Yes, a little snake did teach me a very important lesson that would ultimately help me be a better Reiki practitioner—and person. But before I get into it, let me give you a little background on where this blog post is coming from:
I’m doing a 21-day self-love challenge on Instagram (@reikihealingworks if you want to follow or join me). It’s a simple challenge: I commited to posting one thing I love about myself each day. The idea is to get in the habit of practicing self love, but it’s also helping me find some creative inspiration.
My last post was about loving the child in me. After I wrote it, a story popped into my head—a true childhood story of mine about a little snake. This story has stayed with me, and now I realize it’s because it offered me a valuable lesson that keeps coming up in different ways. Maybe it’s a lesson that will resonate with you, as well.
The Story of Squiggles
When I was a little kid, I loved to play in the grass and dirt by a small stream in the woods near our house. I’d discover all sorts of critters while I was there.
One day, a little snake slithered over to me in the dirt. It was blue-gray with a red-orange belly. The snake stopped and looked at me with its shiny round eyes and flicked its tiny tongue out in a way that seemed to say, “Will you be my friend?”
I instantly fell in love and named the snake Squiggles. “Yes, Squiggles, yes! I’ll be your friend!”
I scooped Squiggles up in my hands, and someone—I forget who—helped me confirm that it was a non-venomous (phew!) Northern redbelly snake.
All I wanted to do was take care of Squiggles. So I found an old glass aquarium and filled it with dirt and rocks and plants and sticks. I put it on our back porch and placed Squiggles inside.
I thought, “There. Now you have a home. I’m gonna take care of you.”
I put a screen on top of the aquarium to keep Squiggles safe from predators. I gave the little snake bugs and water, and I took it out to slither up and down my arm to the grass and back to my hand.
I thought that I was helping Squiggles live the best life.
Probably less than a week later, I came to check on my friend and was horrified by what I saw: The snake was pale and still in the aquarium. Squiggles was dead.
My heart broke. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could harm—or kill—my friend. I thought I knew exactly what the little snake needed.
Maybe my parents told me that this might happen. Maybe they even told me to let Squiggles go. I’m not really sure. I just remember being truly shocked and sad that I had hurt my friend when all I wanted to do was help.
I lovingly put Squiggles in a shoe box that I decorated. Then, I tearfully buried my friend in the forest.
Squiggles + Professional Healing = ???
The story of Squiggles doesn’t end there. I’ve remembered it with a tender heart ever since it happened. (I think most of the people who are close to me have heard this story.)
I now know that Squiggles didn’t die in vain—that there’s a reason that this story keeps coming up in my life. Squiggles and the Universe have offered me a lesson:
Don’t let your desire to help others overshadow the actual needs of those you’re helping.
I had the best intentions of giving Squiggles a caring home. But if I had taken the time to really connect and see things from my little friend’s perspective, then I’d probably realize that Squiggles couldn’t catch all of the food and water it needed to live in the aquarium. I’d realize that I was actually trapping my friend and taking it out of its natural environment. I’d realize that I was doing harm instead of helping—even though my intentions were good.
I’m giving Little Olivia a break, of course, because I was only 6 or 7 years old, and I had to learn the lesson. But as an adult, and as a professional Reiki practitioner, I can’t ignore it any longer.
Intention is powerful, and intending to help and heal is a wonderful thing. But intention is only one part of the equation—especially for those of us who have taken on helping and healing as a profession. The other part is practicing true empathy.
Practicing True Empathy
Practicing true empathy is taking the time to connect and get in tune with others to find out what they need instead of assuming that we know what that is. (Just trying to help people without doing this is not being empathetic.) It’s also taking the appropriate actions based on those needs. And it’s recognizing that what may seem helpful and comforting to one person may be harmful to another.
So how do we make sure we’re doing all of this in our healing practices? Lately, I’ve turned to the work of social science researcher Karla McLaren. This badass woman has made it her life’s mission to teach people how to work with empathy. She shows us how to develop empathetic skills that we can take with us into everyday life and our work with clients to ensure we’re helping others in a way that works for them.
(Side note: I always identified as an empath because I could “feel everything”—emotions coming from other people and creatures. But I never knew how to work with this skillfully, and I didn’t really know how to set boundaries. So McLaren’s work, along with what I’ve learned from my teachers, has been critical to my growth.)
If the story of Squiggles, or any of this, resonates with you, then I suggest reading about McLaren’ Six Essential Aspects of Empathy—particularly what she calls “perspective taking” and “perceptive engagement.”
In the words of McLaren:
“In truly perceptive engagement, the choices you make are not about what you would like or what would work for you (or what would make you look most empathic!)—they’re about the needs of the other.”
YES! That’s exactly what Squiggles taught me. It just took me some time to realize that. But now I know, which means I can do the work.
Thank you, Squiggles. Thank you, Universe.