Basking Lizards and the Gentle Arts of Kipping and Pondering


I love sleeping. Once asleep, I can stay curled – half woman/half dormouse – for far more hours than I actually need. I am the undisputed queen of the sleep marathon but am woefully inadequate when it comes to the art of a good, short kip. In this Laurie excels; not only can he drift off for a perfectly timed half hour, rising refreshed and renewed, but his body cooperates by adapting to all manner of (to me) impossible sleep scenarios – trains, bumpy buses – even the unyielding challenge of a park bench poses only a minimal obstacle to a Laurie power snooze. I have tried but once asleep I am in for the long haul. To prematurely wake me risks, at best, my feeling lobotomised, at worst, my seething and festering in a post nap fog; breezy and recharged I am not. 

Sleep is so vital in our body’s ability to re-energise itself, central to the processing of daily events and challenges; it enables us to contact deep inner resources via our dream life, bridging the verbal and symbolic in potentially empowering ways. Having time to think is also a much neglected necessity.  Modern living is hostile to the benefits of sitting and being; a glorious hour or two lost in thought might sadly be considered wasteful or lazy. In rest, or in gentle pondering, we give ourselves the opportunity to connect to all that is marginalised within us by the goal oriented demands of our day; we slow down, unclench; psychologically speaking, our minds kick off their shoes and sink their toes into cool sand (if we are lucky, our bodies do this too!). With many suffering from stress related illness, working longer hours to sustain the unsustainable, I suspect that our culture might benefit from an ample dose of lizard medicine.  

I love lizard spotting. The Undercliff is a vast, ancient landslip positioned along the south-eastern coast of the Isle of Wight. A south facing ledge, it possesses its own micro climate. Nestled between the ocean and an imposing rock face, this lush and sheltered strip of land is energized by the sun. Exotic and tender plants thrive here, as does the heat loving wall lizard. These beautiful, iridescent creatures adore the sun, fuelling themselves with its warmth and light. They unashamedly idle away an afternoon, occasionally reading the air with their tiny forked tongues; motionless but for the barely perceptible movement of their breathing, scaly bellies pulsing to the rhythm of sun and hot rock. It is always a surprise to witness the speed of their movement after such blissful inactivity, yet in their stillness they are acutely aware of the world around them, primed to respond. When vulnerable, they know a thing or two about boundaries, slipping into the dark slits and cracks, the cool resting places. 

I am infinitely better at pondering than knapping, although this winter has found me slipping off for a quiet snooze and awakening in a sweeter mood. Perhaps it is age teaching me a lesson in surrender; perhaps it’s the cat in me letting go (just a little) of skittish, kittenish ways. Perhaps the lizards have worked their magic.

A friend and I talked this week about the regret we felt that successful lives are measured more by what is seen than unseen. ‘Progress’ is assessed by the material achievements and career advancements so lauded in our society. There are lists of ‘things we should have done by now’, age signalling not just maturity but progressive stages with accompanying achievements to master or status to acquire: job and mortgage in your twenties; kids in your thirties; significant promotion in your chosen area of work in your forties etc. My aunt once chastised me that, as a woman in my forties, I was not advanced upon any career ladder; she implied that I had wasted my life. I did wonder; it’s hard not to succumb to the pressure of expectation.

The quiet victories of having overcome or transcended difficulties; the ongoing challenges of surviving and thriving are less obvious markers of achievement and as such, honoured and appreciated far less. To possess an ambition to grow spiritually might actually be seen as a supremely self-indulgent act not a valued life choice. In such a climate it is clear to see why  having space to think – to take time out and simply be – is so low a priority for so many.

 A friend, who works very hard, mercilessly pushes herself. She longs to take it easy but feels immense guilt when she stops. The work ethic is strong and unquestioned in our culture. There have been some tiny breakthroughs, the Science of Happiness revealing that when we engage more with the intangibles, our quality of life improves. Taking time to smell the roses really is better for our health.

I guess it is all about contrast. After much frenetic doing and chasing, the soft receptivity of sitting and absorbing the world, or ambling around our own thoughts, can be a powerfully restorative thing. If it was all we did, perhaps the benefit would be lost. And yet, in the expanding and contracting of our daily lives – the relentless breathing in and out – we might miss that at the peak of each in and exhalation is a point of perfect stillness. When we just let ourselves be, without expectation, without judgement, we come to realise that in that stillness a spiralling universe resides. Those lizards are not just basking, they are star surfing…

Laurie basking at Blackgang beach

Laurie basking at Blackgang beach