Like a Snake in Springtime …

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Spring, that season of new growth, is generally greeted with joy. And yet, in many ways, growing time is mostly a time of discomfort.  It certainly is so for snakes. As they grow, their skin stretches until it can’t stretch any more. Then the poor snake, blind and girdled tight in pain, desperately rubs and rubs against anything sharp or hard until its old skin splits, and out slithers a larger snake in a sleek new skin. Left behind, discarded in the grass, lies an old split casing once belonging to a smaller snake.

It’s much the same with people, I believe. Look:

Worn Gloves

The cast-off gloves still bear the shape of my hands, uncannily so. But my hands are no longer in them. Winter is over, it’s time to put them away.

Maybe it’s because it’s springtime, the season of growth, that I’m thinking these thoughts.  Casting skins is a human process, too. We live, and we experience new things, and inevitably we outgrow our knowledge, our capacities, and our opinions, perhaps even without realizing it. People boast of being consistent, of never changing their minds or their opinions, as if this were a virtue.  But Nietzsche, at least, knew better: if we live and undergo suffering and joy and a myriad experiences and never change, what are we?

But change mustn’t be frivolous, either. Changing something as important as a skin or an ideal or an opinion is a serious matter. We seem psycho-genetically (I just made that word up, but it’s useful, isn’t it?) to be programmed to resist change, even while it’s happening to us. Most often I’ve found that, like the snakes, for a longer or a shorter time, I need to be girdled in psychic discomfort or flat-out pain until — against my will — I come to accept a change that’s already been forced upon me. First I accept, and then if I’m wise, I embrace, and go on my way again, freer and stronger than before.


Of course, we still have to use judgment and discernment about what we’re discarding, and when. These sunglasses weren’t needed indoors at the store inside the Mall when I took them off. But the sun was still shining outdoors, and it wasn’t long before I put them on again.

It’s a balancing act then, isn’t it? A matter for judgment. In the end we aren’t snakes; we’re complex human beings driven by instinct AND intellect, fated to navigate an ever-more-complex world. A single guideline won’t do it for us. So let’s have the wise words of Victor Hugo sum up the task:

“Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.”

And so we get to round it off, to end where we began, with Spring, the season of new growth and rejoicing. Onward!

This entry was posted in Challenge, Etcetera, Nature, Personal Essay, Quotes, Spring, Wisdom and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Like a Snake in Springtime …

  1. And don’t forget the sunscreen!


  2. Pauline says:

    I’ve always resisted the discomfort that comes with shedding the old and emerging into the new but now I’ve read this and see the necessity of being “blind and girdled, tight in pain,” I may be able to more readily accept it and like you, be on my way, freer and stronger. Lord knows it’s harder when one resists.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      What always helps me (much or little, no matter) is recognizing what’s happening. Being able to name it seems to help in bearing it. And the result does always seem to be strength and freedom.


  3. The older I get, the easier it is to remember “this too shall pass” INCLUDING being “blind and girdled, tight in pain.”


  4. rebekah says:

    I’ve sloughed off many skins. In my younger years, I thought … due to ignorance … that I was depressed in Spring. I wasn’t … it was merely a kind of … unrest. The skin needed to come off, I needed change.

    If we can’t change our minds we haven’t learnt anything at all. methinks. I loved, loved, LOVED that quote by Victor Hugo! Copied and pasted to my little quotations folder 🙂


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Always glad to pass along a good quote!
      (It’s easy to confuse that unrest — great word— with depression. As you say, they’re different.)


      • rebekah says:

        Yes, they are indeed different. ‘Unrest’ was the best word I could come up with to describe that uneasy feeling of just wanting to … break free … even though a lot of pain was involved in the breaking.

        Now I’m older, and hopefully wiser, so I know much more about the grey, heavy blanket that is depression.


  5. .. like the metaphors 🙂 Enjoyed reading, and two choice quotes. Food for thought.


  6. Madhu says:

    Yes, perfect metaphors. That balancing act isn’t always easy is it? Particularly when change is forced on us. When adapting (compromising?) is our only option 🙂


  7. Patti Kuche says:

    Yet as we grow and change, our skin sags and does funny things from which there is no place to hide, although sunglasses do help. Resistance to certain changes is futile and thank you so much Judith for the wonderful Victor Hugo quote!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      I know it will sound odd (and maybe Pollyanna-ish) to someone as young as you, but after you get REALLY old, even those changes can seem funny rather than awful. It’s like this young girl is hiding out in an old skin, playing dress-up. Sometimes like St. Francis (believe it or not) when at the end of his life he thanked Brother Ass, his body, for bearing so many things so faithfully for so long. (Well, something like that.) Sometimes I actually feel grateful to my old skin, wrinkles and all!


  8. 2e0mca says:

    Yes – Roots make us who we are. But adaptation is critical to growth. We learn from experience. Lets hope that the first roots were good roots because the roots guide the fruit that is born out of our learning and from criminal roots, all too often, grows criminal behaviour. Sadly, even from good roots there is no guarantee that the fruit will be pure….


    • Touch2Touch says:

      By the same unpredictable dynamic, though, I think sometimes pure fruit can spring forth from unpromising roots, shall we say? If there’s one thing predictable in life, it’s that we never know!


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