What I learned about my anxieties from the annual frog-orgy in our estate
Lady D and my good self have recently become Lord and Mistress of an ancient estate in Europe.
Said estate encompasses a pond, with a little waterfall, some 30 small goldfish and since last week a knot of frogs (Wikipedia informs such to be the appropriate collective noun).
The frogs suddenly arrived in our estate from foreign climes – the same Wikipedia article informs me that frogs are a bit like salmon, in that they return to spawn in their ancestral grounds.
And spawn they have. Since the frog’s arrival an enormous lump of frog jelly has formed in a corner of the pond (I marvel at the size of the lump versus the size of the little frog’s bodies). When the little black embryos become tadpoles it will get crowded in our estate’s pond. Next year’s “return to ancestral grounds” will be a spectacle.
Threesomes and moresomes
For a week, the pond was a hive of activity. There were couplings, threesomes and moresomes at any time of the day or night; lots of water spitting at stuff; pushing, shoving and clambering over the ever growing mound of jelly, and constant low rumbling croacking.
They’ve calmed down a lot by now. The knot of frogs is down to 5 from a peak of 12. The egglaying phase is clearly over, and they’ve started moving on, to the foreign climes they came from (more Wikipedia research required to find out where frogs hang the rest of the year).
What is it like to be a frog?
I’m fascinated by the frogs. I love watching them and listening to their croaking. And I wonder what it’s like to be a frog. Obviously, life is simple, being a frog in our pond, boring even – frog sex life is pretty intense when it’s on, but it’s limited to just a few days of lust in spring. Granted, life, even in our little pond, gets pretty brutal at times – there’s an enormous hungry heron who has the pond on his radar as a good spot for lunch – but it’s definitely simpler than my life.
My life is anything but simple. My life is full of worries and anxieties: anxieties about work, money, relationships and growing old. I worry about our living situations, my kids, my health and The Meaning of Life, and that’s just the tip of my anxiety ice berg.
I imagine frogs don’t have any of those worries.
The ultimate aim of many of the religions and philosophies of life, as I understand them, is to attain a state of mind akin to that of the frogs: Nothing matters, except being entirely present in the here and now. Being here and nowhere else.
Frogs are like that. I can’t look inside their minds, but I’m reasonably sure they have few worries in life, until the moment they see that long sharp beak of the Heron coming down for them. But even then, it’s all “here and now”.
I’ve read about the Buddha, the Stoics and the Dao and I wonder if I should aspire to the simplicity of Frogmind. Cultivating Frogmind, is that the Ultimate? Is that the essence of the “7-fold path”, the path to happiness and fulfilment, the end of life’s suffering?
I’m not so sure, in fact I’m increasingly less convinced that getting rid of all my anxieties is going to make me happier, more fulfilled, or a better, more useful human being.
I think I am my anxieties. I think my anxieties are what make me human. They’re what make me unique, interesting, useful to the world around me. My worries are what make me strive to get better at life, at work, at love and at caring. My worries drive my creativity and resourcefulness. If I didn’t have my anxieties, I wouldn’t be so concerned about the wellbeing of other people. Without my anxieties I’d be an egoist, maybe a narcissist or even a psychopath.
Frogs are narcissists
I think frogs are probably narcissists, in that they simply don’t care about the wellbeing of others. The only thing that matters to a frog is: feeding, sleeping and fucking, and if any of those activities come at the expense of others, it’s of little concern to them, it causes them no anxiety.
None of this: “I better call Aunty Jane, or she’ll wonder if I’ve forgotten her”, or “Better not have another drink, or I won’t be fresh for my clients tomorrow”, or “I must remember to tell my wife I love her more often, or she might leave me”, or “Better not have that piece of cake, or people will snigger at me”. These anxieties don’t figure, when you practice Frogmind.
I sometimes meet people who have advanced a lot further along the path to Frogmind than I have. I notice their calm unflappability. Nothing touches them. Misfortune strikes, a friend gets angry, life’s challenges beset them and they just smile and carry on. Frogmind, no anxieties. I actually find such people difficult to be with, difficult to relate to. It’s like there’s something missing, something essentially human. In my world, anxiety is the essence of what it means to be human. We are meant to have sleepless nights, to cry, to get angry, to shiver with fear and also with joy.
I think Shakespeare said: “Nothing in life is bad or good, but thinking makes it so”. Undoubtedly that’s true, but without that thinking we might miss out on life’s mystery.
So I’m attached to my anxieties. I want to feel my fears and frustrations and joys and excitements and everything in between. I actually want to wrestle with my worries every day (well maybe not every day, it would be nice to have Sundays off, maybe).
But I do want to wrestle with them. I want to be equal to them, I don’t want them to conquer me, but equally, I do not want to remove them from the arena.
I’m glad I’m not a frog, and I’m glad you’re not either.