Nallapaampu, the Anxious Serpent

There’s a notion in Tamil hard to explain. It’s called nalla-paampu, and it means literally “good snake.” It refers to the snake that doesn’t bite when you really hope it will not and only bites when it should: to eat, to digest, to protect, to do all of the things that allows it to live, do its work, survive and flourish. 

Everyone reviles that serpent, whether it is inside or out, and there is nothing harder than admitting it is part of us. Who wants to be the serpent? Another name for that feeling is “ahi”, and any Sanskrit dictionary will tell you that the word means just “snake,” but in fact you’re looking at the word “angst,” “anxiety”, and who wants that? But that too is inside us, that is the story we must bite, and rather than reject it or merely regret that we are the anxious serpent, we must become that feeling— because it also motivates, cajoles, hurts, and it’s anxious after all.

But there is serenity in the serpent too, because who knows better what he is? It’s in that paradox that the work comes that changes us, and it’s from that place inside that the poetry comes. You will look back and like some of those songs and poems, find ways to come to terms or make do, or sometimes you’ll reject and do what you can to erase, but when you’ve moved into that voice that lets you be all of the feelings, you’ve arrived, that is how you become your gifts. Your gifts are prodigious, don’t ever think otherwise because that’s not the anxiety, the ahi, the serpent you need. Instead be the serpent who lives in its own skin and sheds it when it’s time to grow.  Be grateful for all of those feelings you feel, all, even the regrets and the anxiety. Alchemize the hurt and you’ll find more nallapaampu, in all of your selves and voices.

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