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first person

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The Globe and Mail

I wasn’t raised to be a fan of snails. Having a gardener for a grandmother, my brother and I were taught from a young age that if we see a snail on a plant, we should pluck it from the branch or leaf it was stuck to, place it on the cement, and give it a huge stomp.

This brought us the kind of giggly satisfaction that only children experience. We loved it. Finding a snail? It’s a garden treasure hunt. Catching it? Easy – they barely move! Placing them under our boot? We were too young to see them as more than a crunchy object, and crunching stuff is fun!

But, as I’ve grown older, my view on snails has changed. They bring me a different kind of happiness – one that I can’t necessarily say my grandmother would be proud of, but certainly one that she would encourage me to explore.

I’m not a particularly anxious person on the outside, but my internal monologue often seems filled with thoughts of worry and fear. I understand why it exists thanks to therapy and modern research, but understanding it doesn’t necessarily alleviate it.

So, like many others, I’ve looked to find solutions that might ward off my anxious brain. Self-help books, yoga, meditation apps, buying every lavender scented thing I could. Everything feels good in the moment and I always find myself thinking, “Yes! Now I’ve got it all under control.” But when the anxiety tornado inevitably hits me again, none of these marketed solutions helps me in that very moment.

Snails, on the other hand, do.

The resilience of nature makes us forget how fragile it can be

When squirrels moved in, my love for all nature moved out

The first time I really thought about snails as more than a garden pest was when I heard the song Snails by the Format. The song has absolutely nothing to do with snails but has the lyric: “Snails see the benefits, the beauty in every inch,” which is a line I think about often.

It made me realize: Snails are probably one of the best, if not the best representation of calmness and taking life slowly. Granted, they can’t help it. But no matter if it’s their choice or not, it doesn’t take away from their soothing nature.

I think my unconscious has always been somewhat aware of this. Unlike many of my peers, I’ve never been one to shy from picking up little critters, and snails are one of those critters that I’ve always found hard to put down. The way they hide, slowly peek their eyes out, then glide about their day gives them a gentle innocence.

One time, I was relaxing in a hot tub and noticed a little snail moving by. I quickly shook off my hands to try and get rid of the chlorine-treated water, picked up the snail, placed it in my palm, and just watched. Observing every slight movement was like observing every thought about where it wanted to go next. It’s similar to lying on the grass and watching clouds go by. They’re slow and calm but mesmerizing. The hot tub wasn’t the relaxing part of my night anymore. The snail was.

It’s not just a snail’s movements that make them a mascot for tranquillity. It’s their sense of knowing when it’s the right time to re-engage with the above-ground excitement of life, too. After they patiently wait for a refreshing rainfall, they are seemingly invigorated to get up and go.

The takeaway here isn’t that we need to make sure to hydrate ourselves, though we do often need a reminder. It’s that patience isn’t a choice, but a necessity. Giving ourselves time to nourish inside and out, and waiting for the right moment to give everything our all, is extremely restorative and worthwhile. Just like a snail needs to take cover before the sun comes out again so they don’t dry out, we also need to be mindful about considering what we need before we burn out.

It’s not about being sluggish. It’s about being snailish.

Trying to navigate the world as an ambitious but often apprehensive woman in her late 20s has provided the perfect foundation for becoming a world-class overthinker. For instance, I’ve been pursuing a career path that couldn’t be further from what I spent almost a decade of post-secondary education learning, and I’m not certain how I feel about it. But, once I start to question my decisions, I quickly remind myself of how fortunate I am to have been able to get an education and to have these options in the first place. This leaves me thinking that perhaps I am the perfect embodiment of the stereotypical, dissatisfied millennial that any naysayer may consider me to be.

Rinse and repeat.

These angst-inducing spirals aren’t fun and it’s easy to feel helpless to their happening. But adopting the practice of slow and steady living, like a snail, is the best way to combat the distress.

When I get into those anxious ruts, changing what I’m thinking about rather than trying to not think at all is what I’ve found most effective. This is why many people find solace from focusing on their breathing or focusing their awareness on their present surroundings.

I have also found these practices effective, but picturing the slow and patient lifestyle of a snail both distracts and reminds me that I too need to be willing to take a step back. It’s a reminder to use my metaphorical shell to rest when I need it rather than hide because I’m overwhelmed.

In a weird roundabout way, snails make me want good for myself.

While snails may not be for everyone, I think it’s important we all find our version of a snail. Whether it be a person, an animal or some kind of theory, anything that motivates us to want to take care of ourselves and “see the beauty in every inch” is a good thing.

Amanda Schrack lives in New Westminster, B.C.

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