The turtle is unique because it lives on both land and in the water. It lives a long life and is known for persistence. While “slow and steady” on land, the turtle is fast and agile in the water. It catches the flow of the water to glide anywhere with little effort.
And the turtle carries its home on its back, for protection and retreat when the world gets too harsh.
In indigenous cultures, the turtle symbolizes patience, determination and a “slow and steady” path through life – to explore new terrain and ideas – gather new wisdom – become more adaptable in a deliberate way.
The turtle remains steadfast amidst obstacles and challenges. It moves at Nature’s pace, when living things thrive best and are in harmony with their surroundings.
When we are in harmony with our surroundings, we too have our best longevity, creativity and pleasure in life.
So I ponder the wisdom of the turtle and how it applies to our tech lives — always busy, online, on the road.
When do we find time to create? To innovate? To thrive, amidst our constant deluge of social media messaging, new products, hungry competitors, life on the edge?
The turtle is a gentle reminder that when our pace surpasses Nature’s pace, it’s time to slow down – take a break – find our inner wisdom from a safe place so we can “catch the flow” and glide to our destination, wherever that might be.
In ancient China, the turtle was revered deeply for its wisdom. As a land and water creature, the turtle connected the underworld and the land. And as one of the four symbols of Chinese constellations, the turtle signified longevity and connection to the heavens as well.
So the turtle, like the dragon, was a unique bridge for humanity to connect with the underworld, the land and the heavens.
And it was an important source of wisdom during the Zhou Dynasty.
The Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BCE) was a time of great intellectual and artistic awakening in China, when the most important Chinese philosophies like Daoism, Confucianism and Legalism were born. These schools of thought flourished and remain prominent in Chinese culture today. Two are embedded in Traditional Chinese Medicine, as I had noted in Bridging the Ancient Wisdom of Qigong.
Turtle shells were used during the Zhou Dynasty as divination tools — to help royalty and leaders make the right decisions about topics like agriculture, warfare, civic matters and health.
Bu shu卜書or turtle shell divination was pervasive from Central Asia to western China. The practice involved painting a crack on a turtle shell and inserting an intense heat source until the shell cracked. If the inked crack lined up with the crack system produced from the scorching, it was said that the turtle “ate the ink” and a prophesy could be interpreted.
But there was no pattern to how the cracks were interpreted. Each Diviner saw something different. It was believed the Diviners or prognosticators had an oral contract with the turtle about what the cracks might mean for a given topic. Each prophesy was open to interpretation and used as a prayer or intention. Insights were saved by inscribing or brush-writing them on the oracle bones with ink or cinnabar. Then turtle shell bones were buried in pits.
The turtle has a rich significance in ancient wisdom, with many parallels for our lives today.
As one who loves to travel, I want to “carry my home on my back” and feel at home regardless of where I am.
Years ago I started to collect decorative turtles in my travels around the world. But I didn’t know why.
Now I know!
My turtles are a colorful reminder to slow down, “be at home,” cultivate peace of mind anywhere … so that I … we .. can live in harmony with our environment and thrive.