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Of Turtles and Lizards


Lizards are not the loveliest of all creatures. This one looks a little wary. Or grumpy. I recall sitting on my balcony in an apartment complex in Charlotte many years ago witnessing an iguana land in my hanging flower basket! I don't know which one of us was more alarmed! Well apparently, we humans share a bit of internal wiring in common with lizards.

It's a reptilian response wired into our brains. On the positive side, it can contribute to our survival. But it can also turn us into one of the most avoided people on the planet. When we humans feel threatened, our lizard brain kicks into action. Or RE-action. It's one way we respond to the world around us and the people who populate it. But it often involves some manner of attack.

As tender teenagers, we - most if not all of us - learn about rejection and betrayal and humiliation and meanness and a plethora of other human dynamics that impact our budding egos. We discover that socio-emotional hurts can sting and scar way longer than skinned knees and stubbed toes. Given that the responses we are wired with are fight, flight, and freeze, we find what works for us in order to survive. Over the years as I have gone through painful and difficult experiences, I often chose to "turtle." That's what I call it anyway. Withdraw. Regroup. Lick my wounds. And maybe harden up the exterior a bit. Be more cautious in sticking my neck out again. Or opening my heart for that matter.

In her book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown (brenebrown.com) titled the final chapter "Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart." She opens the chapter by quoting Roshi Joan Halifax who said, "All too often our so-called strength comes from fear, not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. We walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs and develop a spine that's flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that's soft and open... How can we give and accept care with strong-back, soft-front compassion, moving past fear into a place of genuine tenderness? I believe it comes about when we can be truly transparent, seeing the world clearly - and letting the world see into us."

Iin other words, neither lizard nor turtle. Complex and messy, yes, but not driven by fear or quivering with anxiety. What marvelous creatures we are! And as another wise teacher would remind us: honored, greatly honored by our Creator. He sat on a mountain and offered the world of us timeless truth. In the Bible, look up the beginning of Matthew 5. Google it if you need to. But it's a recipe for a strong back and a soft front and a wild heart for all who are interested in being most fully human.


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