I was once asked whether I had ever considered the mating habits of porcupines. Shuddering at the thought of all of those quills, I admitted that porcupine frolics were not something I had ever had any curiosity about. Then my brain went into overdrive, imagining how that would work.
As it turns out, it’s much more about technique than position.
When a male porcupine is interested in a female, he goes around back to check whether it is safe to proceed. The position they use is the same as most mammals, including dogs, cats, horses, and cows. You get the idea, which was probably accompanied by, “Ouch!”
Typically, the male finds that the female is not ready, and understands that it would be self-harming for him to proceed. I have to admit, I’m a little jealous of the female porcupine in this moment. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have such a built-in deterrent of unwanted sexual advances? But, as usual, I digress. Back to porcupines!
When the male finds his female in a non-receptive state, he waddles around to the front of her and rubs his nose against hers. Who knew that porcupines were such romantic little devils?! After he’s rubbed her nose for a time, he waddles back to the other end to check. The process is repeated until she has relaxed enough for all of her pointy parts to lie down, ensuring he won’t be impaled during the process of procreation.
Fascinating as it is, you may well be wondering what on earth porcupine sex has to do with life coaching. Only everything.
People have spikes too. We just can’t see them. Nonetheless, they can be felt and they can do lasting damage. In the span of reading three sentences, you’ve probably completed a mental check-off of a few porcupine people in your life.
In reality, we all have porcupine tendencies. Our spines go up emotionally and mentally for the same reason as porcupines: stress.
The ‘rubbing noses’ behavior in porcupines equates to the Pattern Interrupt in coaching. No, I don’t rub my clients’ noses. I simply redirect their attention to the possibilities in the moment, and away from the patterns of thinking that exacerbate stress.
That is exactly what the male porcupine is doing; he’s redirecting the female’s attention to the comforting feel of noses rubbing. Coaching redirects to more comfortable, empowering, and productive ways of thinking, doing, and being.
It’s not that being aware and proactive is bad. Far from it! Taking proactive action is beneficial. Remaining on edge is not. To remain in a hyper-vigilant state is not only exhausting, it is debilitating to health for all living creatures. The pattern interrupt stops the spin-cycle of the mind and makes space for relaxation, new perspectives, and the creation of constructive action plans.
The next time you find yourself in a quills-up state, I invite you to check in. Are you in immediate danger? If the answer is yes, get out of there! If the answer is no, take a moment to take a deep breath and slow yourself down. Check in with your body and notice where you’re holding tension, then do what works for you to release it. If it soothes you, stroke your arm or your hair, breathe deeply, think of a few of your favorite things. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty or wonder of something in your immediate vicinity. If you’re feeling really advanced, take a moment to appreciate yourself for noticing that you were feeling stressed and choosing to do something different with it!
I have found that the state of my quills directly affects the people around me. When my quills are up, even the ones I love may fall victim to the stabby edges of my stress. It’s not that I want to take it out on them, they just happen to be nearby when my stress points are sharpest.
Taking care of my own quills, my own stress, my own patterns, ensures more enjoyable relationships with all the porcupines and people around me. I look forward to reading your comments about how it works for you!