I was at PetCo yesterday to pick up cat food and talk to literally every animal in the place like a complete weirdo (please tell me you do that, too?). Although the adoptable cats are always my first stop (Gold Star Cat Lady for life, yo), my other favorites are the chameleons. Have you ever stopped to watch them? Their weird little hands and the way they rock back and forth with each step, and how their eyes can point in different directions? They’re crazy-looking little creatures.
So anyway, yesterday, there was this guy:
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He wasn’t doing anything particularly interesting, just chilling on his faux branch, but I found myself staring at him for a few minutes anyway. You can’t see it here (it wasn’t exactly picturesque) but at the bottom of the tank was a little flurry of skin flakes that he’d been losing while shedding his skin. (Those white parts on the photo are about to fall off.) I nerded out over how cool animals are for a minute, and then went to make friends with a rat.
Today, though, I was writing morning pages (who else loves The Artist’s Way, the book those come from?) and I started thinking about how even though some things have remained, I’m really not the same person I was as a child, or in high school, or even in my 20s.
Ok, clearly some aspects of my personality were there from day one.
I’m in a time of transitions right now, and I was thinking about how if I’ve changed so much over the years, there’s no reason why I can’t release the parts of myself I don’t currently like and just change again. Just more intentionally this time.
I’m reading a book called Shit Your Ego Says, where the author finds himself on Culebra, “island of the snake”, after a hurricane destroys his home. There’s a passage about all of the snake metaphors in history and mythology, but then he discusses the idea of rebirth.
(Here’s hoping the publisher doesn’t yell at me for copy/pasting a whole paragraph.)
Of all the metaphors represented by the snake, my favorite is rebirth. As the snake ages, its skin wears out and stretches, making it unable to support new growth. But the snake is not finished growing. It is still becoming the snake it wants to be. So the snake grows a new layer of skin under the old layer. When the new skin is ready, the snake sheds the old layer because it is no longer necessary. It holds no attachment or sentimentality to the identity it leaves behind. Humans also shed our skin. Every day one million skin cells turn into dust and are replaced by new cells. Every seven years each cell in our body has died and been replaced. In a physical sense we become new people. All matter is alive, moving from state to state in varying degrees of change. We crawl, we walk, we run, we fly , we crash, and we rise again. We look back and see how our journey defined us. Along the way, part of us must die so that we can continue to grow. Shedding old cells is essential for the growth of our bodies, and shedding old ideas and beliefs is essential for the growth of our consciousness.
So I guess that between reading that a few days ago and seeing that little green guy yesterday, it’s not surprising that the concept is on my mind.
In my morning pages notebook, I wrote, “I’m not the same person I was in high school or as a child, or even in my 20’s, so there’s no reason I can’t release this current me and move on. Shed my skin like the chameleon I saw yesterday. And maybe it *is* like that – the chameleon’s skin was coming off in flakes. Some big, some tiny. It wasn’t an all at once thing like a snake. His cage was a mess from it.”
Sometimes we shed our skin in an almost literal way – we get rid of clothing that no longer feels right, we cut our hair, we lose weight. But changes that happen beneath the surface, too. We let go of old habits and beliefs, we stop limiting ourselves, we replace stale ideas about our lives with fresh new ones.
Yes, sometimes we do wake up feeling reborn, as if some big shift has happened overnight. But real change isn’t always smooth and all at once like a snake shedding its skin. Maybe more often, it’s more like the chameleon -shedding little bits of our past selves in a way we barely notice until we look down and see how much has changed. Messy, gradual, uncomfortable, probably downright irritating when you get to those bits that stubbornly refuse to fall away. Both kinds of change lead to growth. We get that feeling that our current skin – our current jobs, homes, relationships, lives, – it’s all just too small for us. It doesn’t fit anymore.
A phoenix being reborn from flames is a hell of a lot more dramatic and impressive, but right now, I think I am chameleoning.