Swimming With Turtles

The throng on the beach grew larger by the minute, but it was the energy all those people exuded that drew me off my perch at an ocean-side restaurant.  Something was definitely going on down there. 

Dusk was settling in as I stepped out of my shoes and headed closer to the shoreline.

And then I saw them. 


A literal parade of newly hatched sea turtles struggling across the sand, headed to open water.

It was easily one of the most awesome things I have ever seen.  These amazing, mostly helpless little beings (it seemed three of them could fit the palm of my hand) had just hatched from a well-marked nest twenty years away from the rising evening tide. There was no mama turtle around to guide them, and yet…. they knew.

They knew which direction would get them to the water and they were on a mission for survival.

Here is where the story gets interesting.  I could write about the power of creation or the intuitive lean toward survival those little turtles displayed. I could share how observing them do what they do naturally moved me to tears.  I could talk about the fifty plus people standing between those turtles and the shore line - a few wanting desperately to help them along, the vast majority concerned only with taking flash pictures and picking them up because they’re “so cute”.  Or I could talk about how the whole experience brought out my inner Enneagram Eight and what that was like for me and those around me (spoiler alert, it wasn’t pretty). In the end, it all feels important to me so I’m going to share with you the entire experience in three parts.  

So, welcome to part one of a little three-part series I’m titling “Swimming with Turtles”.

Let’s talk about awe and creation first.

This thing that so amazed me that evening has stayed with me since.  I think about it regularly. My mind wanders back to the feel of the sand on my bare feet, the orange glow of the sun setting in the horizon and the sound of human delight all around me.  I am overcome when I think of the intense work it must have taken each little turtle to just get out of that eggshell, let alone the determination and strength required for it to climb up over the lip of the nest and across all that sand, through human footprints and up over drifts, some of which were so tall it would send the turtle backward to begin the climb all over again.  What was it about watching this moment of evolutionary magic that brings me to tears every time I think of it, even now as I write this?

Standing on that beach I was profoundly moved by the pure perfection of creation, by the power of every creature’s innate instinct toward survival, by the total helplessness and defenselessness of those little turtles. 

I felt them. I understood them.

They humbly reminded me how precious life is - mine and theirs. Perhaps more importantly, watching them struggle across that sand poked at my own sense of vulnerability. And they definitely stoked my inner protector (more on that in Part 3!). 

I don’t know exactly what is operating behind all of this, but I am confident that we were created and cared for by the same “thing” that made those turtles march unconsciously, yet hopefully toward the ocean.  That same drive is inside of us too, and often, it is just as unconscious. This unconscious approach works if you’re a turtle who literally might be eaten in the first 5 minutes of life, but for the rest of us who need to adapt to a longer life span, our natural instincts can get us into trouble. We have to navigate families, relationships, jobs, and social conflict, and in order to do this, we have to suspend our natural bend toward survival in favor of a more refined way of interacting. Is it possible, then, to harness the power of these instincts to learn how they move in us, to respect all the ways they have helped us out on our childhood trip to the water’s edge? And then is it possible to gently nudge them out of the way, thanking them for having brought us to the water, but exploring the possibility that we now know how to swim?

I don’t just think it’s possible… I KNOW it is. And with a little help along the way, this conscious movement toward harnessing our inherent power is capable of transforming every part of our lives.

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