a couple of weeks ago jon saw this painted turtle crawling around in the garden. am not sure what it was looking for so far away from any body of water. maybe the fact that i’ve been irrigating it in the midst of the drought here. i don’t know. but he brought it up near the house to get a closer look at it. and i wanted to get some pics of it. a series of pics where it was retreated safely into it’s shell, and then moving back out and crawling away. but as long as i waited, it would not venture out far at all. the counselor was looking for metaphor in one of the classic views of the “shell” of self-protection. and most of what i got was just that; self protection. this big guy [or little girl] wasn’t going to venture out as long as i was anywhere close.
lily, our curious cat, came close and tried to get it to come out and play. again, not much interest in venturing out. cautious. timid. scared. maybe all of those things… whatever it was, this turtle wasn’t going to risk sticking it’s neck out very far. and any sort of movement away wasn’t happening either, as it’s legs remained tucked almost completely inside it’s shell. [i realize that i am anthropomorphizing here…attributing human traits to non-human beings such as cats and turtles…]
willard & locy, in their book veneer say, “once bitten by loss or betrayal or failure, we shy from engaging too deeply in relationships or new endeavors. each time life strikes us with a heavy blow, we back off a bit…” and i would say, that even if our loss or betrayal or failure does not feel all that dramatic, mere hints of it at times can cause us to back off a bit. to shy away from something. to disengage or not engage to a deep degree. anne lamott writes of “..keeping one’s heart open in the presence of suffering.”
suffering is a three-syllable word with so many things attached to it. some people act like they’re suffering all the time. others, scandanavians mostly, are always “fine” and seem to never suffer, even if they’re bleeding all over the place. fact is, we all suffer to some degree at some time or another. and one of the most natural responses is to close our hearts. to shut down. protect from further pain, whatever that pain is we’re feeling.
i’ve been in a shell for a time. and for whatever reason[s], i’ve just kept things to myself more than usual. lots on my mind. lots to do. and when that is going on, it feels like i don’t live very deeply. i skim the surface and jump from one thing to the next. whatever screams loudest for my attention. and life feels a little less than abundant in that way. i’ve been a turtle of sorts, and perhaps its time…