Turtle Tendencies

Confession: I have long been something of a turtle. It’s not that I’m slow, although I do hate to rush. It’s that when things get to be a bit too much I want to withdraw into my shell. I am capable of doing this even in a crowd, not wanting to stick my neck out too far for fear of having my head chewed off.

Once while meditating I had the distinct impression that indeed I was a turtle. I could actually feel the hard shell encasing me, protecting a softness underneath. Having been so focused on the thick, heavy weight of that shell on my back I was surprised to discover that soft underbelly and wondered what it could mean.

On reflection I recognized that, while useful at times, a shell like this could also be harmful, especially in terms of relationships. A protective shell could prevent others from truly knowing me and loving me for who I am. Of course, you might not even like me if you really knew me, right? But then again, what good is it to be liked if I can't be myself?

And if I pretend your words or actions don’t affect me when I’m inside my shell, I am only fooling myself and being dishonest with you. There can be no true intimacy, no real relationship, no trust.

So how can I break out of my shell? I’m not sure, but I think it’s by paying attention to that soft underbelly. Maybe if I can touch the core of who I am I will no longer have the need for that kind of protection and can just let it go.

[This is the fourth in a series of articles about my experience of a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. Vipassana means "to see things as they really are." These articles reflect my experiences only; others may or may not have similar experiences with this meditation technique.]