On my altar are two tiny decorative turtles. They are both truly found objects. They remind me that I am on the slow path and that the slow path is just fine.
The first one is made of a black gemstone. I discovered it when crossing a road while walking to work in 2007. It was a time shortly after moving to the west coast and before I summoned the courage to end an unhealthy and long-term relationship. I felt grateful to find that turtle. I enjoyed seeing it every day on my bathroom counter and it eventually made its home in a secure pocket of my backpack when I started hiking regularly.
When I consider moving towards a more minimalist home, I often think how getting rid of the extra stuff adds emphasis and space around those objects of more significance to me – like a hand-made pottery bowl, an old photo, a pine cone, or a shiny stone turtle.
The second turtle is made of glass. I found it on a path in the Seattle Japanese Gardens during a contemplative walk in 2012 with a Shambhala course. This I considered an auspicious coincidence: I don’t regularly find such objects and I found two in five years and both were turtles!
I was introduced to Shambhala in 1995 when I immersed myself in a retreat at Gampo Abbey, a monastery in Nova Scotia. My practice was sporadic until around 2010. Since getting a divorce, I have not taken commitment lightly – I was only ready to become a Shambhala member and declare myself a Buddhist in 2011 and then take refuge vows in 2013.
Last year, one of the Sangha members, on hearing that I had taken my first Shambhala class in 1995, exclaimed that I could have been a senior teacher by now (if I had committed myself then to studies and practice). I have never looked at it that way and never will. My Buddhist path is the path of the turtle: slow. My adult life includes many self-reinventions and I am fortunate that I can count my regrets on just one hand.
I don’t consider any of the years wasted: they have allowed me to experience things that have got me to this point when I am ready for the big challenge of moving to a simpler life. I was not ready before. To think otherwise would put me in my coulda-shoulda-woulda quicksand of depression and immobilization. And I am not going to say “fuck it, it’s too late to get enlightened in this lifetime so I may as well wait for the next one.” There’s no reset button on this game. Only now am I ready to commit to slowing my life down to make more time for my practice and other priorities like relationships, creativity, and activism. Yes, there’s little risk of this turtle making her move too soon.
- Gampo Abbey: a Buddhist monastery in the Shambhala tradition in Nova Scotia, Canada.
- Refuge Vows: a formal commitment, in front of others, to the Buddhist path. For more info, see Taking Refuge: The Decision to Become a Buddhist (source: Shambhala Sun) by Chögyam Trungpa.
- Sangha: a local Buddhist community.