Learning from Ants

It is not that our circumstances define who we are but it is rather about how we define our circumstances.

When ants are presented with an obstacle, such as a clump of soil or a rock, they will move around it, climb over and even under it. What they don’t do is give up.

A year ago I was traveling in Costa Rica for a week. It is a tropical paradise, not unlike my home of Borneo. Being on the same line of latitude as Borneo at times I felt I was home, from the short bursts of rain showers throughout the day to the warm comforting rays of the sun, caressing my body as I walked along the beaches.

Costa Rica is vibrantly rich, with its abundant flowers and trees, unique wild life, inviting waters and happy people. While the country has only about 0.25 percent of the of the world’s landmass, it contains five percent of the world’s biodiversity. 

I spent most of my time on the west coast, in Costa Rica’s smallest national park.  One morning, after a walk along the beach, I took the undulating path back through the rainforest to the road, a 15-minute stroll. As I gazed up at the trees listening to the alarming sounds of the howler monkeys, and hoping to see one, something on a tree branch caught my attention. In Costa Rica there is an interesting family of ants called the leaf cutter ants. And there they were, hundreds of large ants carrying even larger pieces of cut leaves, in a frenzied parade along the tree branches. I stopped to follow their path with my eyes, as they descended almost military-like, marching straight down the huge tree trunks and along the ground. I had not seen or heard about leaf cutter ants before, so I was quite intrigued. I started to follow them for several minutes. Eventually, they started to disappear into a hole in the ground, their home, where the leaves are chewed but not eaten, and stored for food.

As I crouched down observing the ants, I noticed a small stream right in their path. What amazed me was that they had found a way to get across, a small branch provided a bridge. These ants were never going to quit. When the ants came across an obstacle, they would go left or right of it, go over or under, or even move it. The ants confronted their obstacles. They were just ants. They were not defined by their struggle. They just got on with it.

I stood up and started back on the path. It is not that the path is always easy. It won’t be. Life won’t always be easy. Our circumstances may present us with difficulties, not just obstacles in our way but sometimes mountains. But that is not what defines us. The way we see our obstacles reveal who we are. Instead of seeing obstacles as difficult or negative, we can see them as opportunities for growth, for love, for compassion. This defines who we are. Mountains can potentially stop us. If we can’t go around them or move them, we may have to climb them. 

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