Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gecko invasion

What this not very good photo, taken by me, flat on the floor on my front, using an ordinary Canon powershot digital camera, at close range in bad lighting, depicts, is a tiny gecko trapped under an ordinary highball glass, with a card stock brochure for the luau slid beneath it, in preparation for it being carted outside and dropped onto the top of the closest bush from my balcony.

It looked much cuter once there was solid glass between me and it. Prior to that, my brain was convinced that it was a hungry young dinosaur sizing me up as a food source that would last possibly for months.

We do not have geckos in Vancouver. I have seen them before, in other countries, on other trips, but not for decades, never without other people around, and never in my own personal habitat. Rarely have I had such a startling opportunity to witness my own physicality respond so abruptly to a perceived boundary issue brought on by something so tiny. I might not have even noticed it at all, in that it was a beige gecko scooting over a beige rug, but my eye caught movement and I saw it before it saw me.

There was a moment of instinctive horrified recoil. I could not help but feel it, feel it driving me toward panic, making me respond, do something, anything, to alleviate the sense of absolute wrongness my brain felt/caused me to feel, with a pounding heart and fast breathing, the entire sympathetic nervous system rush of adrenaline-driven/fight/flight response.

It seems ridiculous in retrospect, I mean c'mon, it was just a gecko (a baby to boot!) that wandered in .. as far as I know, they don't bite, besides it was tiny, probably more scared of me than I was of it - I've dealt with mice, large spiders, wasps, and calmly - this was a much smaller deal.

But in that moment, I felt freaked out.

There are two aspects that were important, in retrospect:
First, there was certain lack of prior exposure, lack of graded exposure to the phenomenon. Maybe if I lived in Australia or somewhere I'd think nothing of a harmless gecko running around in the living room.

Second, there was a boundary issue.
My brain had already moved into this condo. The brain that runs my life had already decided that the walls of the condo were the safe container within which it could relax, and had incorporated the space into itself, as "itself." (See Sandra Blakeslee, The Body has a Mind of its Own, for more about this.) However, I'm not really at home. Not really. And I think my brain might have decided on some much deeper level of context, that because it's actually on someone else's turf at the moment, maybe it didn't really have the right to be here, and might have to fight harder on behalf of its organism, should any sort of threat arise.

So, my brain over-reacted, and lucky me had a chance to see it in full threat mode for a few minutes, experience fully the anxiety and dread and disgust and sense of immediacy and need to act and pounding heart and shudder. It seems to have been a full-on primate reaction - I especially hated how the gecko moved - it darted in spurts, which made me want to get my bare toes away from the floor.

It was certainly instructive to experience my conscious attention dealing with my brain, tending it, telling it everything was going to be fine, figuring out what to do, hatching a plan (the same one I use for wasps in Vancouver that fly in through open unscreened windows), interacting with the gecko a bit to learn more about its true level of threat, in order to re-regulate the fear factor, going online to let friends know what I was dealing with and ask advice, also a primate reaction (seeking solace and virtual social grooming from members of my "troop"), and eventually improvising with a glass from the cupboard and the only stiff-enough paper I could find in the whole place to slide under it - carefully, slowly, gently, taking care to not hurt its tiny legs. I could see it looking at me - I could imagine its own teeny heart pounding and teeny brain reacting - suddenly a huge giant monster was in charge of its existence.

I took it out to the balcony and unceremoniously tossed it out of the glass onto the top of a bush, peering closely, making sure that its little sticky gecko feet had not managed to adhere to any surface I still had in my hands, or plan B would have been enacted - those objects would have been tossed as well.

Today I feel much better for having the whole episode behind me. And I'm going to deliberately ignore the fact it even happened, trust that my eyes will be on the ball, on their own, scanning their surroundings for danger of any sort, reacting appropriately if a tad strongly, keeping me safe so I can continue enjoying my stay, continuing to maintain the convenient and polite and in this situation, necessary fiction that the "I" I like to think is in charge is something other than the brain that gives rise to the illusion of "me."

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