How much time do I spend every day protecting myself from all that stuff out there?
Every single one of us, I think, inhabits a fortress of our own devising. We grow shells as hard and thick as we are able, and wear them so comfortably that we forget they exist. Turtles are unable to conceive of life without their shells: their entire way of being depends on the protective outer layer. In actual fact, the shell defines the turtle.Take it away, and it's not a turtle any more.
We're pretty much the same way. A man's Being is determined by how tough his protective layers are, and just how much of reality can seep in between the cracks. ...If you peeled off my protective layer, I'm not sure I'd be what we call a man any more. That might be a good thing... or not.
We don't know.
The one big difference between turtles and men is that in the man's case the "shell" of his personality prevents him from truly inhabiting his conditions, whereas in the turtle's case it facilitates it.
Just about everything the turtle's shell evolved to deal with is permanent: a product of the ecological niche it inhabits. We can't say that about man, however; our own conditions are constantly variable, and the shells we grow to protect our psyche don't expand our flexibility of response, they limit it. From both an evolutionary and a psychological/spiritual point of view, our own "shells" are counter-adaptive: that is, our closed mindset actually prevents us from responding appropriately to outer conditions. (Read, for example, Jared Diamond's book Collapse for insights into how oddly and obviously rigid mindsets probably limited and ultimately doomed some early Norse settlements.)
So why are we so devoted to the parts of ourselves that shut out reality? Probably because they are so familiar, so habitual, and feel soooo comfortable that we're ok with them- even when it becomes patehtically apparent that we're not in relationship with our lives. We'd rather have our shells than risk any pain. In a dog eat dog world, even stupid safety seems to be better than no safety.
OK, so much for the neat dissertation derived from the photograph (which was taken on the banks of the Hudson River at the mouth of the Sparkill at the last full moon in June, when the river's turtles emerge to lay their eggs.)
Getting past the theory, what's in it for us?
Toss the shell! Wherever we are, it's worth it to try to remember at that moment that we are within these conditions.
That's a tricky thing. After all, our inherent unconsciousness militates against an awareness of that kind. Only an alliance with the organism itself can help support a greater level of sensation of now.
And just what, you may ask, is that all about? What is an alliance with the organism?
It's all about seeking and sensing that inner gravity that our solar-system-in-formation produces. Grounding ourselves within the experience of this body, this moment.
In my own experience, we must perpetually seek the immediacy of the situation: sense our bodies, feel our emotions, think about where we are and what is taking place. If we get just a little bit closer to the body, we may begin to see how terribly automatic all our supposedly clever responses are: how reflexively our ego congratulates us for our insensitivity; how blind we are to the needs of others.
If we stick our necks out of the shells a little bit, well, yes, we still have shells--but we may gradually begin to realize that there's a whole world out there.
And within that world, everything arises within, and depends, on relationships--which flow inwards, like Alph the sacred river, into this vessel, into caverns measureless to man...
...the aim being, Insh'Allah, to make sure our own inner rivers will not reach sunless seas.