Sea turtles are great teachers and have inspired the name for my Turtle Heart Coaching and Retreats practice. In almost every culture, turtles carry rich symbolism and meaning. Whether they live in grasslands, forests, deserts or near bodies of fresh or salt water, they are creatures who help us awaken our senses on both physical and spiritual levels. If a turtle gets flipped over, as we sometimes do as a result of our life chaos, it will use its strong neck, arms and determination to right itself. And if, for some reason, it cannot draw on those inner resources, it will accept the help of a friend to turn its life back around. They instinctively and intuitively know when to withdraw, ‘retreat’ or go within their shell. While sheltered there, I imagine they seek protection, nurturing or renewal of their body, mind and soul. When they have taken time for self-care and are in a better space to connect with the world around them, they will come out more clear, stable, wise and renewed.
In the summer of 2009, my family and I vacationed on the Big Island of Hawaii. I told my Deaf friends I was going to swim naked with ‘Honu’ – the Hawaiian name for sea turtles. A bona fide workaholic back then, I had wisely planned a well-earned, long overdue, 2-week vacation to an exotic island and dared to enjoy myself. I was determined to frolic with the turtles, if we could find them. I held that picture confidently in my psyche for weeks in advance, and low and behold, it became a reality! Such is the power of vision and belief! For in the days ahead, I would not see one, but many Honu on our Pacific Island journey!
On the first day, while my husband, son and I were rolling in the surf on a Kona beach, we were soon attracted to a gentle pair of these reptilian sea nymphs swimming gracefully past us in the crystalline-blue water. “Look! Honu!” I signed to the guys across the deafening waves. Knowing and using sign language near the thunderous noise of the pounding beach surf definitely has its advantages. In fact, my family and I enjoyed being able to use ASL under water while we snorkeled all week, making our time and experience under the sea longer and more enjoyable.
The turtles took little notice as we excitedly cruised along behind them. We were close enough to touch their backs. Their shells felt slimy and course. Once my husband and son had seen enough, they returned to the surf on their boogie boards. But I was drawn to stay with these gentle creatures and continued to follow them along the stretch of the beach. It was brought to my attention at the end of our first day on the island that it is illegal to touch the sea turtles. I did not know this as a newcomer to the island. Once I learned of the rule, I understood and respected it from then on. It is important to the local people and to the cosmos to give Honu their space. It is important to share this information with you all. Education brings the continued peace and survival of this wonderful species.
I struggled to pull myself along and keep myself upright against the swelling waves, while envying the turtles that glided effortlessly underneath them. As I pulled myself deeper into the surf behind them, I strained to hold my swimsuit bottoms up! The spirits of the ocean and the tumultuous waves were determined to help me achieve my Aquarian fantasy of swimming naked with the turtles! Several times I was tumbled by the surf only to find my swimsuit off my shoulders, my boobs spilling out, and my pants down to my knees! (“Piha ‘eu ‘oni, ne’e in da kai, brah!” There was some playful motion in the ocean, friend!)
The green sea turtles were so at ease in their aquatic element. My heart slowed while watching the relaxed playmates glide and flow with the surf. For a while, I ignorantly worried the waves would pound them into the rocks nearby and crack their shells. Yet the more I watched, the less I fretted. The turtles simply bobbed with the surf, and if they were carried into the rocks, they turned it into their advantage by nibbling on the seaweed while there. I quickly learned that the rocky reefs are both a playground and a food source for Honu. They were teaching me that abundance need not be gotten quickly. Just take your time and let the natural flow of the universe work for you. All we need is available to us if we approach it in the right manner.
As I studied them further, waves of relaxation passed through me. Like the turtles, I, too, began to ebb and flow with the each wave. Swimming slowly with them, my senses awakened. They were teaching me new perceptions about time and my relationship to it. I learned from Honu that when we slow down, we are able to see the connection to all things. After spending time in the water with them, I could no longer feel the edges of my own body. It was as if I were dissolving into the ocean itself. I experienced “Lokahi” – Harmony/Unity/Oneness.
I laughed each time the wide-eyed, trusting reptiles would rise to the surface in a cloud of bubbles to take a gulp of air. It was as if they were guffawing at me while I fought the waves. “Ainokea,” they telepathically chuckled. “I have no cares.” This was the lesson of Honu. Learn to let go of worries. Don’t over-react. Let go of the fight. Move at your own pace. Gracefully flow.
I remembered this again later in the week when we went snorkeling and spotted more Honu. Prior to seeing more of these green sea turtles, I was focused on my leaky mask that dug too deeply into my forehead and too loosely at the lip, the snorkel and band that pinched and pulled my hair, and my son’s complaints that his fins were too tight or full of rocks or sand. I stressed about the salt water that would get into our eyes, my son feeling too cold or getting sunburned. I worried that either he or my husband would go out too far or be smashed against the reef by a stealthy wave, and being Deaf, I wouldn’t be able to hear them call for help.
But these mellow, little, green guys in the water rub off on you. They teach you how to ‘be.’ They teach you how to “shaka” , mellow out or hang loose. Not surprisingly, if you use two hands making the ‘shaka’ / ‘hang loose’ sign, it translates into the ASL sign for “play.” Like the character, Crush, from Finding Nemo, Honu know how to live playfully, cool and smooth. After all, they have been swimming the world’s oceans for over 200 million years. They have ‘shaka’ down and they do it right.
The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles taught me of the importance of stress management. I discovered that if I’m stressed while swimming above or alongside the turtles, my stress causes the turtles stress, which can be life-threatening to them. A relaxed turtle can stay under water easily for 40 minutes to 5 hours, but a turtle under stress can drown within a couple of minutes. I am acutely aware of how this is similar in our daily lives as well. How we think, communicate and feel directly influences those around us. When we are stressed and worried, our breathing and heart rate increase and our life experience is just not fun. It’s mental. If you can’t get your mind and body to flow with the waves of life, you and those around you are going to have a miserable experience. Swimming with Honu helped me put all my focus on relaxing.
Does the journey make the person, or does the person make the journey? It’s an age-old question. Since swimming “kohana” / “naked” with Honu, my eyes and heart are more open and I have learned how to “flow” with life. Swimming with Honu, the Green Sea Turtles in Hawaii, will remain a part of me forever.