Don’t Throw Rocks at a Rattlesnake!

Hello beautiful friend!

I’m back! And I survived!! If you read my last mini, you know that I was headed West to embark on a rafting trip through Hells Canyon on the Snake River that creates the border between Idaho and Oregon. I left with great anticipation, expectation and some healthy fear!

Now that I am back, I have been sharing all kinds of stories… there are SO MANY! I was contemplating what to share with you all and how to articulate some of the profound learning that was a part of this trip… there was one story I kept scratching off the list. I know enough about myself at this point in my life to recognize that if I am avoiding something, there is likely an opportunity for growth. So I took a look back and challenged myself to keep being brave. It’s a story that, on the surface, looks like courage, but when I share the FULL story, I am filled with shame and regret. It’s the story of how my sister and I encountered a rattlesnake and came out “triumphant”.

My sister and I were returning to the campsite after an incredible hike and, like we had been instructed, we carried walking sticks, tapping the ground in front of us to alert any critters that we were coming. Chatting away, and lost in the wonder of our experience, we were completely startled when we heard the very distinct sound of a rattlesnake right in front of us. We could see it just feet in ahead, on the path, coiling around and raising its head and shaking its rattle at the same time.

My sister, in the front, SCREAMED… and began flailing her arms. Her entire upper body was alive while her legs and feet stayed entirely unmoving. I slowly took steps backward as I firmly yelled to her, “BACK AWAY, BACK AWAY!!” I was shaking, both with the panic that was a result of the sudden arrival of danger and by the story of sure catastrophe I was weaving in my mind.

At a safe distance, we surveyed the scene and took in the rattlesnake. It was a relatively small snake that made a BIG sound. We were on the edge of the canyon, with a rocky ledge to our left and a steep cliff down to the river on our right. We couldn’t go around the snake. There was, however, a grassy hill just past where the snake was coiling and I immediately thought it might just move along… it was clearly as freaked out as we were. In this moment we were all being brave. We are terrified, looking for an out and feeling trapped, but trying to be rational. I’m proud of my breathing and ability to stay calm at this moment.

And then, without really thinking too much about it, I picked up a small-ish rock and tossed it toward the snake. I thought it might be scared into leaving. It wasn’t. It was doing what scared snakes do to protect themselves, coiling up and making noise. It isn’t in its nature to retreat… that exposes even greater vulnerability.

My sister, also terrified, grabbed another rock and tossed it. There was more rattling and hissing. She began to throw more rocks, bigger rocks and a pile grew where the snake had been. The sounds became softer and slower… and then they stopped. I truly don’t know if the snake moved into the grass and left, or if it was trapped under the pile of rocks and killed. We didn’t stop to investigate.

Later, when the adrenaline wore off, I began to feel a deep sadness. We had come upon this snake in its environment, its home and because of our fear, lack of understanding, and belief that we needed to exert power in the situation, we allowed that fear to turn into aggression. I know, many people have told me I’m overthinking it, but I’m not. It’s not just about a snake on a path in the wild… it’s about how we respond in fear and how that fear moves us toward aggression. It felt so icky and the more I thought about it, the more I was filled with shame.

Gah! This “mini” is getting pretty long… but I think it’s worth it, so stick with me! I’ve done a lot of thinking about it and listened to the parallels my intuition is drawing and this is what I have come up with:

I was scared, terrified in that moment and I allowed that fear to weave a story that wasn’t accurate. The snake was simply saying, “Hey! I’m here! Don’t hurt me. Leave me alone or I’ll protect myself.” We could have done what was recommended, waited until the snake moved on, it wasn’t interested in hurting us and we had nowhere we had to be. Instead, I assessed that I needed to lash out and neutralize the threat to protect myself and in doing so, I was destructive. It’s not “just a snake”, it’s a mentality that allows fear to become destructive and I am ashamed of allowing that to lead me.

So, here I am, being brave with my story and leaning into the growth that comes from sharing it and shining light on shame. Let’s all become aware of the ways we allow fear to morph into destruction and hate. Let’s notice when our lack of understanding leads to panic or when something different sneaks up and startles us into fighting back when we don’t need to.

That’s your Mindful Mini invitation this week and it is BOLD and BRAVE. We tend to respond to fear and panic just like I did, we throw rocks. Literally and figuratively. We lash out and try to neutralize the danger. Yet, perhaps the danger isn’t really danger at all. Let’s all stop for a moment before we pick up something heavy or launch an angry word. Maybe it’s just a rattlesnake who is as afraid as we are, wants to be safe and left alone, and is making noise to be seen and heard. Let’s consider pausing and hearing that noise for what it is, just communication of a need that we can respect. Before you react as I did, breathe and rescript the defensive message inside. Put down the rock, you don’t really need it.

I know that I was doing the best I could in that moment and I am being compassionate with myself. This was just one of the many powerful lessons from my trip. I am deeply grateful that I am willing to shed light on shameful experiences and to bravely put down the rocks I have been carrying to protect myself. We can all put that weight down. We are so worth it!

Yours in heart,

Kelly Lynn Driscoll

About Kelly Lynn

Kelly Lynn Coaching & Consulting

I empower districts to transform culture and educators to transform their lives so they are connected, fulfilled and aligned with purpose. With over thirty years experience in education and education administration, I specialize in supporting Social Emotional Learning (SEL), balance and a culture of wellness. It is my MISSION to bring joy back to education!

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