Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What Ants Can Teach Us About Life

What Ants Can Teach Us About Life

Especially now that we're slogging through a recession, we could really use any advice.  Better yet, free advice.  Even if it's from a silent, black, typically menacing member of society who only weighs 3 milligrams.

Aside from our present economy which is forcing many to develop new skill sets, and aside from the association of our wise critters with a spray-can of Raid, one rumination I've often encountered in the past ten years, both in my office as well as outside, centers around the question:  "What should I do with my life?"  Indeed, as a holistic alternative care provider, I am located at the proverbial crossroads of people's transformative process, which, I must say, is a beautiful thing.  And as I sit and listen to "Should I [fill in the blank with a long list of very interesting actions]...?" my most common response is, "I don't know what you should do.  But you have to try."

My little heart glows, then, the following week when the same person – which incidentally could even be myself – reports that the most urgent items of the To-Do List of personal growth have been done and crossed off!  Whether that exploration or action was the right thing to do is beside the point.  Rather, the true value of having tried something new is that the way forward is clearer than it was before. 

I can't help but draw the connection.  Do you remember learning about ant pheromones back in high school Science class?  Ants communicate with each other by emitting these lightweight chemicals that fellow ants pick up and interpret.  The messages are generally very simple, addressing basic on/off needs like food/no-food, danger/no-danger.  And we're all familiar with that vibrant, crooked, black dotted line that travels from the patio door to the old grape that fell on the kitchen floor.  That line was created when a scout ant, whose duty it was to find a food source, discovered the morsel, then scurried back to the nest, odoriferously screaming "Food!  Food!" all the way home.  His molecular exclamations were pumped out in pheromones as he ran, leaving a long, thin trail of chemical cloud.  Back home at the ranch, the other ants received him with excitement, and hearing the message that there was food nearby, they embarked on their journey down the Yellow Brick Pheromone Road.

I've made a simple graphic to illustrate how the ants perceive this road.  Ants do not smell with noses.  Rather, they sense pheromones with their antennae.  Thus, with their feelers outstretched, they march forth through this invisible tunnel.  The mechanism by which the pheromone tunnel guides them is very simple.  If the ant strays too far to the side, one of its antenna will fall outside the pheromone tunnel, and it will move back towards center until both antenna are safely within the cloud:

Herein lies the one important lesson that ants can teach us:  In order for them to reach their goal, they must move ever fearlessly forward.  And by staying in the "zone," they get there.  They don't sit home moping about their life situations, feeling victimized by the Raid can, or listlessly dreaming about the heavenly sugar cube on the counter.  They simply start walking, and by the action of locomotion, they allow themselves to be guided by the path. 

Inevitably, I am inspired by the countless stories I hear from people who struck out and did their own thing by doing just that: placing one foot in front of another.  Maybe it began as an internet search, maybe it began with an off-road adventure with a college buddy, a random book, or a weekend seminar.  Often they ended up somewhere very different than they expected, but the key element was that they one day started moving forward, and with each step, minuscule as it may have been, the way became clearer.

So, go. 

And happy trails!