Turtle Medicine

Turtle Medicine

It’s the last morning of my two week vacation in Maui. My husband and I are staying in our friend Trish’s condominium. Right now I’m sitting on the lanai listening to the cooing of zebra and spotted doves from the branches as first daylight softly graces the landscape all around me.  Each day here I’ve watched both the pastel dawn of sunrise and the melting light of molten sunset.  I’ve snorkeled warm ocean waters filled with life and experienced serendipities of meeting important strangers. Strangely, there are no bookstores here, and since I didn’t bring a book or a kindle, there’s been no escaping into beach reads. So, with one less escape hatch, it’s been easier to just be with the sand, sky, air and aloha spirit.

A longstanding desire of mine has been to be with sea turtles in their natural habitat.  A few years ago I almost drowned in strong ocean currents at a location in Kauai listed on a tourist map as a good place to swim with  turtles. I was rescued by a stranger who noticed that I was getting knocked back by the waves near the rocks while trying repeatedly to get to shore. Staying alive, especially when I hadn’t even considered that I might drown, was euphoric. After that reprieve, I became fearful and although I continued to appreciate turtles, my strong desire for a personal experience with them waned.  It seemed sufficient to draw them, appliqué quilt them into Hawaiian fabric creations and view them at the aquarium. 

Sometimes when you give up on something, it comes to you anyway. And so it was that while I was snorkeling in fairly shallow waters around Turtle Town and Black Rocks Beach a few days ago I looked down and was surprised and delighted to see two green turtles. They were moving gracefully near the ocean floor using their fore-flippers almost like wings to propel themselves around coral, rocks and sea life. I hovered a safe distance away where I could watch them. The waters were gentle, I was safe.

I’ve been fascinated with turtles since childhood. When I was seven I used the five dollar bill that my grandmother gave me for my birthday to purchase a small turtle, a high-rimmed clear plastic dish with a dry plateau in the middle and a box of turtle food from the Woolworths store on Main Street. Myrtle the Turtle lived in my room for several weeks until the day when I took him out in the grass and he disappeared.  

As an adult I once rescued a very large and vigorous snapping turtle from the center of a road using a broad shovel I just happened to have in the back of my car.  

One could say that “turtle” has become one of my “power animals”—which is to say that I have a special relationship with the essence of turtle and the healing wisdom it can bring into my awareness. Turtle carries it’s home with it wherever it goes, unlike me who has committed time and resources to getting away from home by going on a vacation.  Turtle doesn’t have to get away from it’s home, it couldn’t extricate itself safely even if it wanted to do so. Turtles swim and breathe within and through the ongoing life of the planet —they are both one with it although comprising several species of the reptile family, and to all appearances guide themselves according to environmental rhythms and seasons.  

What I’m trying to say is that perhaps I’m not as different from the turtle as I think I am. One way of looking at this is that I do carry my home with me, but it isn’t in the form of a  carapace—it’s the place of refuge within my being. When the human world around me provokes anxiety, pessimism, and alarm —I too have a home within. These vacation days have brought me to an inner sanctuary where I’ve experienced being part of the vast rhythms of life on this planet. 

Soon enough I’ll be back in my usual setting. Coming back from vacation offers an opportunity to tweak my former priorities and practices. Using the medicine spirit of turtle for guidance, hopefully I’ll honor the wisdom of my sensory self more than I did before vacation. Although, to my way of seeing, turtle has a simpler set of choices before it than I do—it doesn’t have to choose how best to live sustainably and with meaning.  As for me, once I get back from vacation, the dilemmas of twenty-first century life await.  

There always have been and always will be dangers that threaten life as we know it. I can’t change that. What the world asks of me is to offer the most healing part of myself back into life around me. That part of me is rooted in my inner home, the still, calm presence within that I do know how to access. The part of me that grows from that place is vibrant, creative, and seeks harmony with the forces around her. That part of myself is related to turtle, it is just not obvious.