Monday, November 30, 2015

Gnawing on the Rind of Life

 in preparation
keeping all in tidy order
 into earthly Wisdom
thus sings this 
oft un-welcomed 

“Life is full of choices, 
Every one is a test. 
I know this maze 
like my own shadow
Follow me 
I will show you 
how to 
spot the traps
using your clever mind 
to decide 
which way is best.

Some call me selfish, 
others say I’m shrewd. 
I don’t rise to that bait. 
I know myself to be a survivor, 
 I’m not afraid to be rude!

Keep your eye on the prize
finding magic in the mundane 
Stay focused, scrutinize
don't miss 
what's right before your eyes
Chew over your issues 
Gnaw them down to size.

Shy, humble, cautious
The Lord of Success 
rides upon my back. 
Keep in mind the big picture 
Attention to small details 
will keep you on track"

For those new to the game, each poem is inspired by a Teacher found in Nature; star, stone, animal, plant etc that holds lessons of Wisdom for us. Can you guess who is singing today? Congrats to Poppy (O.R.M.E), Jan Neavill Hersch, Chris Brockman, and Jaguarwombyn for naming this Teacher!

“He(Mickey Mouse) popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner.” Walt Disney

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win you are still a rat!” Lily Tomlin

“The mice think they are right, but my cat eats them anyways. This is the point… reality is nothing, perception is everything.” Terry Goodkind

There are some 40 species of mice and 137 to 570 kinds of rat, although not all are “true” rats.“True rats” are members of the genus Rattus, the best known of which are the Black and the Brown rats. Pack rats, kangaroo rats, and Bandicoot rats are examples of those which bear the name although they are not actually rats. Despite heavy predation, mice and rats are regarded as the third most successful of all mammalian species on Earth today, second only to humans! Mice may live up to two years in a lab or pet environment, but the average mouse in the wild only lives about 5 months. 

These rodents are a key food source for most ecosystems, and feed a wide variety of animals including: eagles, hawks, owls, cats, foxes, weasels, stoats, snakes, and badgers. In Ancient Rome, very little distinction was made between them, being called commonly Big Mouse and Little Mouse. Physically and in habit, they are of course very similar.

Mice are omnivores that typically feed on grains, fruits and seeds although they will eat meat, including dead mice, and have even been known to cannibalize their own tails during starvation situations! Mice and rats are typically despised for two reasons; crop destruction and the spread of disease.

While modern wild rats can carry certain diseases communicable to humans, this is more rare than is commonly thought. Wild rats and mice tend to be healthy and robust creatures, and even city rats which often suffer from poor diet, internal parasites and mites, rarely spread disease to humans. Hantavirus, rat bite fever, and food poisoning like salmonellosis, are probably the most common diseases spread by these rodents.

Most other ailments, like the infamous plague, are actually spread by the fleas or mites that infest the rodents. Another common misconception is that mice find cheese irresistable, and while they certainly won’t pass it up if the need and opportunity present themselves, they aren’t actually fond of the fatty texture of cheese, preferring foods high in sugar. Peanut butter is a much better bait for rodents than cheese, and chocolate is actually toxic to them.

Mice are social creatures that prefer living in groups, and their natural habitats are very diverse from inner-city to desert. Male rivalry can become troublesome when the group is confined to a small space.

Because of their short lifespan, mice are able to reproduce at the age of 50 days and are poly-estrous, able to breed year round. Mating, like most other activities, is a nocturnal occupation. Female mice housed together will halt the usual cycle, but once exposed to a male mouse or even the pheromones of a male mouse, most of the females will go into estrus in about 72 hours, referred to as the Whitten effect. 

The Bruce effect is a form of pregnancy disruption in some mammals, including mice, where the exposure of a female to an unknown male will result in pre or post-implantation failure. (Bruce 1959, Storey and Snow 1990). Average gestation is about 20 days, and a typical litter numbers between 10-12, although this will vary greatly depending on the species of mouse and the environmental conditions.

“Cleverness is serviceable for everything, sufficient for nothing.” Henri Frederic Amiel

“Cleverness is not wisdom.” Euripides

The Brown or Norway rat is probably the most well known of all rats. It grows up to 10 inches long with an equally long tail. Opportunistic omnivores, cereal grains make up most of the brown rat’s diet although Martin Schien revealed in his paper “A Preliminary Analysis of Garbage as Food for the Norway Rat” that they definitely have a preferance for scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese and cooked corn. Excellent swimmers but poor climbers, like other mice and rats the Brown Rat is unable to see in color and has relatively poor eyesight. Their sense of smell is exceptionally keen however and their hearing acute, being able to hear into ultrasound.

Also polyestrous, females may produce up to five litters a year numbering between seven and fourteen per litter! Males usually reach sexual maturity at 3 months and females at 4. I find it most interesting that litters of numerous females will occupy the same nest, and all the young are cared for by the adults, regardless of who belongs to which mother! (Parker, S. 1990. Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals: Volume 3.) Once weaned however, no parental care appears to be given. Most often rats live for about a year, although three years as a pet is common, and spans of three in the wild or five years as a pet seems to be the limit. Brown rats live in large hierarchical groups, and either dig extensive burrows, or nest in subsurface places like sewers and cellars.

If a large fraction of a rat population is exterminated, the remaining rats will increase their reproductive rate, and quickly restore the population. Rats may be found almost anywhere that there are people except the Arctic, the Antarctic, isolated islands, the province of Alberta and certain areas of New Zealand. When food is in short supply, those lowest in social order are the first to die.

Natural survivors, they have been known to eat birds, eggs, fish, other small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, carrion, insects, aquatic crustaceans, mollusks, fungus, leaves, roots, tubers, wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; nectar; flowers; sap or other plant fluids. Some estimates state that there may be as many as five rats for every human! If it weren’t for the 90% mortality rate, they might rule the world.

Brown rats and mice (typically some variety of house mouse) have been used for a wide variety of laboratory research for many years. There are many reasons why these animals are preferred for these types of studies. Their short life spans, rapid reproduction, small size and the thrift of their upkeep makes them cost effective and highly useful as we can study the wide variety of responses from a single generation. There is also a remarkable genetic similarity between mice and humans, and a 2007 study actually showed that rats are capable of greater cognition than we have given them credit for up til now. Learning, memory, explicit and implicit knowledge, planning and evaluating have all been displayed.

“It’s better to feed one cat than many mice.” Norwegian proverb

“Only the most foolish of mice would hide in a cat’s ear, but only the wisest of cats would think to look there.” Andrew Mercer

“When people laugh at Mickey Mouse, it’s because he’s so human; and that is the secret of his popularity.” Walt Disney

Perhaps even more astounding, is the fact that it has been found that rats emit short, high frequency, ultrasonic, socially induced vocalization during rough and tumble play inaudible to the human ear without aid. In other words, they are ticklish and they laugh! Like us, they have certain areas of the body which are particularly susceptible to tickling, and this induced laughter is associated with positive emotional feelings, social bonding, and even suggests a social preference by these more playful and ready to laugh rats for others like them! (Panksepp and Burgdorf 2003) Despite the horrible reputation that rodents have with us, popular culture suggests that we have been more aware of these qualities than we have realized.

Works like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH in which Mrs. Frisby, a common field mouse, enlists the aid of the mysterious Rats of NIMH to save her family come immediately to mind. The story reveals that these rats, along with her late husband, a lab mouse, were subjects of experiments that greatly increased their intelligence and enabled their escape from the labs. 

The classic Algernon and even the most recent animated children’s film, Ratatouille, all credit rodents with far more intelligence and feeling than is commonly accredited to them. Ratatouille places special emphasis on Remy’s superlative sense of smell which aids him in his quest to become a famous chef, and Remy’s struggle to find a balance between his rodent self and his more human side. I was especially amused at Remy’s constant disgust with his rat relatives willingness to eat things that even they can’t identify!

Remy: “What is that?!”
Emile: contemplates “I don’t really know.”
Remy: “You dunno… and you’re eating it?”
Emile: You know, once you muscle your way past the gag reflex, all kinds of possibilities open up."

An excellent testimony to rat digestion and ability to survive under adverse conditions, but perhaps the single best quote and most exemplary sentiment conveyed in this film is…

Remy: Change is nature, Dad. The part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.”

“Worry is today’s mice nibbling on tomorrow’s cheese.”~proverb

As a Totem, Mouse teaches us that paying attention to small details and accomplishing smaller tasks will help us with the bigger ones. The trick is not to get so lost in details that we loose sight of our real goals. Mouse people often have a lot of nervous energy which can affect their health adversely or show itself in other ways, like excessive neatness or even OCD behavior. Mouse people like to have everything in order, tidy and organized. It is often a struggle for them not to nit-pick or over analyze things. It is easy for them to feel too small for the challenges they face, fearful of life’s unknown variables, or overwhelmed by circumstances. 

While it is often beneficial for them to stop all activity and allow themselves the breathing space to really take in a situation before making decisions, Mouse people must beware freezing to the spot and becoming incapable of making any decision, like a mouse paralyzed by fear from a passing hawk’s shadow. Mouse asks us if we are too focused on one detail and perhaps missing the bigger picture? Are we being too cautious in an over zealous effort to “look before we leap”?

Mouse people have excellent senses to help them through life’s diverse situations. Listening is key. Mouse people can often hear what is not being said, provided they take the time to listen. While our own sense of smell is hardly developed or used, those with a Mouse totem will often find that they have a “nose” for things. They know, almost instinctively, when a situation has gone sour, a relationship has turned, or an opportunity has ripened. 

The challenge is to properly develop and trust this elusive sense. Mouse, unlike the hawks and owls who so often hunt him, does not see far beyond his twitching nose, but what he sees, he sees clearly. This close-sight and their ability to hibernate through the cold months makes them an excellent Teacher for those who need to learn how to look within, to examine themselves clearly and closely.

“The details are not the details. They make the design.” ~Charles Eames

“Give attention to the details and excellence will come.” Perry Paxton

“A warrior is a hunter. He calculates everything. That’s control. Once his calculations are over, he acts. He lets go. That’s abandon. A warrior is not a leaf at the mercy of the wind. No one can push him; no one can make him do things against himself or against his better judgment. A warrior is tuned to survive, and he survives in the best of all possible fashions.” Carlos Castaneda

“During periods of discontinuous, abrupt change, the essence of adaptation involves a keen sensitivity to what should be abandoned – not what should be changed or introduced. A willingness to depart from the familiar has distinct survival value.”~Peter F. Drucker

In some Native Traditions, Mouse, who sits in the West on the Medicine Wheel, also represents Trust and Innocence. Tiny Mouse must trust his instincts to survive, just as we must also trust that everything is unfolding as it is meant to, and his world view is typically a very small one, keeping him refreshingly innocent of the bigger dangers of the World. The message here is to see and fully appreciate the many small splendors, and tiny miracles that happen across our paths every day. 

We serve no one by spending ourselves in nervous worrying and constant self-doubt. We must find the Balance. Saving for the needs of tomorrow is wise, hoarding is not. We must learn to determine what things, physically or metaphorically, we need to save versus those that no longer serve our needs and should therefore be released in a proper manner.

Rat people are often very driven to succeed. Success is a fine thing to strive for, but at what cost? To call someone a “rat” usually implies that they are untrustworthy, greedy or self-serving. Like the issue of hoarding versus saving, those called by this Teacher must find a proper balance between personal success and the greater good. Templeton, the rat from Charlotte’s Web, is a wonderful example of a Rat person’s self-interest. “What’s in it for me?” he often asks, and Charlotte the wise spider is quick to illustrate to him the interconnectedness and sacred nature of all things. Without others to balance us out, who is there to succeed for?

In the Chinese calendar, Rat is the first year and Rat people are considered good leaders, shrewd, passionate, charming, practical and hard working. Excellent pioneers and conquerors. Rat people are energetic and able to adapt to just about any situation. They aren’t always the most trusting of people though, and don’t typically have a wide circle of true friends, although family is very important to them. Rat people can be very controlling, stubborn, aggressive, quick-tempered and even downright cruel. Like Mice that have grown too big for their britches, it is especially important for Rat people to learn a proper Balance and to temper themselves.

“My room is so small, the mice are hunchbacked.” Henny Youngman

“Its not the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog.” Mark Twain

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. "Calvin Coolidge

Both rats and mice can fit through amazingly small spaces. They will test an opening with their whiskers, like a cat, to decide if they can fit. They can actually compress themselves to fit through holes the size of a nickel! This is a lesson in reaching success through very narrow windows of opportunity. It is also a reminder that size is relatively unimportant. All rodents know that if they are persistent, they will achieve their goal, and their small size compared to their many predators is not really an obstacle. Mice and rats are typically nocturnal creatures, and they are great at passing quietly, unnoticed, around the edges of a room.

However, both can be equally bold and know with keen insight when they have a larger opponent intimidated. For all the meek reputation of mice, either mice or rats can be unnervingly bold in pursuit of their goals. For those people called by these Teachers, it is especially important to find that harmonious balance between humbleness and boldness. Both are important and both can lead to endless trouble if not doled out in proper measure. Just as seeing Life in it’s smallest Detail is important, but over-analyzation is unhelpful, to you or others!

Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu God of Success, is often depicted riding on the back of a mouse or rat. This can be interpreted in many ways. Some say this illustrates the challenge of over coming our baser instincts and desires in favor of enlightenment and universal love. Other may say that this shows that even impossible things can be achieved if we see and approach things with Balance. Ganesha, also known as the Remover of Obstacles, can place obstacles in our way as well. Learning both sides of this concept is an important lesson. 

Sometimes things we perceive as obstacles are actually there for a very good reason that will only become clear later. Rodents remind us to examine all things in detail before reacting. Their need to gnaw on things to keep their teeth from becoming too long is another reminder to chew things over first, to be especially mindful of our words as they can cause pain and damage, and that persistence can see us through a lot of difficulties.

There is a temple of Sacred Rats in India teeming with rats who are believed to be souls of local nobles who have passed away. White rats especially are considered heralds of good fortune. Rats have symbolized the Night in several cultures, and were sacred to Ra, just as the field mouse was sacred to Horus, the hawk-headed god. Bast has been depicted defeating a rat-god. Mice have also been associated with Edo or Wadjit, the Egyptian Mother Goddess known by many names. 

In many countries mice are identified with the human soul, and it is believed that this is the form taken by the soul during dreaming or at the time of death. If the soul does not return or if the dreamer is awakened before the soul returns, he immediately dies, which is why it is considered bad luck to wake up a dreamer or sleep-walker. In Ancient Greece, the destructive side of Apollo was called “Smitheos”, or “Apollo Smintheus” from the Greek word “sminthus” which means “mouse.” Sacred mice were kept in his temple, and Apollo has been known both to heal illness and to shoot plague-ridden arrows.

Mice have also been associated with Jupiter/Zeus and, because of their rapid reproduction, Aphrodite!Rats are an attribute of St. Fina, and when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, their towns were plagued with rats bearing disease, possibly bubonic plague. In order to free themselves from the tumors brought on by the disease, they returned the Ark with a trespass offering of five golden tumors and five golden rats – one for each of the cities and lords of the Philistines (1 Sam 5:1-6:18). 

Rats have served as the mounts of the Japanese god of Wealth, harbingers of death, disease, good fortune, or godly wrath. An amazing fortune has been created with the much beloved Mickey Mouse, and even the Henson team has profited from their bold and sassy Rizzo the Rat. Cinderella’s mousey friends helped her get to the ball, and it was the humble mouse who saved the mighty Lion. How do these tiny Teachers appear in your life?

“All creatures must learn to coexist. That’s why the brown bear and the field mouse can share their lives in harmony. Of course, they can’t mate or the mice would explode.” Betty White

“Innocence is like polished armor; it adorns and defends.” Bishop Robert South
Leadership can be thought of as a capacity to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the future." Edwin H. Friedman

Key Concepts: Detail, Scrutiny, Silence, Listening Fear, Puzzle-solving, Overcoming Obstacles, Prudence, Conservation, Awareness, Instinct/Intuition, Fertility, Going Within

Associated with: Ganesha, Jupiter/Zeus, Aphrodite, Ra, Horus, Apollo, Aesculapius 

Potential balancing energies: cats from domestic to lion, dog, fox, hawk, owl, kestrel and other raptors, crow, sparrow and other birds, elephant, turtle, toad/frog, plants like yarrow, Arisarum proboscideum or camphor, wheat, corn, beans, trees like apple, earth, sun, water