Kim Nathan

Author & Life Coach

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My Husband’s Lizard(s)

A year and a half ago, I complained to my husband, “We need more life in the living room.”

We rarely used the front room of our house, preferring our own spaces in the evening, usually involving different TV programs. Our cats hung out there when the setting sun warmed the room, but that was about it.

That January, our niece Oona got a chameleon for her birthday, and Uncle Aaron, who loves a science project, cheerfully pitched in and helped with the equipment required to house and care for such a creature.

The next time we visited the pet store, he ran off to the reptile section while I got the cat food. I found him later in front of a cage containing a full-grown chameleon who looked determined to make an escape. This lizard locked one of its eyes on me, and some kind of crazy silent exchange happened.

“This lizard wants to go home with us.” I said, noticing how entranced my husband was with the reptile.

The surprised and hopeful look in my husband’s eyes confirmed it. To our credit, we decided not to be impulsive. We told the store we were probably interested. They assured us that the lizard had been in the store for six or seven months and wasn’t likely to be sold anytime soon. We went home, talked it over, ran a few more errands, and then returned to the pet store and brought our new chameleon home that same day.

My wish was inadvertently granted when we decided to put the cage in the living room. The universe has a sense of humor.

Did I mention that my husband likes a science project?

Our new chameleon, whom we named Henri, was just our starter lizard. After several iterations, Aaron perfected the cage set up, from non-toxic plants to shower heads strategically placed and timed to spray five times throughout the day. Cricket cups and vines, and heat lamps and lights, also set on a timer to mimic the twelve-hour daylight cycle that chameleons enjoy in the wild, living close to the equator. Then there are the crickets, roaches, worms and stick bugs.

All of this is rather elaborate now that we have three chameleons.

Henri, a Veiled chameleon, has two brothers: Gustave, a Bearded Cameroon chameleon, and Francoise, a Panther chameleon (pictured). We affectionately call them Henry, Gus and Frank.

Being territorial, they require separate cages, so each one enjoys the same deluxe set up, a penthouse apartment overlooking the central park of our living room, living in parallel universes, completely unaware of the others.

The irony of all this is not lost on me. As a Martha Beck life coach, top of mind for me has been the concept of our inner lizard, what scientists call the reptilian brain, the part that is wrapped around the base of your brain stem. It’s helped keep us alive as a species by continuously broadcasting lack and attack fears. The trouble is that most of these fears are no longer valid in the modern world.  These fears are the number one reason that we hold back from living our best lives.

Martha suggests that it is best to soothe and calm this ancient piece of our evolution into submission by looking at it with a more highly evolved portion of our brain. Caring gently for your inner lizard, rather than believing it or denying it, is the way toward peace.

She proposes naming your inner lizard and finding some kind of three dimensional representation of it. Any external representation of a lizard will work, just something for you to look at, like a piece of jewelry or art or sculpture. The neuroscience behind this is that when you call on the nonreptilian part of your brain to watch the lizard, you subtract neural energy from the survival fear. Those neuron pathways become weaker the more we observe them.

If you are gripped by fears, it can be a helpful reminder to gaze upon this external representation of your lizard. It reminds you to question the fear and decide from a calmer place. It helps you remember to not allow irrational fears to hold you back.

Lizard fears are always broadcasting that there will never be enough, and too much competition for those limited resources, and it might be dangerous to show your true colors, and no one will ever love you if you do.

Our chameleons always have everything they need. They live in their own ecosystem, and there is no competition for territory or the exotic food they receive from my husband. They shed periodically, exposing fresh brightly colored skin. They grow under the loving care of my husband. Do they like him? It’s impossible to tell.

Aaron’s doing great too. Over the past year, he landed an interesting job making great money with an ideal commute. He lost fifty pounds. He upgraded his BMW to a Porsche Cayman. Did you know a caiman is a lizard? The universe is laughing again.

How do I feel about all this?

I’m enjoying all the life in my living room.

 

Discomfort

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The minute we get a whiff of discomfort, we want to swerve in the other direction.

We freely admit to physical discomforts, always complaining about the weather or one’s aches and pains. It’s harder for us to cop to emotional pain because we want to appear strong.

In the modern Western world, we are insulated by all the technology that money can buy. If you are lucky, it’s possible to feel very little physical discomfort. We get used to a comfort zone, and when we feel ourselves bump against the edges of it, we bounce off in the other direction, back into it. Pretty soon we never want to leave it. We lose our tolerance for discomfort.

I live well within my comfort zone. This became clearly evident while on a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. It was an eight-days-on-the-river, sleeping-under-the-stars-every-night kind of trip. All of our meals were provided. We were given strict limits and suggestions on what to pack. I’m a lip balm addict, so I stashed about twenty of them throughout various bags and clothing, just in case a bag was lost overboard in the river. I fretted about it. That’s how close my comfort zone is.

No matter how prepared you think you are for a trip like rafting in the Grand Canyon, whether you have the right clothes and shoes and sunhat and sunblock and lip balm, you will still be discomforted by the physical experience. Being on the Colorado River is a constant dance between extremes, scalding heat and freezing water, scorching sun and shocking cold. It’s physically demanding to be out in the elements twenty-four hours a day for an entire week. My modern sensibilities were challenged. I was discomforted on a continuous basis, but I also learned how temporary each state was. Nothing lasted very long without transforming into something else. You get cold and wet really fast. You get hot and dry really fast. This happens over and over again.

Everyone on that rafting trip was out of their comfort zone. But, after two or three days, we all settled in to our new routines. The river became our way of life. This never would have happened if we hadn’t agreed to step out of our comfort zones, albeit in a fairly luxurious way. By the end of that trip, we had expanded our tolerance for discomfort, and we were forever changed by our experience on the river.

The other kind of discomfort, the emotional kind, is easier to ignore in some ways. You can pretend you’re not feeling it. We’re taught by the culture that we should smile and be polite. If we’re uncomfortable, maybe we’re not doing it right. Maybe there is something wrong with us. So often we grin and bear it because that’s what we think we’re supposed to do. We’re faking it along the way, hoping to get it right.

But right by whose standards?

When anxiety and unease are your primary emotional discomforts, this is feedback that you may not be heading in the right direction to realize your full potential.

I’m not talking about the fear you feel when you are exploring and trying out new things.

I speak of the discomfort that happens when you’ve stayed too long at the party. When you’ve stayed too long in a marriage or a career, even though it’s stifling you. When doing something different feels too scary, we numb ourselves to the discomfort, which later manifests as boredom, frustration and irritability.

Your brain will tell you to cool it. Don’t mess with the good thing. You’ve put up with it for this long. Who knows how good the next thing will be?

Discomfort means you need to expand your comfort zone. Not by becoming more tolerant to the discomfort, the way I did on the rafting trip, but by using it as a guide to move yourself forward in life. When that numb feeling settles on you, when dull anxiety is running in the background of your life, it’s time to expand. Stop settling.

No matter how illogical it may seem to your brain, trust your emotions to guide. You know what it feels like when things could be so much better in your life, when you just aren’t satisfied. You want more.

When you feel sad, tired and bored, ask yourself what it is that you are holding back on?

What are you not expressing that needs to be expressed?

Find a way to express it no matter how uncomfortable it is.

Creating is uncomfortable. It’s way out of everyone’s comfort zone.

That’s what creativity is. Venturing into unknown lands.

By the end of the trip, we expand our tolerance for discomfort and are forever changed by our experience on the river.

 

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