The Ant and the Grasshopper

Autumn_MapleI just returned from a walk. Autumn has settled in, and the chilly wind off the lake soon drove me home. Even here, near the lake, color change is progressing rapidly; a few trees were stripped of their leaves by yesterday’s rain and wind, a few are near peak color, and perhaps half remain predominantly green. As the weather cools I find myself wanting to store food, seal the house, bring in firewood, and generally prepare to hibernate.

Speaking of preparing for winter, yesterday I found myself swapping versions of The Cricket and the Ant with clients. As you may recall from Aesop, the moral of the story is one should endeavor to store away resources for the future. If one does not, one might just go hungry, or worse. I imagine Aesop was a favorite of the Puritans, as his stories appear to embody their ethic. Anyway, we decided the ant represents the mind and the grasshopper the heart, and the story speaks to the conflicts between them.

The conflict goes something like this: do I follow my heart and starve, or follow my mind and fulfill my dreams of wealth and fame, but at the cost of my ethics and happiness? Of course, the conflict is of dubious validity although it is the basis for much of our literature and film, to say nothing of the Protestant ethic. The task may well be to find a way to bring heart and mind into harmony, if not total agreement. When we do so, and include the gut, we are much more likely to walk in beauty, to find happiness and ease.

If we follow our hearts, often the path associated with bliss or passion, money and fame may or may not follow. When we follow our minds without engaging the heart, we create suffering in our lives and the lives of others. Should we follow our guts without considering heart and mind, oh well, you know. At this time in the history of human beings, it is more important than ever to hold council with all three, to walk in something approaching beauty and balance, and to care for the next seven generations.

Caring for the future, oddly, implies honoring the past. We live our lives squarely in between past and future, and failure to acknowledge our debts and responsibilities to either creates grave difficulties indeed. The fable of the ant and grasshopper spells this out beautifully. The ants are future oriented, the grasshopper focused on the present and the music he carries with him (a token of the past).  The ants put off pleasure til after the harvest while the grasshopper has no awareness of the needs of the future. Doesn’t this sound a bit like the mood swings of our current culture? Not much sanity or balance here.

This morning as I was driving back from my walk (one of the conundrums of disability) I was listening to NPR. On Point was hosting a discussion of the current low oil prices and what they might mean going forward. I only heard the first few minutes, and was struck by the total lack of contextualizing oil prices in light of climate change. There were discussions of the conflicts in the Middle East, fracking, the possible suppression of the alternative energy sector, and consumer relief. Refusing to talk about fossil fuels in the context of climate change certainly ignores the dinosaur in the room. It also fails to acknowledge our responsibility to all beings seven generations out; the On Point presentation was very much a conversation between the ants and the grasshoppers.

Back to my conversations with clients, it is worth noting we had a good time playing with all the possible alternative endings to the story; I am certain we did not exhaust them. My favorite has long been a kid’s version in which the grasshopper, refused aid by the grasshoppers, eats them! (No balance here!) Then there is the Walt Disney version which is a great deal more optimistic. I imagine we each must find the balance points in our own lives and psyches, as must our society and the world as a whole. This is no easy task; it is a task with import, and possibly, a profound sense of accomplishment and joy should we complete it.

Ah, wait, I misspoke. The task is never complete. Perhaps, then, we can take pleasure and happiness in the task of losing balance and regaining it with each step, remembering to breathe, and holding the generations past, and those to come, in our hearts and minds. Do they not already live in our bellies?



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