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    Nature has many lessons to teach if we pay attention

What we can learn from turtles

It can affect your health, sleep, even to deal with stress

By MaryJo Briggs-Austin
Special to the Chronicle

I got in my kayak for morning exercise.  
On a fallen tree I saw 25 turtles.  
As I approached, some jumped into the lake.  
Did they fear for their safety? 
Being captured and turned into turtle soup?  
I paddled a little closer.  Curious about the natural world, I stopped.  
Another jumped in. Then a few more.

I had no intention of harming or catching these beautiful green creatures.  All I did was study them.
I started to glide by on my kayak.  3 big turtles were left. 
Like dominoes they all ended up in the lake.  
I sat quietly, not paddling. 
More than 10 little turtle heads poked up from the water.
I love to figure stuff out.  
Why did they jump in as I quietly approached?  
What did they sense?  
Do they see?  
Is there something I can learn from this encounter?

This is what I discovered.  
Turtles taste, see, smell and feel.  
They have some hearing but they don’t hear well because they don’t have ear drums.  
What I suspected was they can sense vibrations which is why they jumped in the lake before I could admire their beautiful shells.
Seems to me their best sense is sight.  
Turtles see well.  But they lack peripheral vision.  
Peripheral vision may not be important for a turtle.  It certainly is for humans.
Turtles have central focused daylight vision.  Also known as foveal vision.  
This is linked with the fight or flight response that kicks in when we are in danger.  
Central focused vision is what humans use when we stare at our phone or computer screen.  This sort of sight can produce cortisol and adrenaline and when overdone can increase heart rate.  
It’s a reason we can’t sleep at night after we spend too much time on our phones.
Peripheral vision stimulates a different part of our nervous system.  
The para-sympathetic system is called the rest and digest system.  It helps us to conserve energy and slows the heart rate.  
When I do my writing I usually zone out, don’t look at the keyboard and I am pretty relaxed.  
Overly focusing on what I want or need to write can stress me out and sometimes I even feel my heart rate speed up!

3 things we can learn from turtles are powerful:
1. Don’t spend too much time overly focusing,specially technology.  It can actually make you sick.
2. Spend time using your peripheral vision.  Do this by gently gazing at one thing and then allowing your gaze to soften and eyelids to relax.  Do this for several minutes while breathing gently.  You will notice a restful feeling, calm mind and relaxed body.
3. Life doesn’t always occur right in front of us.  When we overly focus we can get stuck.  
With the challenges we face in 2020 I encourage you to soften your gaze.  Trust me, it will free up emotional and mental real estate.  Your creative brain will kick in and soon your result will come.
Have a question or problem?  Email me at   I respond to every email personally.

MaryJo Briggs-Austin is an artist and writer in Irmo who writes inspirational articles for the Chronicle.


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