The Dung Beetle, the Cobra and the Present

From the Deck” series: Stories and lessons from a deck in South Africa.

I am blessed to live on a nature conservancy in the Lowveld in South Africa.  With the conservancy comes a variety of creatures, large and small, who also call the area home.  One of my smaller, more industrious neighbours is the dung beetle who I have a very soft spot for (do you know how much dung there would be in the world without these guys?).  Unfortunately our swimming pool is a roadside attraction for them on their travels and many find themselves in the deep end with no escape route.  This certainly doesn’t bode well for future dung elimination unless the resident lifeguard – me – is on duty.

Walking onto my deck at home yesterday while talking on my cell phone, I saw the usual distress signal of flaying legs coming from the pool.  I immediately made the save – still in conversation on my cell phone. Fishing the dung beetle out of the water, I walked to the edge of the deck to find my usual flat grassy beetle-recovery area.  I was deep in thought, pondering how to solve the issue on the call while also giving my attention to what this dung beetle could now do with a second chance in life.  I was focused on everything except what was going on right in front of me – a Mozambique Spitting Cobra ready to strike! 

Now the fact that my attention was a million miles away when I saw the snake made my reaction time much slower. Yes, only a millisecond slower before my fight or flight response kicked in, but slower nonetheless.  And my options were limited by the time I brought my attention to the present as danger was only a couple of metres away by this stage.  The m’Fesi (name for the snake in siSwati) certainly had the upper hand with enough time to spit if he/she had been that way inclined.  Fortunately for me, I was able to move away slowly – with the dung beetle now fully recovered and scratching furiously in my hand – out of harm’s way so my new not-so-friendly neighbour could continue his journey past me into the bush.

So What?

On reflection, what a gift this experience was. I was reminded yet again just how important it is to be anchored in the present.  I had far too much going on in that one moment on the deck and wasn’t able to see what was right in front of me.  How often in our lives are we so caught up that we miss the danger signs that are right in front of us – but also the joy signs, the opportunities, the lessons, our loved ones and our intuition.  We are so focused on rehashing what we can’t change from the past or worrying about what could transpire in the future that the present doesn’t even feature.  And if you stop to think about it, it is really only the here and now that we have any control over.

How can you ensure you don’t miss out on what is right in front of you?  I would love to hear about some of your experiences of living in the present.