If I had to choose a spirit animal, it would be the African Lungfish. This curious fish has extreme survival skills. Droughts that dry up rivers and kill other fish, only prompt the African Lungfish to burrow deep into the drying mud. It sleeves itself in a mucus cocoon and estivates – that’s the tropical equivalent of hibernation (cool, right?) – for the weeks and months and years that the drought lasts. While the stork and lion king and other predators starve in the forests above ground, the lungfish sleeps, sustaining its reduced metabolism by digesting its tail muscles. Yet, once the rains flood the riverbed and soften the mudbanks, the African Lungfish breaks out of its burrow, resurrecting triumphantly to river life.
Is this a winning strategy? Let’s consider the evidence: as a species, the African Lungfish is some 400 million years old. It is older than the oldest dinosaurs and has survived all the natural and climactic disasters that drove bigger, stronger and more intelligent species into extinction. As individual fish, it rivals human longevity; one example lived 80 years in captivity. (Being also delicious it would probably not live that long in our rivers…)
So, in your next crisis, ask yourself what the African Lungfish would have done. Some adversaries are foes to be confronted head on, other adversities are storms, seasons to be endured. Learn the difference and do not squander life in emotional kamikazes against temporary elements. Like our fish that evolved both gills and lungs for life on land and water, let your challenges teach you adaptability. Like our fish that ‘feeds’ on its tail muscles in estivation, we must survive lean times. Deep sleep does not blind the eyes, it sharpens the mind. Live so still that your enemies count you among the dead and buried. Yet, in that stillness of body, unfetter your mind, thinking, planning, and strategising for the day of opportunity when the rains cometh (whether in deluge or in the inches of your daily dreams) and the African Lungfish breaks out from its prison, past the fossils of heroic dinosaurs, into gateless streams.
I wrote an eponymous poem about 20 years ago. It was published in Memories of Stone
Lungfish I use my tears the way an angry writer uses ink. They are not to lubricate my lines. They flow to drive the pain that drives me to the brink. From where I estivate in mines, they run to drive the joy that drives my hand, to drive the rage that drives my recalcitrant mind into the freedom of the gateless page. The African Lungfish broods, prisoned in his parched burrow of riverbed mud. He waits for rain. For years, he waits for rain, brooding on the drought that drives him yearly to extinction’s edge, until it pours, whether in deluge or in the inches of his daily dreams, and he breaks from prison into gateless streams. Only tears of rain, in rage, or peace, could set him free. Only tears can set me free.
Here is a national Geographic Video on the Lungfish: