Broken Turtles and Spiritual Journeys

“Follow the turtle home,” repeated the box turtle, as he danced across the night sky. Each step sent a cloud of stardust flying, which left a sparkling wake behind him. “Follow the turtle home,” I heard again and again.

When the drumbeat stopped, I came out of my first shamanic journey experience confused. What could that message mean?

In the six years since that journey, I have been following the turtle home. It began slowly, subtly, with small changes. A friend who was with me at that shamanic journeying workshop gifted me a journal with turtles on the cover, then other turtle-related things, to honor the experience. It was the start of my exploration of shamanism and, beginning the following year, my study of Shamanic Reiki. These spiritual pursuits helped me to come home to myself, and I believed I now understood the message.

red eared slider turtle basking

my first read eared slider turtle, Charley, basking, a few days after she came home with me

Then came the turtles.

It was New Year’s Eve, we were getting ready to usher in 2017, and I wanted a turtle. The desire had been building for a few months, and I finally got a “yes” from my spouse. We came home from the pet shop with a small red eared slider and a starter tank. I was now a newbie turtle keeper.

I lost my father suddenly later in 2017, and grief led me down an unexpected path. It is odd, looking back, the way seemingly unrelated events weave together into meaning and purpose. Throughout his life, my dad was committed to service. As I moved through the grieving process, being of service became my mission. My Shamanic Reiki practice had brought me into deeper connection with Earth, and I wanted to serve in a way that honored that connection.

A year and a day after my father’s death, I received my New York State wildlife rehabilitation license in the mail. I was going to help broken turtles – shells cracked by cars running over them – heal.

The journey did not end there, of course, and there is more to tell in future posts. The message to follow the turtle home was not a simple directive. There are layers of meaning in those words from my first helping spirit, but I am sure of one thing:  broken turtles are part of my spiritual journey, and I am indeed following the turtle home.

Perceiving Interconnectedness Through Touch

Painted turtle with injured shell taped, held head on by a human hand

Opporunities for touch are plentiful when rehabilitating wild turtles, like this painted turtle who was hit by a car.

On a Tuesday in September 2017 I had a Shamanic Reiki client in the afternoon, so my parents picked my son up from school. I arrived at their house to claim him as they were finishing dinner. When my father started to push his chair back, I said, “No, stay there. We have to run.” I missed out on a hug. Five days later my dad passed suddenly, and there were no more chances for that hug.

Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I cannot hug my mother. I cannot hug my daughter. I cannot be in my yoga studio. There are no hands-on asana alignment adjustments. And I cannot offer in-person Shamanic Reiki sessions. I feel lost and longing for touch and am feeling again regret for that hug I turned down.

Touch as sensation

Of all our senses, the tactile sensation may be the most powerful, the most overlooked, and the most abused. I recall standing in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, looking at the vast expanse of Monet’s Water Lilies from a respectable distance. They were awe-inspiring, but I wonder now if my experience of them would have been different if I could have run my fingers over and felt the texture of the canvas and the contours of the oil paint. How many children have been asked to look but don’t touch, when touch is how they most want to explore the world?

Touch can also be a source of pain. My closest friend heads a company that developed an app to record instances of domestic abuse. She is sadly aware of the increases in such episodes while victims are forced to shelter in isolation with their abusers. The same senses through which we experience joy and wonder also bring us pain, and it is a sad commentary on human nature that there are those who willingly inflict pain on others, peverting the experience of touch.

Touch as participation

To occupy myself during isolation, I have been rereading David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous. In it, Abram speaks of touch as participation. To touch is to also feel yourself being touched. He wrote, “…the world is perceiving itself through us.” Each time I read that I have a moment of mind-blowing awareness.

As a Shamanic Reiki practitioner, I know that I am affected by the energetic transmission just as my client is. It is not depleting since it is not my energy I am sharing, but as the intelligent energy moves through me it is also working on me. Early on in my Shamanic Reiki training, my teacher, Llyn Roberts, addressed the question of the appropriateness of touch in a Reiki session by reminding us that touch is in itself soothing and, while avoiding obviously sensitive areas, we should not deny a client who would like to receive Reiki though direct touch. Now, when my only Shamanic Reiki sessions are at a distance, I am missing the touch. The energy flows regardless, and I am both directing and receiving its benefits, but neither my client nor I are experiencing the deep, reciprocal participation of touch.

Perceiving interconnectedness through touch

If we experience the world, and the world experiences us, through touch, what has happened to our understanding of interconnectedness as “nature” has become, for many, something to look at from a respectable distance? As a child I was blessed with a direct, tactile experience of other species. There were pets – dogs, hamsters, and parakeets – to touch. Outdoors, I caught (and released) frogs, held fiddler crabs while they threatened with tiny claws, felt jellyfish run through my fingers. I dug my toes into the silt in the shallows of the bay, feeling for the points of buried clams. I felt the ridges of a scallop’s shell, and started when it snapped and flipped out of my hand. Tiny nails scratched my skin as a chipmunk climbed to my shoulder for a peanut.

When I tell others of these experiences, as often as not the response is “ewww.” Contemplating touch, I realize that my childhood was not typical, and my access to nature was a privilege many did not have, including those who grew up in the same middle-class suburban neighborhood with the ocean only blocks away – considered privileged by other metrics – but who were told other animals were something to fear or loathe, and definitely were not something to touch.

If our perception of interconnectedness depends on participatory touch, how can those who cannot, or will not, have that experience understand what we are losing as species disappear from Earth? I am coming to realize that my past and present tactile acquaintance with other species is a driver of my desire to protect them. Saving the abstract idea of “wildlife” is a nice concept I can get behind. Saving turtles, the animals I both keep and rehabilitate, and have held in my hands, touching and being touched by them, is a passion.

Looking to the future

I am acknowledging also that community engagement in both avoiding vehicle strikes and protecting our local turtle habitats may start with access to and encouragement of safe tactile experiences. I plan educational programs informed by a desire to create these experiences. Pet a turtle? Absolutely, if the turtle desires to participate. Additionally, I am considering how other touch experiences, such as yoga and Shamanic Reiki, can blend into such an educational program. Turtle yoga? Yes, it might be a thing in the post-coronavirus future.

Meanwhile, I miss hugs and the reciprocal touch experience of hands-on Shamanic Reiki and yoga. I am privileged to share my home with my immediate family and a variety of species, both domestic and wild, and have opportunities for touch, even if they feel insufficient, and to have the time to design programs. I hope someday to give you the chance to hold a turtle and want to save their species.

Until then, my friend, stay safe, be well, and acknowledge the unfulfillment of your own desires denied by our shared social responsibility.

Podcast Ep. 60: Explore Earth and Water with Turtle

Turtles have ancient DNA and hold the energy of both the water and earth elements. Inspired by Turtle from The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit deck by Kim Krans, you’ll get an update on the overwintering turtles and explore both flow and stillness in a 30-minute yoga practice.

Turtle rehabilitation season is coming. Now is the time to become a Patreon sponsor and contribute towards needed equipment and supplies for Dancing Turtle Rescue and Rehab, the wild turtle rehabilitation clinic in a bus. The turtles and I thank you!

Registration is open for a limited number of complementary Break Open calls. Book yours online and share your vision for your life and the world and what is preventing you from stepping into a leadership role and manifesting that vision.

If you would like to chat about this episode or learn more about yoga, Shamanic Reiki, wildlife conservation, or other ways you can bring healing to all of the beings on our beautiful planet Earth, join the Shamanic Flow Circle group on Facebook, leave a comment, and sign up for the newsletter.

Much love and gratitude to Blair Sutherland for the beautiful intro and background music. Blair is also an outstanding webmaster and makes sure I can share these episodes with you. Thank you, Blair!

While the yoga and other practices presented are intended to be accessible to most, please be open to practicing in an appropriate and safe way for you. It is recommended that you consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program and that at any time during a practice you feel nausea, dizziness, or pain you stop and seek medical advice. I accept no liability whatsoever for any damages arising from the use of my podcasts and, while I make all reasonable efforts to share accurate instruction, the podcast may contain unintended errors. Before all else, listen to your body and trust your inner knowing.

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Yoga for Hikers: Trailhead yoga to warm up before you hike up

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
~John Muir

Shoulder stretch yoga at the trailheadIn New York’s Adirondack mountains, we say we have five seasons. The time between the end of winter weather and actual warm spring is known as “mud season.” During mud season, the snow is melting, it’s still cool, nothing is growing, and the ground is mush. We are discouraged from hiking off the trails and in the higher elevations to avoid trampling the tender sprouting plants and disturbing nesting wildlife.

I haven’t spent much time on the mountains over the past couple of years, but this year my body feels ready to get back to it. Since I’m limited to the flatter trails for now, I’m revisiting the yoga asanas that support my body before, after, and between hikes, and looking forward to the view from a summit in a couple of months.

Trailhead Warm-ups

The sunrise never failed us yet.
~Celia Thaxter

Practicing these energizing poses at the trailhead before hiking will loosen stiff joints, warm your muscles and improve circulation. To begin, stand in mountain pose and take a few deep breaths while you enjoy the sunrise.

Standing Forward Bends

stretching arms open to the skyFrom mountain, inhale and raise your arms overhead. Exhale and fold forward, reaching towards the ground. With your knees slightly bent, inhale and lift your torso, leading with your heart, and raise your arms back overhead. Keep arms well apart as you lift to open your chest. Repeat the down and up flow three to ten times.

Standing Head to Knee

Step your right foot forward and lift your arms overhead with an inhale. Exhale and fold your torso over your right leg, bending your right knee slightly if necessary, and drop your hands to ground (or your shin to modify). Take at least two breaths, then inhale and lift, leading with your heart. Repeat with your left foot forward.

Shoulder and Arm Stretches

Interlace your fingers, turn your palms out and lift your arms overhead. Take at least two breaths while you lift your ribs. Exhale and rotate your torso to the right. Inhale back to center. Repeat to left. Exhale and bend your torso to the right, stretching your left side. Inhale to center. Repeat to left side. Drop your arms with an exhale.


yoga triangle pose on the beachStep into a straddle and turn your right toes to the right side. Stretch arms out to sides at shoulder height. Bend your torso to the right and reach your right hand to your leg and your left hand overhead, stretching your left side. Hold for at least two breaths, then lift, change your feet, and repeat to the left side.

Straddle Fold with Twist

Standing with your legs in a straddle, toes forward, inhale and reach your arms to the sides, about shoulder height. Exhale and fold forward, leading with your heart, and reach your hands to the ground under your shoulders. Inhale. Exhale and twist your torso to the right, lifting your right arm towards the sky. Inhale your right hand back to the ground. Repeat the twist to the left. Lift your torso with an inhale, leading with your heart.

Flowing Bridge

Lie on your back with your arms by your sides, your knees bent, and your feet approximately hip distance apart and flat on the ground. Inhale and raise your arms up and over your head. At the same time, lift your hips. Lift until your hands touch the ground over your head. As you exhale, lower your hips and bring your arms back down to your sides. Repeat the flow three to ten times.

Is it a cool Adirondack morning? Add some gentle Sun Salutations to your warm-up to build heat in your body before you head up the trail.

On the Winter Solstice 2012, revisited

Winter Solstice TreesIn the aftermath of the shooting in Newtown, Conneticut, Spirit was speaking strongly to me. The following poem was written then. Six years later, to the day, my dear friend’s brother was killed – murdered – in an act of violence with a gun. In the week since, Spirit has again been speaking to me, helping me to navigate the myriad of emotions that have surfaced while bearing witness to my friend’s anger and devasating grief.

In the pre-dawn hours this morning, I remembered what I wrote in 2012, which honestly feels like decades ago, on a blog long abandoned, and was called to publish it again. It is a call to hope and a call to action during dark times on the darkest day of the year.




On the Winter Solstice

In the dark waiting womb
there is a quiet rhythm,
the sound of intention unmanifest.
It will become with a wail.

To call the first tendril of pink
from beyond the horizon,
a feathered minstrel lifts its head
and trills its morning anthem.

Do not sit silent in the growing darkness.
The universe was not born in a flash but a bang,
the resonance of the heart of the Divine,
speaking its name into all of creation.

Invite the sun with song,
be it frenzied drumbeats,
melodious carols, quiet lullabies
or the echoing sound of om.

All songs are one song,
as all hearts are one heart.
Sing your Divine name
into the creation of a new age.

And when, in the deepest darkness,
your song fades to stillness,
a collective pause for breath,
listen. Listen for the waiting refrain.

Listen for the muted pulse of love.
Listen for the hushed jingle of peace.
Then take up their song, your song,
and roar them into being.

(c) Debbie Philp 2012

As we step over the threshold from autumn to winter, from darkness to light, from violence and hatred into the blank slate of a new day, I wish you peace and love. Sing their song with all of your heart. Pass it on.

Podcast Ep 02: Aphrodite, Porpoises, and a Self-Affirming Yoga Practice

In the Shamanic Flow Podcast episode for the new Flower Moon, explore the archetypal Greek love goddess Aphrodite and endangered vaquita porpoises, plus a way to support sustainable fishing. Discover thymus tapping as a self-care practice and enjoy a 30-minute yoga practice to open your heart space and fill it with light.

Listen here

Spiritual practices and self-examination

My spiritual practices include meditation and spending time in nature.I am a month into the year-long Shamanic Reiki Evolving Master Teacher program and still feeling a bit lost. I took a break from my personal Shamanic Reiki development in 2017 to focus on business. It was a valuable learning experience, although what I learned was not exactly what I had intended to when I started out a year ago. What I am discovering now, as I move back into a greater commitment to practices I had cultivated during the initial Master Teacher program, is how very important those spiritual practices are to the success of my yoga studio and what I am bringing to the community through my offerings.

2017 was a challenging year on several fronts, and I tackled those challenges in a very left-brained way. I believed the correct approach was to bring out the “accountant Debbie” and to dig into the numbers. I devised financial plans, social media plans, plans for new offerings, plans for expansion, and so on. Unfortunately, while I was busy making plans, I neglected the rest of me. I dropped most of my own self-care. I did not spend time connecting with my spirit guides and allies. I did not get quiet and listen. As a result, my plans were uninspired and did not align with any greater purpose besides trying to “do business.”

Disconnection from my spiritual practices

By the summer of 2017 I was stressed out, unmotivated, and uncreative. My father’s sudden passing in September drove me back to my spiritual side, but it was a place to hide and grieve rather than a source of inspiration and hope. I reached the end of the year in a low place, not only disconnected from my practices but beating myself up for my failure to successfully implement most of my plans and to meet my financial goals.

I’ve been slowly moving back into my physical and spiritual practices, but there has been some kicking and screaming as the self-inquiries assigned as we began the Evolving Master Teacher program brought my real and perceived failures to the surface. After a month of flopping between examination and avoidance, I am back on my meditation cushion. Just a few days has made a difference, not in the circumstances of my life, but in my ability to see them without sinking into despair.

During this last month of winter, while you are still called to turn inward, I invite you to consider where you stand with your own spiritual practices. Are you including those practices as part of a balanced, healthy approach to life? (If so, yay! Keep going.) Is there something that has fallen away that could be of benefit now? Please share what practices are supporting you or which you would like to begin or reignite. The waxing moon is a great time to get started, and I would love to cheer you on.

Fear at the end of the year (a Winter Solstice reflection)

During the past four weeks, I have watched seven (or maybe more – I lost track) webinars promising four ways to boost Instagram followers, a surefire method to build my Facebook group, the best method to plan next year’s revenue, … You get the picture.

I was feeling the end-of-year fear.

Fear at the end of the yearThere is something about approaching December 31st on the Gregorian calendar that sends those of us with non-traditional work into a funk. I have seen even those incredible entrepreneurs to whom I have looked for guidance all year start to seemingly panic-sell their programs beginning December 1st.

We don’t want to close our 2017 books in the red.

I fell into the same state of fear as all those others. On top of the other challenges this year, 2017 has been financially difficult. I committed to adding and expanding a second location to my yoga studio, True North Yoga, invested in a Mastermind program, and got caught off guard on some unavoidable home and auto repairs. Summer yoga class attendance, which usually booms with visitors to our lake town, was flat. Put together, the numbers for 2017 don’t look that good.

Did you know I used to be an accountant? After years of writing financial statements, I know a secret.

The numbers don’t tell the real story.

I’m all for eating and keeping a roof over my head (and even splurging occasionally), so I’m not belittling the importance of having sufficient income to thrive. But numbers in a spreadsheet aren’t showing the real value of the healing work I have done this year, for myself and for others. I cannot put a dollar amount on the growth and magic I have experienced.

My tax return isn’t going to reflect that I uncovered a deeper truth about how I bring yoga and Shamanic Reiki into the world. It isn’t going to tally the hours I spent sitting in council with my lower world guides. It doesn’t credit the creative bursts that brought my Advanced Yoga Teacher Training modules into being.

When I was trying to figure out how to pay the bills in December, I started panic-selling. I almost rushed a training that I am excited to present next year, instead of allowing the creative time to make it exactly what I envisioned. I came close to letting fear push me through the Winter Solstice without slowing down.

I suspect that end-of-year fear has been around since humans were mostly agricultural. After the last harvest, the days would shorten, and the ground would freeze. There was no time to grow more. They had to get through the winter on what they had. Some years there would be plenty; other years they might run out of food. There must have been fear. And at the Winter Solstice, perhaps there was an acceptance that there was nothing else they could do except dream of spring.

My family had a small, simple holiday this year. We will have further financial challenges in the new year. We will make due.

No matter how your numbers are adding up for 2017, would you join me in taking long exhale to let go of the fear? Let’s instead take stock of the personal growth, the skills and talents developed, the healing that has happened and can still happen. There’s nothing more to do for now. Together, let’s let winter come. We will make it through.