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Leigh Fortson

Why Slow is Good: Lessons from a Turtle

Mother nature provides reminders for how to take it easy.

We can learn so much by looking at the sky. We can feel things deep within when sitting beneath a tree. We can experience every sense while lying down in warm grass. We can see so much in the dance of firelight. Nature is here to remind us, serve us, and enable us to peer into the great mystery and balance that governs our universe.

One of the gifts that came from my cancer journey, but that can also be reaped from the common cold, is that it forced me to slow my pace. In the nine months it took to recover from surgery, I watched a lot of old movies, but I also watched a lot of clouds, birds, and spiders. This simple act just being sparked a new understanding of myself and my disease. This slow pace was the only way I had time to look to the nature that surrounded me for answers within.

After I was pronounced cancer free, I soon began moving at the familiar hare-like speed that spun me around in circles. A year later, doctors found some scar tissue growing right next to my sciatic nerve. The pain became increasingly more debilitating.

Now, two surgeries later, the mass of scar tissue has been removed, but my sciatic nerve is still not yet healed. I have, once again, been forced to slow down. It's been frustrating and depressing at times, but it is slowly getting better. It certainly hasn't kept me from taking drives to some of my favorite nature spots.

One day, I was coming back from one of those back-country spots when I saw something moving in the middle of the road. I wasn't sure if I was confusing litter with an animate being. As I got closer, I realized, with absolute incredulity, that it was a turtle.

I live in the high desert of Colorado, right on the Utah border. We get about 10 inches of rain per year. My understanding was that turtles require water to live, and when I saw this creature in the road, I thought she must have been out of her mind to live here.

I got out of the car to warn her that pick-up trucks love to speed down this road, and I knew she would be turtle soup if she didn't pick up her pace. As I approached, she withdrew her legs and head, but I hoped she still heard my pleas. I was reluctant to pick her up partly because I'm squeamish about reptiles, but also because this was no pet-like turtle. She was bigger than my foot, close to the size of a grown cat. But my urgent requests didn't move her, so I finally had to.

When I gently placed her on the side of the road where she had been heading, I saw through the trees a lake about 30 yards ahead. She must have been on the way there. Maybe it would take a week to get there, but she would.

I thought little about my chance meeting with the turtle until I shared it with a friend. "It wasn't chance," she said with excitement. "Don't you see how perfect it is for you, to meet a turtle?" She then told me that in Native American lore, turtles remind us of the pace at which natures grows. Seedlings don't turn into trees in a week. Sod only becomes grass after months of tending. Damaged nerves don't recover, sometimes, for months.

Mother Earth operates much more like my friend the turtle than like a frantically-paced human being in the 21st century. And because of that pace, we forget, sometimes, that we are part of nature, too, with the need to slow down before we can really know what we want. Or until we can have it.

It's been a while since the turtle graced me with her appearance. I now know that there is such thing as desert turtles. I trust that she made it to that lake. Not by rushing. Not by being irritated by every twig she had to negotiate to get there. But by being present. Looking at the sky. Sitting beneath a tree. Resting. And knowing that she'd make it.

Leigh Fortson is the author of the recently released Embrace, Release, Heal: An Empowering Guide to Talking About, Thinking About and Treating Cancer. She lives in Western Colorado with her husband, two children, cats and dogs. Learn more about her or the book at © Leigh Fortson

Here are some resources to help you learn or appreciate a slower pace:

Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller

Yoga Nidra : A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing by Richard Miller

Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield

Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle


About the Author

Leigh Fortson is a health and nutrition book editor.