I want to talk some today about the ant and the grasshopper.
Do you remember the ant and the grasshopper story?
This story messed with me so bad as a kid, and I realize now that there’s actually kind of a moral to it that I’m pretty sure wasn’t intended.
So--The ant and the grasshopper.
I’m a little kid, I’m reading this book, and here’s the grasshopper: the grasshopper likes to have fun and play his banjo all the time and party and relax and feel good about things and enjoy his life.
And then there’s the ant, and the ant is always working. Work, work, work. The ant works like 10, 20 hours a day. Constantly working. And the grasshopper’s having a good time and the ant’s working working working working.
And then I’ll never forget the last page of the book. It’s the grasshopper out in the snow starving because he didn’t plan ahead and he didn’t work work work.
And the ant is sitting inside with his feet up on a cushion, with a fire, drinking his tea.
And the moral of the story is, be the ant--don’t be the grasshopper.
While that’s not the most insane thing I’ve ever heard, as a kid it presented me with this choice:
I remember as a kid it upset me. I thought, “Oh, crap!”
Because I’m basically the grasshopper.
I’m not the ant, sitting inside after years and years of work. I’m the grasshopper. I like to enjoy myself.
In fact, while my father had many great qualities, one of his qualities I didn’t like was that he was really offended by the fact that I wanted to enjoy my life and to have things be easy. He was really offended by that.
It was a big point of contention between us, when I really look back. He wanted me to grow up and be the ant. He wanted me to survive, I suppose, and all that. But I have more kind of grasshopper tendencies.
I was thinking about this because I woke up at 4:00 am last night. I woke up and I was like, “This is no good.” I woke up at 4:00 am and I was like, “You know what? I’m not up to doing what needs to be done in my life.” I think we all feel that way sometimes.
So I got up and I went in the living room and I sat and I just meditated for a while, which I often do in the middle of the night. And I really came to see that there’s a spectrum of people, and it’s good to know where you are on the spectrum.
On one end is ant and on the other end is grasshopper.
But the good and bad really isn’t part of it.
Let me explain: I am a person who, left to my own devices, doesn’t really get much done. I am not hugely self-motivated.
What I am motivated by is inspiration. By connection to the Divine. By feeling like I’m one with all things. All this spiritual stuff.
When I’m lined up that way I have generativity, I have power, I have the ability to do things.
But it’s very clear to me that my motivation doesn’t come from my own effort. That, for me, comes from somewhere else.
And for me to get things done, I need to tune into that "somewhere else" and open to being given everything I need to make it through the harsh winter as that grasshopper. Because I’m not a guy who’s going to be able to just do it by my own willpower.
But there’s a spectrum.
I’m at one of the far ends of the spectrum (grasshopper) and the other end of the spectrum is ant.
I know "ant" folks, and they’re great people and there’s nothing wrong with their approach. For instance, I know a guy who is not really happy unless he faces death, one way or another, about once a week. He wants to see, is he up to it? Can he stand it?
He coaches people, and his coaching for people is always, “Do the hard thing, do the terrifying thing." You join this coaching program, you're facing your fears. You’re lying in bathtubs full of ice and you’re jumping out of airplanes. You’re making yourself do this to really see what you’re capable of.
And that the ant end of the spectrum. And that’s fine! That’s good! It’s all good. What’s bad is when you don’t know where you are on the spectrum.
Because if you’re one of these people who’s like me—I’m way far on the “I have to be spiritually motivated to act” end—so if I try to be an ant and I try to force myself, I get sick. Things break in my body. My ears go crazy.
Bad things happen to me if I try to force myself.
Would I prefer to be more on the ant end? You bet. But I am someone who, if I want to get things done, has to spiritually tune in and tune up so that I’m given everything—including the motivation and the generativity to move forward.
And I know I’m like this blank slate; it has to be given to me.
But you may be on the other end. You may be one of those folks where feeling your personal power and breaking through and forcing yourself to do it and having the outcome and celebrating, that may be you. And that’s a great way to be, if it’s true about you.
The problem comes when you don’t know where you are on that spectrum and you try to be someone you’re not.
If you’re a “push through and make it happen” kind of person, and you try and be all, “I’m going to wait. I’m going to sit in meditation and watch the sun rise and wait until it’s given to me to act,” you’re going to go crazy. Ants need to push.
And if you’re one of these people who’s like me, who’s like, “I need to actually be guided by my inner guidance and motivated by my inner inspiration or nothing’s going to happen,” you’re going to go crazy if you try and be a tough guy and force your way through. Grasshoppers need to be inspired and guided.
And if you’re somewhere in between, you kind of need to know where you are. I really want to encourage you to think about where you are on this spectrum.
There’s a great Rumi quote that I really, really love. He’s speaking from the point of view of God. And he says, “We”—God speaks in the third person—“We realize that the path is long and that it’s a hundred thousand miles to the first way station and we have given you very weak legs. But it is when you have exerted your all in our wont and are lying flat on the path, that’s when We will come and pick you up and carry you.”
I always like that because I feel like it doesn’t take very many steps for me to be flat down lying in the mud saying, “Help.” That’s just my constitution. Constitutionally I’m not a “barrel through and make it happen” kind of guy. I'm not an ant. So it’s good for me to know I can be picked up and lifted.
But it’s also good for you to know if you’re a “fight through” person, be a “fight through” person, and do it, and enjoy it.
But know where you are on the spectrum. Don’t try and be a tough guy if you’re not one. And don’t try and be real super-spiritual if you’re a tough guy. And if you’re somewhere in between, get a sense of where you are—70%, 50%, 30%—where are you on that? And let yourself be the way that you are. It’s just going to work a lot better.