not snakes.)

I received an interesting comment to one of my earlier posts , and thought I would share it in this context (indeed, it prompted this post)

" ... Early this morning, I received a surprised call from this very special man and I must admit that he had, brighten up my day despite the fact that in the midst of our conversation, I could feel goose-pimple "popping" out on the surface of my skin !! He actually rescued a poor little spirit, oops, I mean a flimsy,slimy greenish and yellowish looking snake across the path with a stick as it was struggling to do so. Most people at the sight of it will probably scream their hearts out or they will just run away and withdraw. Gee, I would never be a able to overcome the fear of all the crippy crawly insects, let alone lifting up a snake !! This guy is the real Hero of my life and it takes a lot of courage to do that- what a splendid act on SPONTANEITY !"

" ... As for your story about the snake -- how interesting our conditioning, eh? One person hears this story and feels goosebumps; another imagines putting down the stick and picking up the snake with their bare hands. Educated (so he knows if the snake is poisoness) and experienced (so he knows how to handle snakes, and not exhibit fear), this is no problem at all."

"Kind of like life. We need both wisdom and experience to walk along the path of life, and understand how to deal with snakes and other slithery creatures that cross our paths. ..."

Life certainly is interesting, isn't it. So hard to tell what are "natural" reactions, what are "conditioned" reactions, and what are "instinctual" reactions. It seems to me, any time we find ourselves "reacting", we might choose to analyze the underlying reality.

And give ourselves the space between the event (e.g., seeing a snake) and our reaction (e.g., scream our hearts out), to determine what our response will be.

I believe it was a holocaust survivor who wrote,
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom"
-- Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning


Anonymous said...

Thanks for asking for my reaction. Reacting to things for me is very enjoyable. (How about for you?) In fact, I enjoy reacting to things almost as much as I enjoy not reacting to certain other things. But enough about me. No, wait, not enough, I was going to give you my reaction.

When you said, "Your reaction, please..." My immediate reaction was to recall a line from a book I was recently reading (it was the Book of Tea, but that does not matter) which goes like this, "Let us dream of evanescence and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things."

As you may know Steve, a favorite pastime of mine, when I have nothing else to do, is wondering about why there is "something" rather than nothing. It often seems to make no sense that the universe is here. What is the reason for it? It often seems to me much more reasonable that the universe should not be here at all. However, it is here! And how strange it is! Filled with beautiful foolishness, like that green snake. Given the fact that the universe is here, why did it turn out like this? (Don't say this was the only possibility...I don't buy that). Anyway, looking at the universe and the weird things in it, like that snake, well, how amazing, what beautiful foolishness, and how ridiculous it is! All at the same time! That green snake to me just seems so wonderful, so beautiful, and so ridiculous, all at the same time. (Just like us humans...and everything else too). This is the end of my reaction.

Honeybee said...

Absolutely reaction...I would want to touch it! I was the girl that volunteered to hold the Boa constricter in class...they actually have a silky feeling as they slither across you. 8) Plus, growing up in the woods makes me appreciate all living things more...although, spiders still creep me out but that is due to waking up with a HUGE one on my chest. 8)

Again...always enjoy my visits to your blog. They always bring a smile to my face.


Tol said...

Wow, what a sight ! Steven, that "stunning" photo of yours has certainly made my heart beats faster, so much so that I practically shiver !!! I tried to overcome my fear as I had a closer look at it with my all my rigid muscles and total rejection of ALL snakes, even worms, I could only end up with "yaks" honestly speaking. It's no doubt a beautiful photo to a lot of people, but I just do not know how to appreciate it at this point in time, not until I've overcome the fear, totally, I guess. It will take time, I know after all these years of non-acceptance and preconceived ideas about snakes !

Steven, you must have tons of photos in hand ready to be shared, I presume, as you could just shoot out this "yellowish and greenish" huge snake immediately after my posting. Looking forward to more of your beautiful pictures, NO MORE snakes, pleeeease - hahahaaa !!

Steven Crisp said...

JH, you always know how to pierce my assumptions, don't you. I make a post about the nature of "reaction" and the need for "space" and you suggest that it is fun to just react. And of course, you are correct.

I love the line from your book, "Let us dream of evanescence and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things." That really does capture an recognition and appreciation for life and the 'beautiful foolishness' of all that surrounds us, and all that we do.

Onto your bigger question ... which is basically "Why?" I know you don't expect me to answer that in a blog ;-) Much of mankind has pondered that question. At the same time, much of mankind has not.

Oh what the heck. Let's give it a go. I think it gets back to a question I have been pondering for some time ... is there any *inherent* "meaning to life". To that, I have concluded the answer is "to evolve". Which means, to be part of the creative process. No other "meaning" than that.

But to ask "why is there a creative process in the first place?" To that I see two answers, depending on your belief in/of God.

If you believe there is some ultimate force which has volition and will, then I would argue the purpose of this evolutionary process is to recognize your inherent Godliness (THOU ART THAT). The ultimate purpose of which is to help continue evolution. But either way, the ulitmate result is the same ... continued evolution -- if not here, then elsewhere; if not now, then later.

If you do not subscribe to the concept of God, I would say that we are likely actors in one of an essentially infinite number of universes, and just happen (by definition) to belong to one of those that creates consicious life with the ability to ask the question "Why?" And to which the answer can only be "Why not?" ;-)

Thanks for your comment -- as usual -- JH.

Steven Crisp said...

Honeybee, so glad to hear from you. Why I am not surprised that you come from the "snake handler" realm. Adventuresome, living in a foreign land, clearing your own path, reflective in nature. And yet, you fear spiders. Can we choose to overcome our fears? Or are they just a different set for different people?

And tol, of course it was your comment on another post that created this one. You see -- you manifested that green/yellow snake through your own actions ;-) And it is for you (as a metaphor for all of us) that I included that quote from Victor Frankl. That quote was also the foundation for a very successful self-help author, Stephen Covey.

The question, then, to all of us, is can we choose our own response? If we wish to no longer be "fearful", can we move beyond our programmed reactions. I believe the answer is "yes". Perhaps you will find that to be so.

And yes, I have "tons of photos". Just ask my wife ;-) And I htink I will have to start sharing more of them. Yes, in one of my other blogs, Photographs and Poetry, I plan to start posting a photo a day without commentary, to allow people to offer up poetry if they wish. You can check that out if you are interested. Thanks again for the comment.

T O M said...

Come on humans,the snake says...the universe is always there. It simply make no sense that human are in the universe. You just like to come and go as you like.
Now don't disturb me please. I just had lunch and am digesting and resting comfortably. Why be afraid of me? Can't you see that I am all coil up and not in a position to attack or defend.All I want is to be left alone in peace and bask in the nice warm sunlight.Your flash actually startle me and intrude into my meditative state . Comeon humans..don't always observe others, comments on others and judge others...just leave others alone. Can't you see I am all coiled up like a fist with a thumb in the center..pointing in your direction..neh.
Snakes are really quiet enlightened beings. They just won't bother you if you don't bother them.
It is a really beautiful photo..Steven.

KerrdeLune (Cate) said...

No aversion here at all - I rather like snakes and there is a whopper of a black rat king snake living in my favorite barn loft - she is a bit of a character, and we have named her Rosy. The colour of THIS snake is marvellous.

Steven Crisp said...

t o m,

Amazing how you put yourself in the mind of a snake, and I wonder, can animals even think? Anyways, your perspectives on we humans is appreciated.


Good to hear from you again.

Now that must be something, going into the barn and wondering if you will be greeted by Rosy. Ha! Most people just get a barn kitty to control their rodent population ;-)

Thanks for the visit.

T O M said...

Can animal even think??? Now I am not an expert in this.However, I do notice everymorning when I go out for a walk, there is a small bird always on branch making a sort of morning wake up call.When I stop to look, it will just hop to another further branch and wait there for my next move.If I make a move closer , it will just fly away.But if I don't move and just observe stationary, it will continue to make the wake up call again. It is this thinking??? Also I have read about a monkey somewhere in America being train to recognise about 100 words and react to it. What about dogs that could be trained to pick up chores.These can go on and on...and I personally think that animals are really following closely behind if not being influence or learn from human to be able to think. Human themselves are able to think only after the evolution of the frontal lobe of the brain.There was a common reference to the snake as being a 'spirit' in nature in the old traditions of the east. Perhaps it is due to the snakes quiet characteristics and its lonely nature.Perhaps Steven, you may know more.

Steven Crisp said...

T O M,

Your inputs sent me the Google gods. (As an aside, can you really appreciate the quantum leap of information access this tool has created for mankind? SImply amazing).

Anyways, I found an article published by Time in 1993, entitled Can Animals Think? OK, so no points for cleverness there.

They list some examples of chimps, and dolphins, and parrots, among others. I think the bottom line is "no, not in the way humans think". If anything, some have very young child-like developmental skills.

Here's one quote that makes I believe the cogent point:

"In virtually all studies of animal intelligence and language skills, performance plummets as more elements are added to a task and as an animal has to remember these elements for long periods. By contrast, humans can call on vast working memory."

Memory and recollection of past events, and abstract thinking and anticipaiton of future events, is what seems to (uniquely) characterizes human thinking.

Now what I find REALLY fascinating is that I am spending so much energy to forego this ability. To instead recognize the beauty of living in the NOW. How ironic is that?

Thanks, T O M, for your comment and continued inquiries.

T O M said...

Thank you very much for the Time's article.I just can't imagine that they have already done so much research so long ago.It is just fantastic.By the way do you have some write up about the weaver bird. I have always been wondering, how did the weaver bird manage to transfer the knowledge of building their very complicated hanging nest,from generation to generations. As we know, a bird's brain is very small indeed compared to human's.
Thanks again...Steven.

Steven Crisp said...

T O M,

The short answer is "I don't know".

But if I had to wager a guess, I would presume these skills have actually been developed as instinct and are passed down through genetics. Hence your phrase "from generation to generation".

THis would certainly illustrate the vast complexities and sophistication of evolution, but does not, in the usual semantics, relate to a "thinking mind".

T O M said...

Hello Steven,

I am a bit confused by your statements. You mentioned that the weaver birds could pass down complicated informations through genetics or instincts, and animals do not have a thinking mind like humans. However, human have a thinking mind, but we know we have to pass informations through records such as books, plans or computer memories.What has happened to human's animal instinct or genetics transfer??? Now in the previous posting of yours you mentioned.."What I find really fascinating is that I am spending so much energy to forego this ability. To instead recognise the beauty of living in the NOW".Do you mean that you envisage, human would be happier living based on instinct rather then relying on a thinking just like the animals??? Just hope you can elaborate.
Thanks Steven.

Steven Crisp said...

T O M,

Well, as required, I'm taking as my defense an earlier statement I made ... "I don't know". With that out of the way, let's continue to probe.

I don't think anything "has happened to human's 'animal' instinct or genetic transfer." It is still there, ongoing as part of a biological process through reproduction. And it will continue -- albeit somewhat modified -- by early gene therapy or selective reproduction tests (e.g., those who choose to terminate their pregnancies following negative amniocentesis results).

And "no" would be the short answer to whether I would want to rely strictly on instincts and forego the "thinking mind". But this need not be a black and white proposition. I propose another way -- some might consider it a "middle way".

The "problem", if you will, of the thinking mind is that we tend to use it to live in the past (e.g., regrets about past deeds done by us or to us) or the future (e.g., anticipation or dread of a future possibility). And "clinging" to these constructs of the mind (for neither of them really exist) tend to bring suffering.

Living in the "NOW" precludes either of these conditions. In the Now there is no past and no future. Only Now. And Now. And Now again.

I believe that the thinking mind is a very powerful tool. It has helped to create wonderful improvements in standards of living as contrasted to our distant ancestors. But we need to recognize it as just that -- a tool. One that we can pick up and use when we want, or choose to "put it away in the tool box" if you will when we are done with it.

Most of us tend to consider our thinking mind as "who we are". It defines us. Many people believe it represents our true self. But I don't believe that is true. Because we have the inherent ability to watch our thoughts arise, I believe our true Self is larger than our individual ego or thinking mind.

So yes, I am dealing with "undoing" much of the conditioning that our material world and society have impressed upon my ego. And that means consciously taking steps to live in the Now, rather than the past or the future.

But I am not throwing away my thinking mind. Just placing it in the toolbox whenever I choose to, or if ever I detect it is pulling me off-course.

So that is what I meant when I made my earlier comment. I hope this elaboration has helped. You can find more about how I see this perspective in an earlier post on a related blog.

Thanks again T O M for your continuing interest.