Last week I was having a lovely stroll through Prospect Park, as I often do during quiet weekdays. I was making my way down a trail beside the slow river that goes to the lake. As I strolled, I marveled at the budding buds in the trees and blooming blooms coming up out of the earth. Delighting in the great wonderful vision of nature around me… then something horrible happened.
In that particular part of the park there are narrow detour paths that elbow out beside the trail and touch up against the edge of the water. I decided to scoop around one of these small detours to see the glassy surface up close. But as I got near to the water, something unexpected loomed in the air right in front of my face.
It was a familiar shape, but I couldn’t tell what it was at first – I was disoriented because it was out of place. Then I realized it was a turtle shell. As my eyes adjusted, I saw that it was a whole large turtle, the kind that sun themselves on the banks of the water on warm days.
But it wasn’t sunning itself. It had been skewered on the iron rod of the fencing next to the water. It had been impaled from head to tail, or tail to head. I could not tell which was the top or the bottom, as the head and tail must’ve been tucked, or forced back inside the body.
The Affects of a Terrible Sight
I gasped and shied off to the side as I moved past, not wanting to look too closely. Not wanting to imprint that image any deeper in my mind. I continued walking hurriedly around the little path, past a terrific spread of the garbage of food containers, onto the main trail.
My heart was pounding hard and I felt sick to my stomach. My mind started clawing for meaning that it could make peace with… maybe the turtle was already dead, and someone put it up there to celebrate its beauty? Maybe I’m overreacting – the truth is life and death are happening all around all the time, from the enlightened perspective, I would not mind, right? It’s all part of the One….
But I could not deny my intense visceral feelings of sorrow and disgust. It was like I had come upon a scene from Game of Thrones. It so obviously seemed to be an expression of grotesque human triumph over innocent nature. A celebration of the ability to pointlessly kill. I felt quite disturbed.
The story could stop here, and I could pontificate on ahimsa (non-violence) or some other yogic or Buddhist principle about kindness. We could all agree that whomever did that was sick in the head and we’d never do something like that. But you and I both know the story does not, in fact, end here.
Why Is this Happening to Me?
The real question, beneath the sadness and disgust, is why did I see this? Why was I drawn to this sight? Why did I choose to walk that little path?
I am a firm believer that the outer world always reflects the inner. So once I’d calmed down, as I strode over the bridge past the Audubon Center, this little voice inside me produced the question “and who have you skewered lately Ariel?”
Damnit! I didn’t want to look at that question. I don’t like to think of myself as someone who would skewer another human being. But once the question arose, the answer arose with it.
The night before I had been having dinner with friends and we were discussing a teacher that none of us had met before. In discussing this teacher, I had made a couple blatant statements about his inadequacy based on rather superficial online observations of him. They may have been true. They may not have been true. That’s not the point.
Signs of Psychological Slander
The point is that I chose to partake in psychological slander at his expense. I had skewered him out loud, and he wasn’t even there to defend himself. From the outside it might’ve sounded like a thoughtful conversation. But I knew that I had trespassed my own code of benevolence towards all beings. And there was the evidence, right in front of my face.
Mind you, I did not choose this code of benevolence. If I could have chosen, I would probably have given myself a much wider field to roam around jabbing other humans in. The code exists inside me whether I like it or not. And Life very directly reminds me when I trespass its borders.
As I realized the warning the dead turtle carried for me, I was filled with such relief. This Life is absolutely impeccable in its responses! It is spot-on! It never fails to show me when I’m off track, either through outer sights and experiences, or inner pains and dysfunction. It is always honest. More honest than we humans usually are (we’re too “polite” for that).
I was still sad and sick to my stomach. But the lesson was a good one. By understanding where I had failed my code, I could locate the value I had betrayed. By knowing that value, I know how to move forward into a truer future. Thank you dead turtle. Thank you turtle murderer. Message received.
What About You?
And you? What signs are showing up in your world lately? Any interesting or unexpected incidents that seem to carry deeper meanings? I’m so curious to hear what this has brought up for you?
Or if you are the skeptical type and thinking, Ariel, sometimes a dead turtle is just a dead turtle, I wonder if you have ever tried peeking inside for resonant meanings around the things that crop up in your life? Both “good” and “bad”. It can be a most interesting exercise…
Photo: By me of the Prospect Park turtles last summer.