Four Snails

Snails on a Rock

Let’s face it. We don’t all see eye to eye on everything. In this story, I share my first experience realizing just how different our impressions can be. What I learned? We all live in our own reality.

I love to tell a story about four snails who were crossing the sidewalk a few blocks from my house one fine summer day. I was out on my daily walk with my little dog, Gizmo. I had been meditating intensely for several days. My mind was open and clear, and the sun was warm and inviting. I felt deeply connected to my world. Everything was vivid and fresh.

Then, right there in front of me, I saw four snails slowly crossing the sidewalk.

For a moment, I felt like a little child who had just walked into the pages of a story book. At first glance, I wasn’t even sure what I was seeing. Sometimes when the mind is in a deeply meditative state, ordinary processing slows down to, well, a snail’s pace.

As I pondered the creatures before me, all I could think was they resembled the periwinkles I used to see on the rocky shorelines of Maine when I was a child. Silly as it sounds, my first thought was, “How did you guys get way out here?” Then, oddly enough, a page from a story book flashed in my mind. I realized I was looking at snails.

So, I stood there for a while and just watched them. Gizmo was uninterested. Wondering why we weren’t moving on, he placated himself with some good smelly spots on the ground.

In my heightened state of awareness, my heart overflowed with joy for these four snails. That’s why when a woman walked out her front door and onto the sidewalk, I immediately called attention to the scene. I just knew she would want to see them too.

“Oh, I know,” she said. “Aren’t they gross. They crawl up and down my house all the time. I hate them!”

My mind shattered as I struggled to process her response. “You hate them???”

Not wanting to appear discourteous, I just smiled and wished her a nice day. Shortly after that, I walked on, considering what had occurred.

This was the first time I really got it.  We all live inside our own reality. Even as we share the same space, see the same snails, and walk on the same sidewalks, we each have our own impressions, perceptions, interpretations, and assessments. These, in turn, create a filter of sorts between us and our world. In the end, what we see are mostly just the mental images we project.

For the woman, the snails were grotesque. For me, they were magnificent. In the absolute sense, they were neither grotesque or magnificent. They were just snails. Yet, our world is more than just an objective or scientific reality. Our world is also subjective. It’s what we see through eyes that are built upon impressions.

The mechanics of it aren’t as important as clearly knowing that you and I see things differently. That’s just the way it is. As a result, you have your reality; I have mine. Only to the degree that our perceptions and opinions are similar can we share our realities.

In the case of the snails, it was like night and day, which is why this experience was so potent for me. It was a good reminder that not everyone sees things the same way. Realizing this, we can have more compassion for each other and develop an appreciation for other points of view too. We might even learn something.

Just to be clear, though, if those snails had been crawling up and down my house all day, I might have had a different impression of them too.

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Kimberly Holman

Kimberly is a Certified Mindfulness Meditation Teacher with a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Maine and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Naropa University. She has been practicing Mahamudra Meditation since 1996 and studies Dzogchen with her teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.
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