April 2016

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.