It’s summer at last, and the sunshine invites us all to spend more time outdoors. This is a time for discovering the beautiful lands in which we live and for deepening our connection to Nature’ cycles, taking place around us and INSIDE us all the time. You may even be feeling a new lightness, a fresh energy and strength to adventure or dream bigger than you have before. It may feel a bit like this…
Imagine…You and your best friend decide to celebrate the rising summer by taking an adventurous hike in the woods and meadows. As the sunshine streams down, you walk along the earthy trail, enjoying the smells of the plants and the sounds of the birds in the air. Your heart fills with awareness of the hidden life all around you.
As you approach a bend in the trail, you suddenly notice something strange resting beneath a rock alongside the path. It looks almost like a snake…but ghostly, transparent, somehow not quite there. What could it be? As you inch closer, you realize that it’s a long piece of snake skin! You can see the impressions of the scales and the designs they make. You start to WONDER…why do snakes shed their skin?
The simple answer is that snakes shed their skin because they are just like all other animals. All animals shed their skin — even you! In mammals, especially humans, this is an ongoing process that’s rarely noticed.
Skin shedding in reptiles is different. Instead of happening in tiny pieces all the time, reptiles shed their skin periodically. Snakes are even more unique, because their skin usually comes off in ONE piece. If you’ve ever seen a snake skin, you know it looks like the snake just slithered right out of its skin–and this is exactly what happens! Scientists call this shedding process ecdysis.
Snakes shed their skin to allow for further growth and to remove parasites that may have attached to their old skin. As a snake grows, its skin becomes stretched—unlike human skin, snakeskin doesn’t grow as the animal grows. Eventually, a snake‘s skin reaches a point where further growth is not possible (you may know the feeling!). When this occurs, a new layer of skin grows underneath the current one. As soon as it is complete, the old skin peels away, leaving behind a beautiful snake-shaped shell along with any parasites that may have been attached. Wouldn’t it be nice if humans could let go of roles, relationships, and even living situations so easily?
The Serpent is a powerful teacher of how to release and let go of everything preventing growth, transformation, and wholeness. Its presence and medicine teaches us to become aware of anything that is leaching energy from us and to recognize when some aspect of ourselves has grown too big to fit into an old skin–and how to shed these burdens and barriers quickly, gracefully, and all in one piece!
As living beings, each of us has to learn how to shed old skin—old patterns, relationships, and stories which no longer serve us. Moreover, all of us must learn to do this over and over again, each time we are faced with a moment when must be reborn into anew. In such times of transition, we turn to the Serpent to teach us the graceful ways of shedding.
To leave their old skin behind, snakes may go for a swim to allow water to loosen the old skin even further. For humans facing frightening and uncertain transitions, we recommend soaking in a soothing bath or shower to wash away stress, fatigue, and feelings of anxiety or guilt. Exfoliation is also important—and as you remove the dead skin to reveal the healthy new skin you’ve formed beneath, meditate upon the areas of your life that feel tight, itchy, and stuck and imagine the new shape you are taking and what you must shed to grow into this new skin.
Snakes also are masters of the rapid break with the past. When they’re ready to shed their old layer, they create a rip in the old skin, usually in the mouth or nose area. They often do this by rubbing against a rough, hard object, such as a rock or a log. To channel this wisdom in human form, you may need to communicate something that has been bothering you, especially if you’ve been keeping quiet in order to “keep the peace.” Truth is always better than lies, and although sometimes the conversation may be painful—snakes are very uncomfortable before they shed, and in fact become nearly blind as the old skin obscures their eyes—this rip in the facade of peace will allow the shedding process to begin, making room for peace to expand and grow.
Once the old skin layer has been breached, the snake inches its way through the old layer until it’s completely removed. If you find a snake skin in the wild, you’ll notice that it’s usually inside out and in one piece. You may know from your own transitions that this shedding wisdom applies to your own life.
Change usually cannot happen all at once, and you may feel vulnerable, uncertain, irritable, or even afraid during the transition. You may feel as if your world has turned inside out. Here as well, the Serpent can teach us patience and persistence. Your task is simply stay the course as the world shifts around you—using the friction in the world to release unwanted and unneeded forms of thinking and behaving. In the end, you may be amazed by the beautiful new form which becomes possible.