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Painted Brain | What Color Is Your Porcupine?
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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  • October 10, 2016

WHAT COLOR IS YOUR PORCUPINE?

STEP ONE: Recognize your porcupine.

STEP TWO: Choose to drop your porcupine.

STEP THREE: Pick up a soft, warm kitten instead.

At some point in your life, you’re going to find yourself holding a porcupine in your arms. If you’re like me, perhaps a porcupine was thrust into your arms at a very early age. Maybe a porcupine was rammed into your arms when you were an adolescent, a teen, or a young adult. Maybe your porcupine was thrust into your arms by accident, or maybe you put it there yourself.

But here’s the key; no matter how your porcupine came to you, no matter how long you’ve been hugging this critter, you have the God-given choice and right to drop it. That’s right. You don’t have to hold it any more. You can drop it and drop it hard!

A porcupine is one of nature’s most curious animals. Though it’s a mammal like us, its hair has been designed in such a way that it feels like the shaft of a feather. These are called quills and they only have one purpose, one function only: to sting, to harm; to cause discomfort. It’s a defense mechanism that nature has provided for this particular rodent. Other animals are smart enough to give it as much room as possible; any animal would have to be pretty desperate to mess with one of these creatures, because not only can these quills be extremely painful, but given time, if they’re not removed, they can kill.

Why would any living thing want to hold a porcupine in its arms?

Because if it’s a human, he or she doesn’t believe they have a choice. Here’s something else that’s amazing about nature. Human beings are the only animals in the world who possess choices and rights. No other animal has these. Your dog may choose whether it prefers beef or chicken, but we humans decide when it eats, where it eats, and how much it eats. We can choose to overfeed it or starve it; the dog can do nothing about this. Thank God that’s not us!

But we humans sometimes don’t get that we have a choice. That was me for the longest time. When I was a kid, my family rammed a big, healthy, savage porcupine into my arms and wouldn’t let me let it go. In fact, they made sure I squeezed it harder and harder and didn’t care whether it hurt me or not. In time, I believed that was just the way it was supposed to be. When I was finally away from my family, even though they were no longer a part of my life, guess what? That porcupine was! I couldn’t seem to let go. I had been conditioned to hold onto that horrible beast as if my life depended on it.

And then, ah!, then it happened. That vile critter started whispering things to me. One of the things it tried to convince me of was that it was more real than I was. That it was reality and everything else, including my right to be happy, joyous and free was the illusion. That, in fact, it was me and I was really the porcupine. Strange, huh?

How many of us believe that we are our situations? How many of us believe that our circumstances are the only true reality? Too many of us do, and it leaves us trapped in a perpetual nightmare we can’t wake ourselves up from; an earthly hell we can’t seem to leave even though we have the keys to the exits right in our pockets. That key is called – CHOICE. What are we choosing? What are you choosing? That porcupine in your arms is counting on you to choose his lie that you have no choice, that he’s the reality and nothing else.

It took me twenty long, hard, agonizing years to decide to drop my porcupine. Too many of us believe that we are our past story and that if we don’t hold tight to our porcupine, no matter how much it’s killing us, we’re lying to ourselves and others. But I’m here to tell you that while our past stories may have molded us, they do not define us. As an extremely wise friend of mine said to me, I am not who you think I used to be. I used to be that victim, and perhaps you liked me better as a victim, but I’m a victor now and I like that far better. Truer words were never spoken and I’m finding these days that this is something I’m continually using when I’m confronted by so-called old friends who resent me for no longer wallowing around in the mud with them. What they refer to as the good old days may have been good to them, but they weren’t for me, and I have the choice as well as the God-given right to want to step up and move forward into life just as they have the right to stay in the mud. I don’t even have to judge them; I simply realize that their way of life is no longer for me.

Here’s something else I’ve learned – not only in therapy, but in the new life I’ve chosen over my old one. Unless it helps improve your life and the life of others, stop telling your story so much. Stop telling people your story of past woes and gloom and despair.  If you’re not telling your story to celebrate how far you’ve come, you’re only feeding the negativity you went through and will continue to go through because you keep breathing new life into it. Less history . . . more mystery. If you keep telling about all the terrible things you went through with no intention of purging it from your soul so you can get on with the business of living your life, you’re only spreading it around like poisoned peanut butter and giving your enemies ammunition to use against you. When people would see me coming, even my closest friends would say, “Oh here comes ol’ sad John with yet another old story of gloom and doom! What will it be this time, you think? The time he got pushed off his bike by a bigger kid when he was seven or the time his dad yelled at him when he was ten?” It’s nothing wrong with crying on peoples’ shoulders when you’re hurting, but what I am saying is don’t drown them or otherwise they’re going to take steps to keep from going under. I lost many good friends who offered me room in their lifeboats until I inadvertently swamped them with tsunamis. Don’t let that be you. Your friends want to be there for you, but for God’s sake, you got to let them come up for air once in a while!

And just because you can’t change where you come from doesn’t mean you can’t decide where you want to go. It’s not about denying your origin, but it has everything to do with making a new future for yourself. What good is life if you’re too afraid to create new, more worthy memories? What do you gain from focusing on the memories of the horrible things that can no longer harm you? What’s the reason for holding on to a porcupine that’s not only killing you with its lies, fears and the pain you don’t and never did deserve, but also wants to convince you he’s more real than you? We’ve all come from somewhere, whether it was a good place or a bad place. But where we’ve come from is NEVER more important than where we now choose to go. The future will always be more important than the past because the future is where we’re headed and TODAY – RIGHT NOW – is where we start! TODAY – RIGHT NOW – IS WHERE WE BELONG! Because God, the Universe, or whatever your Higher Power might be is a force that constantly moves forward and cannot be stopped. This Higher Power is not at all interested in where we’ve been but only where He or She is taking us and you can fight it as much as you like; you can fight to dwell on the past or you can fight to remain rooted in one spot, but it’s simply not going to happen that way because it goes against every law of nature. In a battle between an irresistible force and an immovable object, the only immovable object and irresistible force is you, and there’s one force in this world that can beat both of these and that’s change. Change cannot be stopped. Metal turns into rust, rock turns into sand, ice turns to water, hair becomes grey and if you refuse to move with it with all the grace, faith and wisdom we’re given as tools for life, then change, which could mean a wonderful new way of life and take you to places that you never dreamed of, can instead turn into a hellish trip leading to a hellish death. How are you going to choose to handle change? I’m changing. I’m getting older. I’ll accept that change – but here’s the key; I’ll accept it gracefully and with dignity and instead of getting angry if once in a while I wake up with a new grey hair or wrinkle, I’ve decided that for me, I’ll treat it as though it’s really a friend that’s only been sent to keep me strong and full of power; to keep me wise, to keep me proud, and to remind me that with advancing maturity comes grace and wisdom that will never grow old. And to show you how much of a friend it really is, it wants to build new good memories with me as well as hold on to the old good memories. There’s just no place any more for bad memories in my life. They give me absolutely nothing in return for all the energy I give to them dwelling on them. Your future can be a beautiful thing if you let it. Here’s a little something to help along the road: recall the line of an old Bob Dylan song, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now!” Take this as gospel, my friend.

To you, whoever you are, I don’t want you to feel like nobody gets you. I do. I get you. I’ve been you! And you not only have the choice and the right to drop that damn porcupine with all of his old lies about him being your reality, but you must – you must – create a fresh new reality for yourself so you can be about the business of making your dreams and goals come true. You don’t have time to nurture a poisoned old porcupine you never asked for. Drop that monster and kick it out of your life and if there are still a few quills left in your skin, pull them out quickly and throw them in the dirt where they belong before they grow into a whole new porcupine. And don’t pick up anymore porcupines! Give them all the space you can and have nothing to do with them!

Instead, pick yourself up a warm, soft, furry kitten that will whisper only one true thing to you, “I love you!”

John Chavis is an artist and motivational speaker who resides in Los Angeles, CA. He is a contributor to Painted Brain News

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