I bought the book, Broken Open, for a good friend who just turned forty and is going through some major life changes. Before I passed it on I read a few pages and was intrigued. I was pulled in by the honesty, courage, wisdom, and beautiful prose of author Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder of Omega Institute.
I picked up the book a week later for myself and quickly became immersed in Lesser’s story of her phoenix process and how others have been transformed by life-altering events. I think that many threads from this rich tapestry of experience and insight will stay with me for years to come, but there was one passage that particularly resonated with me.
In the section on Birth and Dying, Elizabeth (after reading this book, it feels like we should be on a first name basis), writes, “As I drive the bends of Slate Quary Road, I search the top of the tree canopy for signs of die-off. The death of trees offends me; it stirs up rage, and then grief…Twisting along the curves with my eyes shifting to the tops of the trees, I sense a large shape in the road ahead of me. Before I can slam on the brakes, I come upon a huge snapping turtle…I am preoccupied by the death of the trees in particular and the loss of nature in general. I run over the turtle.” She goes on to describe how she searched for meaning in this, and then found a snapping turtle nesting in her back yard the following day. After consulting with her husband and author/environmentalist Gary Snyder, she realizes that in her worry she missed the life in front of her, yet was also given the chance to witness regeneration, the beautiful, mysterious cycle of beauty and loss.
I was not moved by this story because I have a sick sense of humor, but rather because something similar happened to me two years ago. It was a rainy September afternoon, and I picked up a shipment of organic cotton t-shirts with the saying “find the good” from the printer, named Turtle Crossing. I received the t-shirts just in time for the test launch of my new company Zola: The Art of Living Green- my own version of breaking open. The party was in just a few days, and my mission was to educate and empower people to be conscious consumers and help them to make more environmentally-friendly choices. As I turned into my driveway, I heard a sickening crunch under my tire.
When I got out to investigate, I was horrified to see that I had run over a turtle. I really didn’t think that the Universe would sacrifice one of her own to mock me, but it did feel like a cruel joke. Did I mention the printer’s name was Turtle Crossing? I too implored Gaia for an answer and after analyzing the symbolism and discussing it with a good friend trained in Peruvian Shamanism, the best I could surmise was that this was an example of opposing forces in nature, or possibly a message to keep me humble, encourage me to move a little faster, or a warning to stay grounded and to protect myself- or maybe all of the above.
I love Elizabeth’s lesson from her experience, “I can transform my worry into trust, and my despair over dying trees and dead turtles into a bright vision of eternal rebirth.” For me, it taught me that while it is important to see the big picture, it is just as crucial to be present in the moment, and tend to the life that is in front of me.