The black-and-white cat was paying rapt attention to something in front of the
fireplace. He had that ears-cupped-and-tilted-forward look, and was holding absolutely still, eyes wide open. He does this only when there is something of great interest to him, and that is almost always something that is about to become part of his toy repertoire.
I got up, and looked at the spot on the tile. It looked like a stick. Suddenly, almost all of the stick shot across the room, leaving a wiggling piece behind. Nature works really well. The thing was a lizard, and it had dropped its tail, which wriggled appealingly, allowing my cat to focus on it, while the rest of the lizard scrambled to safety away from the cat.
Picking up the now-tailless lizard with a paper towel, I stepped out the door and shook the paper towel out gently, close to the ground by the fig tree. The little lizard body tumbled out.”Must have picked it up too hard,” I thought, feeling guilty. I thought I’d killed it, after the cat had missed it. Just as guilt waved over me, the lizard pulled out of its frozen position, and shot, tailless, up the fig tree to safety.
Some lizards drop their tails to save their lives, leaving their prey interested in the wiggly, but not vital to life part. I’d never seen it work so well. The cat was perfectly happy to let the business part of the prey escape if he got to keep the funny, wiggly part.
It seems like such a good idea to be able to drop a non-vital body part to save the important working parts. We don’t come equipped with convenient tails, but we do drag around burdensome “tales”–the stories we drag around as baggage. The sad story of how our parents didn’t give us what we needed. The mean roommate in college who was so thoughtless. The boss who wasn’t a mentor we’d hoped for, but gave us all the drudge jobs.
All those stories pile up and slow us down. They make us prey for anger, stress, decisions based on revenge and stored-up resentment. We can drop our “tales” of hurt and pity, leave them wiggling for someone else to become fascinated with. Because they aren’t helping us. No doubt, it’s hard to give up the story we live, the perspective we have on them, how we make choices based on past hurts and injustice. And those stories of injustice get us a lot of attention as our friends condemn those who hurt us. That’s what friends do. They think it’s helpful, although often attention simply encourages clinging to behavior.
Recasting our past is hard work and not appealing. The work of letting go of the past means admitting that our perspective isn’t working and deliberately looking for a new perspective, one that allows us to live a less-burdened, less blame-riddled life. It won’t be done in a single day, but the small steps and work is certainly worthwhile. My clients have experienced it, and not a single client regrets the work of re-invention.
We can’t change how our story began, but we can change how it continues and build for a happen ending.
Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and author of the book Raw Art Journaling, which helps people choose the story they want to live. Yes, the book can be used for re-invention. It’s a multi-purpose book!