The last post was written from the perspective of the marine organisms that require calcium carbonate to form their shells and skeletons, and the potential consequences of ocean acidification on their ability to survive the effects of climate change. The shelled creatures of the Earth have always fascinated me, including the snails, crabs, chitons and sea turtles, and the way they carry their houses on their backs wherever they go, like little mobile homes. For a long time now, the desire for a life that is compact, free and unencumbered has been calling to me, and this has inspired me to keep exploring new ways to simplify my life, and to pare down my material possessions to the bare minimum.
There is a profound need for movement at this time and the desire for a nomadic lifestyle that would provide me with ample opportunities to utilize my resourcefulness and problem-solving skills to navigate my way through life, with only the barest of essentials.
The image of the tortoise appeals to me in this transitional phase. There is something deeply calming and strengthening about the deliberate movements of this animal, the slowing down, the careful process of thinking it all through, patiently and thoroughly, and the restructuring of the rituals and routines in daily life. Tortoise shells function as relocatable homes, and this soul desire is manifesting as an increased interest in sustainable travel, ecotourism, the tiny house movement and permaculture.
I chose wise, old Tortoise as the image for this post on sustainable travel, because Tortoise resonates with me on many levels. I conducted a brief internet search on the symbolism of Tortoise as an animal totem and discovered some interesting connections between what Tortoise represents and what I’m experiencing in my life now. I wrote the introduction to this post before doing the search, and I discovered that the way I had been feeling and how I chose to express this soul longing was being reflected in the symbolism of Tortoise.
I know these are not scientifically proven facts or conventionally accepted wisdom, but it doesn’t matter. The ancient cultures and spiritual traditions of the Earth found meaning and significance in animal totems, and I think if something resonates with you on that level, and it helps you to understand yourself and your life better, it’s a valuable and worthwhile exercise to explore these connections.
Tortoise as an animal totem
Key words for Tortoise symbolism are Longevity, Patience, Knowledge, Stability, Order, Wisdom, Security, Guidance, Vision, Meditation, Endurance, Peace and Protection. I have interpreted the symbolic meaning of Tortoise from the perspective of my personal situation, as it has resonated for me in my life. Being female, I have identified with the spirit of Tortoise as feminine.
Tortoise is an ancient seeker of wisdom and a hunter of buried treasure. She is thoughtful, steady and focused, and slowly and methodically roams the desert on her quest for new, long-forgotten or undiscovered treasure. I take a Jungian approach to the psyche, and believe the psyche can be likened to physical terrain. A desert is dry, arid and lacks water, and I am thirsty, searching for something new, for those long-forgotten and undiscovered parts (treasures) of myself.
Tortoise shells are considered ancient oracular systems of divination to predict the future. Individual markings on the shell hold the history, the mysteries and magic of the Earth. Tortoise carries the treasure map on her back, as though the patterns on her shell are the map itself and hold the clues to our personal history and destiny. Tortoise carries her shell with her, as part of her, and so everything we look for and have ever needed is already within us, inside of us. We are the treasure.
Tortoise knows she must access her own inner guidance to find the treasure she seeks, the treasure that lies within her. Tortoise is methodical as she walks slowly, tapping into the rhythmical vibrations of life, at a steady pace, while in a deeply meditative state. This being in rhythm is necessary for her to be able to access her inner psychic terrain to find what she is looking for, her treasure, and to bring it forth into the world. This is why it’s important to have daily rituals to embed our spiritual selves into the world.
The art of living simply, where we devote our lives not to the accumulation of wealth and material possessions, but to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and the search for self in relation to other, is the true goal of life and sustainable travel. When we spend our lives accumulating wealth and material possessions, we often do so at the expense of others. The principles of sustainable travel teach us to think of others, beyond ourselves.
Sustainable travel is also known as responsible travel, green travel or slow travel. Whatever we call it, it means the same thing – interacting respectfully with others and with the physical and cultural environment of our current location, whether that’s our local environment or another country.
I use Tortoise as a symbol for sustainable travel because she carries her home on her back, and takes it with her wherever she goes. This is a wonderful metaphor for travelling lightly, leaving no trace, moving slowly, and truly engaging with our environment, our inner self and any new friends we may meet ‘on the trail’.
Travel is an opportunity to experience your true self reflected back to you, without the distractions. I remember being in Tibet, surrounded by a monochromatic palette of greens, greys and browns; of mountains, snow, tundra and desert; with nothing to grasp onto, faced only with self and the inner terrain of my psyche. I found the experience confronting, but liberating. I know some people would find this experience frightening and try to avoid it.
Other countries and environments are meant to be engaged with and experienced completely. They are not meant to serve as surrogate homes – why leave home at all if you’re not going to immerse yourself in a different experience? I’ve never understood how some people can go to another country and do exactly the same thing they do at home, in a different location.
The Slow Travel movement is like the Slow Food movement, which began in Italy to keep fast food chains out of historically and culturally significant cities. Slow travel involves visiting smaller towns rather than capital cities, spending more time in locations, slowing down, getting to know and appreciate people and culture, and reducing carbon emissions by choosing eco-friendly cars and hotels.
Sustainable travel protects cultural and natural environments through tourism and can improve the lives of others by creating economic opportunities for their communities. Sustainable travel may help alleviate hunger, poverty, gender inequality and environmental degradation in the world’s most vulnerable regions.
Ecotourism and sustainability
Ecotourism Australia defines ecotourism as “ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.”
Ecotourism aims to preserve the integrity of the destination. Its focus is on conserving the local environment and historical heritage, while supporting the culture and encouraging people to look after the natural resources that attracts them to the region.
Ecotourism initiatives aim to protect sensitive and fragile natural environments from the effects of mass impact, promote sustainable travel to benefit local communities economically, and educate travellers to learn to engage authentically with other cultures.
Leaving no trace
Tortoise weaves her way through life and the world respectfully, with minimal impact on her environment. The waste she does generate is utilized as fuel and food for other life forms. This mindfulness towards others and the Earth appeals to me as I simplify my life more and more. I love the idea of moving through the world leaving no trace, treading lightly and reducing my impact as much as I can.
The Leave No Trace program utilizes education and research to teach and inspire people to respect and protect the outside environment by experiencing nature, but enjoying themselves responsibly.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Centre for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org
World Expeditions has expanded on these seven principles:
- Respect for cultural values
- Acknowledgement of customs
- Responsible use of natural resources
Leaving what you find as you found it is important to preserve the integrity and ecology of the natural environment. I participate in fieldwork with the Marine Research Group of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria and one of the most important guidelines we honour is this: if you pick it up (whether it’s a rock or a marine organism), you always put it back in the same place you found it (unless of course you have a research permit to remove it).
Leave the environment undisturbed and intact. I don’t like those advertisements for 4WD vehicles that are shown speeding over rivers, streams, deserts and beaches – do they realize how much life they may be killing in the process? It’s disrespectful.
The tiny house movement
The tiny house movement, and the trend towards micro-housing, is a conscious choice to downsize the space we live in. Homes are getting bigger, but the increase in house size results in larger power bills to heat and cool the additional space, greater financial stress, more time spent working to pay for exorbitant real estate prices and less time and freedom to devote to what really matters in life. Tiny houses enable us to be self-sufficient, to live more simply and more efficiently, unsaddled by unsustainable amounts of debt, with a greater awareness of environmental issues.
Slow and steady wins the race
Principle #9 in permaculture is to use small and slow solutions. The proverb ‘slow and steady wins the race’ is used to explain this principle, and the snail is often used as its symbol, because Snail is small and slow, carrying his home on his back. Tortoise, like Snail, is compact, free to move around unencumbered by possessions and everything we think we need in life.
Smaller and slower systems are easier to maintain than larger ones, which often suffer from excessive, fast, unsustainable growth that doesn’t stand the test of time and expansion. Small and slow solutions also utilize local resources, and produce more sustainable outcomes.
What does this mean for me moving forward? I’m continuing to work on my 108 Belongings Challenge list, paring down my possessions to the bare minimum so I can create and live a compact and mobile life. Once my list is complete it will be an example of how we can make our lives more compact without compromising our pleasure and happiness.
I believe we must learn to move through the world slowly and mindfully, in the spirit of exploration and learning, using financial resources as a means to an end rather than with the aim of accumulation, living simply and sustainably, taking the time to really experience and truly engage with what we find.
I will continue to embody Tortoise, plodding along, slowly and surely, seeking the wisdom of my inner self to guide me in my quest to create a simple, sustainable life.