Picasso Herding Snakes

Somehow I knew that I was witnessing, yet again, a manifestation of the reality that everything is art.

Steve Roberts black ink drawing: person with propeller on head holding a colorful snake like a staff

Recently I met Picasso at his home.  He was a gentle, smiling old man, probably about the age he was when he died in his 92nd year in 1973.  In my dream he had long given up taking much seriously.  I was my age, 71.  I was sitting on a stool in a sunlit parlor: creamy adobe walls, tile floor a shade darker.  He was standing across from me, in flowing white linen shirt and trousers, introducing me to his life at the time.  Occasionally a poisonous snake would slowly slide its way from behind me, under my stool, toward him.  I was barefoot, wearing shorts, and would lift my legs so as to not get bitten, though whether I did or not was less important than freeing the fear of it.  Picasso welcomed each snake and calmly, politely ushered it to the door and let it out.  Somehow I knew that I was witnessing, yet again, a manifestation of the reality that everything is art.

Those I mentor quickly hear from me, “Let’s do a project.”  They ask, “What do you suggest?”  I answer, “It doesn’t really matter.  There’s no significant difference between one situation and another.”  They look at me funny and say something like, “Really?  There’s no difference between losing your shirt and winning the lottery?”  I say, “Right.  No matter what’s in front of us, all we’re ever trying to do, even if we don’t know it, is take action with confidence that the action we’re taking is the healthiest choice for us in that moment.  It’s the art of bringing the broadest and deepest perspective we can to our choices.  If you’re up for it, I can help you do that.”

In the morning I looked up snake.  In some circles,* it is a symbol of transmutation: the process of perpetual life/death/rebirth––exemplified by the shedding of the snake’s skin.  Snake is the energy of wholeness: experiencing anything willingly and without resistance so that it may deepen our connection to all of life, and thus provide us a foundation of ever-growing resilience in response to whatever comes our way.  Snake represents the knowledge that all things are equal in creation, and that whatever might be experienced as poison (not least of all the poison within us) can be transmuted if one has the proper state of mind.  The ultimate gift of every situation is the opportunity to expand our consciousness.

This is where leadership at its best comes in: providing perspective that helps those we serve (beginning with ourselves) make wholesome choices in the face of anything, even herding snakes.

No surprise it’s among life’s most daunting endeavors.  Thank goodness it’s something we’re all capable of.


*Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams & David Carson



  1. Hi Steve,
    Aren’t dreams great!?
    I’m sending this to my best friend from high school. She told me the other day that as a little girl, she had dreams of snakes falling on her from trees. As a result, she’s been terrified of them.
    We were together a few years ago, walking through the Blue Ridge Mts. & I told her they were her sisters. She didn’t buy it.
    Too bad no one told her, when she was a little girl, that those dreams were her path, her strength.
    Hope you are well,
    Love, Sue

  2. Oh, my! Love this one. Absolutely not afraid of snakes and making a poster of this for my studio. Will give you full credit, Steve. You have the coolest dreams!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth