My Poison Frog Teacher
Every morning, when I left my shaman’s hut in the rainforest, he was there looking up at me with curiosity and expectation. On the third day I had to accept that this wasn’t a random sighting; he was waiting for me. He was there to meet me. Finally, I smartened up and bent down to say hello. It was a long way down from my 180 cm to his 2 cm. His colours were beyond spectacular--cool mint green with splotches of black. He seemed so delicate and tiny but I knew that he was also deadly.
I was thrilled to see this this beautiful, rare green and black poison dart frog. It is quite uncommon to see them in the wild--how lucky was I to see one of these just outside my front door for three days in a row? I knew it was the same frog because I recognised his markings: a clear circle of black on his head and upper back with a black figure eight on his right side.
When I met my Frog Teacher, I was acting as Shaman-in-Residence at a eco-resort high in the mountains of Costa Rica. After the second morning, I talked to the nature guide at the resort. He seemed a bit perplexed to hear about my multiple encounters with this rare frog. He cautioned me that the very small amount of poison the frog possesses is enough to make a human heart stop beating. However, like most poison dart frogs, the green-and-black variety only releases its poison if it feels threatened, and wild specimens can be handled provided the human holding it is calm and relaxed.
So on the third morning when my friend was waiting by my door once again, I stopped dead in my tracks. I’m a shaman for God’s sake. I gave myself a spiritual whack on the side of the head for being so dense. As I bent down to greet him, the little frog raised himself up. It looked like this position was uncomfortable for him, so I adjusted my posture so that we could see each other eye to eye without his having to strain. I felt the telepathic "hello greeting" that I’ve come to recognise after 30 years as a shaman communicating with all sorts of spirits, entities, and animals.
I greeted the frog and apologised for taking so long to recognise that he wanted to meet me. He seemed excited to open this communication. I thanked him for coming every morning and asked him if he had a message for me. He did. He recognised that I was a shaman and so offered to be my Frog Teacher.
My Frog Teacher implored me to communicate to the world that we have to care for our water. He was concerned (and so should we be) that the water is becoming too acidic. He explained how sensitive frogs are to changes in water. He was adamant that he (and all frogs) are experts on this subject and should be listened to and consulted. He cautioned that if humans are messing with the water by messing with the air, it is not a wise thing to do.
Expanding his ribs and swelling his tiny body, he bowed and then lifted his head. He demonstrated how he breathes through his skin and assesses the moisture in the air. The information from the temperature and composition of the water touching his skin helps him make decisions and take action.
When I shared this teaching at breakfast, the guests and staff of the resort engaged in a robust discussion of water and air pollution and how pollution is changing Costa Rica. The naturalist helped us understand how lucky this resort is to be high up in the rainforest and how the constant rain helps to clean and purify everything.
Honoured to have received this important message from the green and black poison dart frog, I was hopeful that there might be more lessons for me the next morning. When I awoke on day four and reached my hand to open my door, I felt two emotions: a mix of excitement to see a new friend and also an anxious fear that he might not be there. I prepared myself for disappointment--maybe he had already said all he had to say.
Glee and astonishment coursed through me when I saw him there on the path, waiting for me. I was deeply excited. For four days in a row, this rare amphibian came here to interact with me. I sat down next to him. I thanked him for yesterday’s powerful message. He encouraged me to learn to breathe through my skin. “It’s the best way to gather information--way faster and more reliable than your eyes.”
I asked if he had a lesson for today. “Yes the lesson for today is for you personally.” His tone was ominous. “It is about the poison we excrete.” He went on to explain to me how he only exudes this poison when he feels threatened. “Just like you do.” He said with a serious and knowing tone that a wise teacher uses when they truly have you pegged. “When you feel threatened you exude poison too. It’s not a physical chemical like mine but it is perceived by those around you just like poison.”
Wow, I thought, this little guy goes right to the core. In my coaching practice, we call this dropping a truth bomb.
“We eject this poison to drive danger away or to kill a predator. I don’t think that is your intention when you excrete your poison, so be careful.”
What could I say? I bowed my head and took his teaching to heart. He continued, “Sometimes, very rarely, you need to drive a predator away. When you experience certain emotions you exude poison. People around you feel this poison and run away.”
He paused to let this sink in. “Perhaps it is time for you to figure out other defensive responses that don't excrete a deadly poison.”
It took me a couple of days to feel ok about sharing this lesson with the guests over breakfast. After all, I was at this resort as the ‘shaman in residence’ conducting ceremonies, rituals and healings. Wasn't I supposed to be the wise one?
My frog teacher seemed a bit low when we met on the morning of day five. I thanked him for the personal poison lesson and honoured his astute perceptions.
In an effort to lighten the tone of our lessons and to make today not be ‘all about me’ I asked him “How’s it going for you?”
He said, “I’m very tired but I wanted to make our morning meeting.”
“What’s up?” I inquired, exuding feelings of love and compassion toward him.
He thanked me for the love and said, “It’s just that I was up all night transporting eggs.”
Oops, what a faux pas! His voice sounded male so I had assumed that my frog teacher was a guy.
“I had to carry all the eggs up into the tree. It took several trips. It’s a long way for me.”
I felt such empathy for this little frog. I looked at those tiny legs and contemplated the effort it would take to climb a tree.
Generating as much peace and calm as I could, I reached out my hand and my Teacher hopped into my palm. I held my hand steady, the back of my hand resting on the path so ‘she’ could jump off at any point. I proceeded to give my first and only, (so far) frog reiki treatment.
I started to send ‘her’ life force energy but she seemed agitated. I thought about how small she was and quickly adjusted the flow to a tiny trickle, more to scale for this particular healing client. My Teacher stretched out in my hand, pushed her back legs out and reached forward with her front legs. My wise and powerful Teacher’s belly was skin to skin with my palm. After a while she said, “Thank you, that was great,” and hopped off and away.
When I related this part of the lesson, including the part about my mistaking her for a him, the nature guide laughed and said, “No, your frog is a ‘he’. In this species, it is the male who carries the eggs and tadpoles up into the canopy. The little ones mature in the water pooled in the bromeliads. Both parents guard the tadpoles while the little ones feed on algae and small invertebrates that inhabit the pools. So he would have been doing a lot of climbing trips through the night.”
As he reached for his tea, he added, “You should probably wash your hands just in case.”
The next morning, day six, I had to be up well before our normal meeting time to catch a ride to meet a local Bribris medicine man. I don’t know if my frog teacher waited on the path for me that morning or not. I stayed overnight with the Brisbris family and I got back to the resort late that afternoon of my seventh day.
On the morning of day eight there was no magical green and black poison dart frog waiting for me. But I later learned that on day six, a couple of the guests came by my hut on their way to breakfast to see if they could meet my Frog Teacher. Lo and behold, there on the path were two green and back poison dart frogs side by side. I can’t help but tear up at the thought that maybe he brought the Mrs. to meet me and I hadn't been there.
Did she think he was crazy, telling her stories of talking to humans?