Tortoise Imprint

Jane’s Carousel, Brooklyn, NY

The tantric practice of mudra is the art of imprinting. The world is always making impressions on us. We are imprinted (assaulted?) with a constant stream of images, attitudes and beliefs every day, every hour. Every New York minute can be a stimulating barrage of input. How do we slow this down and learn to receive what is valuable? For the tantric yogi, the art of mudra is one such technology.

The past week or so has left quite a mark on NYC. Some of us met with chaos at our polling sites yesterday, some of us (me) were in and out in less than 5 minutes. Sandy blew in and we all felt her impact. Mother nature has reminded us once again that nothing lasts forever. Walking the streets of downtown Manhattan last week I felt really vulnerable. This great city of ours – it seems so solid and permanent – could all disappear in an instant.

The rhythm of daily life has shifted for so many of us since the storm. Time itself is still moving in strange circles. The boundaries of time are less sharply defined. I depart earlier than ever to ride the buses and subways but I continue to arrive late to my destination. There’s a kind of relaxed mood about it though. Clearly we have all been counting our blessings. And now a nor’easter is coming to remind us to stay home yet again.

There’s no place like home. I feel that more than ever as I see images of my fellow New Yorkers whose homes have been destroyed. It’s pure anguish, seeing these pictures, hearing the stories of neighborhoods and lives ravaged. And yet how many times have I seen images like this in my lifetime? More than I can count. They are also so familiar as to be tedious.  It’s a strange mix of feelings to hold.

And I actually had a super sweet week in the aftermath of the storm. My son was off school, we had friends from downtown living with us – and it was a most jovial time cooking tasty food, building legos and marble ball tracks (Uncle Harrison taught us some epic new tricks) and savoring wonderful company. And trick or treating. At the same time as counting my blessings I was ravaged emotionally by images and stories of loss and destruction, guilty that I was not doing more to help, and anxious for the future. Again, how to hold this complexity?

The tantric imagination looks to the image of the tortoise for inspiration. A wise and ancient being – they live a long, long time and have seen it all, the tortoise takes her time and is always at home, wherever she is. Some might argue that the turtle withdrawn into her shell is hiding. The tantrica says not so, rather she is drawn into worlds of infinite possibility. It’s just like a seated yogi who closes her eyes to meditate, not to withdraw from the world but to find a home at the heart of the worlds inside.

Try this simple grounding practice of mudra. It’s called tortoise mudra, or kurma mudra. It helps me get centered before I meditate, and it’s also a piece of tantric technology that works on lots of levels as you begin to make it your own. It makes an imprint. (And you wanna be the one making imprints in your life, otherwise the world will do that for you.)

Place one palm on top of the back of the other hand. It doesn’t matter which one goes on top, go with what feels good to you. Your four main fingers are touching, thumbs splayed open. It’s a turtle. See it? Relax into this gesture for a few breaths. It’s really grounding. And also seems to slow down time. When we open ourselves to a rhythm of repose we can receive what’s valuable. This gesture reminds us that we can learn to be at home wherever we are, and that includes all the places of difficult emotion. And for me lately, creating this mudra is an offering to my fellow New Yorkers. It’s like an antenna beaming blessings of home, warmth and love to those who need it. Join me in this practice and let me know how it feels.

Photo taken by my teacher Dr Douglas Brooks in the early 1980s in Tamil Nadu, South India. The young hands belong to his teacher Sundaramoorthy’s son, Sriram.

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2 responses to “Tortoise Imprint

  1. Thanks for this post, Eric. I have read it a couple of times since you published it, and while I am not dealing with the immediate effects of a hurricane in my world, we can all always relate to containing and managing complexity in this world, and with being present with what is, wherever we are. I appreciate having a new mudra too! Maybe I will see you soon? I’ll be in NJ/NY for a couple days before going to India with DBK….

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