Editor's note: Two days after this original post I changed my lizard's name from Coco to Rico, this being the namer's prerogative. Rico was the name I wanted to use all along (which will become apparent in his story). I wanted a female lizard and Rico didn't work. So I am at peace with a "he" lizard as I decided to listen to my inner voice and go with the name that first came to me. More on listening to that inner voice in future posts.
Meet Rico. He’s my inner lizard.
I discovered found him slinking among the ruins in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, last summer.
Actually, Rico has been with me all along… I mean ALL along. It’s only recently that I named him and captured an image to help me visualize, talk to and calm him.
Rico is my amygdala, that part of my reptilian brain which makes me focus on “lack or attack,” according to Martha Beck, PhD. On one hand, Beck notes, our reptilian brains are convinced that we lack everything we need: We don't have enough love, time, money, everything. On the other hand, she says, our reptilian brain is also sure that something terrible is about to happen. It’s why so many people are stressed out, burnt out, anxious, depressed and, well, miserable.
Our lizard brains were beautifully created to keep us safe. In STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) training at Eastern Mennonite University, I learned how it kicks us into fight or flight mode. Long ago, the extra zing of adrenaline it provided to help us run from, say, tigers, was a good thing.
However today, this same system is triggered by all kinds of non-life threatening stimuli like traffic jams, rushing from one activity to another, a zillion emails we can’t answer, the bing of a text coming in. We don’t have the physical release of running off the stimuli and the rest that should come after the surge to regroup. Instead, we hunker down in office cubicles, behind the wheel, in front of a screen... I like this video depiction of how fight or flight can play out in modern day life.
During life coach training through the Martha Beck Institute over the past year, I got quite familiar with my inner lizard. Our mentors encouraged us to name them and draw, capture or find an image of them. Thus, Rico was born.
Now, when my thoughts spin, heart races, fear creeps, I take a deep breath and say, “Well, hello Rico. Thank you for visiting. I know you mean well. But I don’t need all you are offering right now. Take a chill pill.”
This simple act of becoming aware of your inner lizard -- of what is happening to you physically and physiologically when he or she jumps to attention -- is a first step in easing unhealthy anxiety and stress.
Rico has been especially active in recent weeks since I left full-time meaningful employment and decided to launch my own life coaching business. Thanks to the many tools I learned during my life coach training -- and the network of coaching friends who I can contact for a coaching session when needed -- I’ve been staying on good terms with Rico.
I look forward to sharing tips, tools and reflections on thought work in future posts as my understanding and my business grow.
For now, consider getting acquainted with your inner lizard. Let me know if you name him or her and how you’re doing together.
A 50-something life coach living in the Shenandoah Valley. Grateful. Growing. Giving... and receiving.