Turtle Medicine: Trusting the Shelter of My Heart’s Wisdom

I have been working with the medicine of Turtle for a few months now. The Turtle medicine within me is calling me to come out of my shell;  out of hiding from behind the layers of armor I created to “protect” myself. The medicine of Turtle is calling me to move from a need to protect myself by hiding from life, to trusting in the shelter of my own heart’s wisdom.

Turtle’s shell physically protects its soft heart and internal organs providing a mobile “home”.  Turtle pulls into it’s shell (into itself) for extra protection to survive the attacks of predators,  When the threat is gone, Turtle comes out again, knowing it’s shell is there for protection.

Turtle knows it does not need to stay in its shell all the time.  If it stays insides it’s shell for too long it may die.  Turtle needs to come out of it’s shell to seek and find nourishment;  food, water and interactions with it’s surroundings and other turtles. Turtle is very wise. It knows when to use it’s shell for safety and physical protection when there is true danger, and when to relax and come out to experience the joys of Turtle life.

Turtle reminds me that there are certain situations in my life when I am called to retreat into myself for a time, for reflection, to set healthy boundaries in a relationship or to leave a dangerous physical experience. Yet it is paramount to come out again once the threat is gone embracing the fullness of life again, trusting myself that I am capable of connecting to the shelter of my own heart’s wisdom.

The consequence of forgetting or choosing not to come out of my shell, is that I might begin to build shell upon shell around myself creating a hardened suit of armor, shutting out life and my connections altogether. We may build armor from our personal life experiences, and we may also carry the armor from our ancestors. What then happens to our hearts, our truths, and our joyous yearning to embrace the fullness of life? Under all of those layers of armor built from a fearful place, to “protect” ourselves from being hurt, we may forget that we have a heart. We might become separated from the very essence and nature of who we are,  isolating ourselves from interacting with the love around us. We might find ourselves suddenly fragmented, feeling alone and separate from Life.

All of these examples of hiding and separating from life I have experienced and lived myself. I began to armor myself when I was in the womb. My mother told me once that I was the only baby she had ever met who actually pushed away if someone tried to hold me too tightly.

I began to armor myself before I was even born from ancestral experiences imprinted within my DNA and memories from past lives.  I continued to armor myself against anxiety, hurt, pain and anger and from what I saw and felt as a child, collecting information about what I needed to “protect” myself against.

My parents were my role models for love and life.  When I saw and heard my parents fighting night after night,  I created layer upon layer of armor around my heart. If “love” hurts, then I needed to protect myself from it. If feeling created pain, then I needed to shut out my feelings. So I curled up into a tight little ball when I listened to the fighting, which became the pattern for how I lived.

The space where my heart wished to thrive and flourish became tighter and darker with every layer of armor I built around it. It became difficult to hear the call and yearning of my heart. When I heard it’s call to embrace life, I “knew” it wasn’t safe, because of all the “evidence” I had amassed in my short life, so I shut it out. The pain of losing my heart under the layers of armor seemed less than the pain that awaited me if I listened to the call of my heart to embrace life. When I  began to feel, I shoved the emotions down and shut them away deep within me. All of the pain, anger, and shame – I shut it away. I became like a turtle that had forgotten to come out of it’s shell – shriveled, dehydrated and undernourished. I thought I was protecting myself and saving myself from pain.

Many years later, I could no longer keep it all bottled up, and I “burst” at the seams. Perhaps my shells got too tight to hold all that I was trying to contain. Nobody ever knew what I had shut away and how much I had armored myself and my heart. Everyone saw me as outgoing, friendly, hard-working, bright, industrious and responsible. What they didn’t know was that under the veneer of perfection was years of heartbreak. Perhaps, if I had allowed the pain and hurt to flow at the time they were occurring I would not have built up so many layers of armor around my heart. It is only when I began to connect with those deep layers of hidden pain giving it the opportunity to flow through expression that I was able to soften and melt the layers of armor around my heart.

In the 39 years I have been alive I can say that few people have ever met the “real” Jane. I say all the time now that I feel more and more “me”. Since the beginning of my meditation practice and subsequently practicing shamanism, I am becoming more and more Jane. I started to remember that when I live from my heart that is when I am most safe to embrace the fullness of life. And it is because of my commitment to live from my heart that I have met my true essence; the one who has been calling me to come out of hiding and who has yearned for me to embody my truth. When I hear music, I see and feel my true self dancing freely and wildly, beckoning my entire self to join her. She spreads her arms wide to embrace the full beauty of life.  I feel her guiding me, inviting all the hiding parts of me come out of their armor.

The medicine of the turtle is supporting and guiding me in stepping out of all of my armor and false shells, stepping into the love and truth of who and what I am;  my essence. It is the medicines of the water turtle, who allows me to merge with her so I can understand how deliciously joyous and free it feels when I allow myself to Be my full, loving self. It is the medicine of the turtle that encourages me to allow the medicines of others to further help unlock the deep layers of armor around my heart, gifting my heart space to breathe and thrive again.

That little water turtle reminds me to relax, drop my shoulders and look around to see that it is safe now. It is safe to come out of my shell, and come out of hiding. As she floats freely and easily in the water, spinning and twirling, diving deep, and being joyful as herself, she encourages me to do the same – to dance, to run, to laugh… to allow the deepest yearnings to be expressed, flowing freely and easily through me. It is her medicine, that reminds me that I have cultivated loving ways to feel safe, connecting with the shelter of my own heart’s wisdom; being with others, giving and receiving love, expressing myself freely, self-caring and listening to my truths.

The medicine of the turtle invites us to take the first step towards becoming our fullest, loving selves. When we come out of hiding, we may express the fullness of our gifts and the birthright of who we were born into this world to be. We may have many sets of wings that extend from our hearts and through our hands as the gift of touch or holding space, a voice that can offer healing vibrations, or a gift for writing, but those may never be able to be used or expressed to the fullest potential if we are in hiding.  We are being called to come out of hiding, not only for our own benefit to express our truth, but also for the benefit our of families, communities and of all of Creation. When we live as our fullest selves and share our gifts, we give those around us the permission to do the same. May we co-create the beauty-full world we wish to live in by sharing the beauty of who we are and the amazing and unique gifts we have to offer our world.

I am now answering the call to connect deeply with the shelter of my own heart’s wisdom and come out of hiding, like the turtle, and participate in the world, knowing that my heart is strong and wants to live.  I am committed to giving her that opportunity. Are you?

Home Practice

Set a sacred space by connecting with an element: perhaps smudging, lighting a candle, holding a crystal or stone, or listening to natural water sounds. Take a few deep breaths and come into your heart. Imagining yourself as a turtle, connect with the shelter of your own heart’s wisdom and ask:

  • Are there any layers of armor that I am ready to let go of?

  • How can I remain open to participating in life when I may feel vulnerable?

  • What can help me stay grounded while I am allowing my emotions to flow?

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