The Tao of Turtle and Rabbit
BY: DEVON YANKO
Mostly everyone is familiar with Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare. From it we glean that “slow and steady wins the race”, the turtle doesn’t just win, he becomes the champion and symbol of endurance and persistence. And poor speedy rabbit is just left looking stupid sleeping under a tree, a symbol of how not to run a race.
And from this tale, we extrapolate: be the turtle, not the rabbit. But can that really be it? I mean rabbit lost the race because of hubris and downright stupidity, not because he lacked the speed or guts to do it. Turtle won the race, but not out of better strategy but luck, a bit of determination and well because he plain just didn’t quit.
I think in life and in running, we can all be a little bit more like Turtle and we can all be a little bit more like Rabbit. Sometimes you need to go slow and steady and sometimes you need to go fast and take chances. I think the hard part is examining our natural tendencies towards one or the other and looking for ways to welcome the other into our skill set.
There is no one to me that has ever personified the energies of the Turtle and the Rabbit better than my Aunt Chris did. She often had the energy of a Rabbit that was hopped up on too much Easter candy. She was eccentric, she was wild and unpredictable, she was very very strange. She was the type of person who gives her pre-teen niece a fanny pack that was shaped like a trout for Christmas (much to my dismay and embarrassment). She was the type of person who collected things like buttons, among many many other things. She was the type of person who hand-sewed coats for people out of polar fleece that looked straight out of Harry Potter. She was also the type of person to start a loud argument with someone just to get a rise out of them and see if she could win. She was the type of person who smuggled small water turtles in from Canada and had a kitchen filled with huge aquariums full of illegal turtles. She was clever, confident, creative, emotional and spontaneous.
But she was also the epitome of the Turtle. My Aunt Chris was a high school teacher in one of the worst parts of Seattle and she worked with some students who were most vulnerable and who had the most stacked against them. Her determination and persistence in helping her students succeed was immense; her emotional strength and understanding enabled her to connect with students in a way only few teachers ever can. Despite a chaotic school environment, she was able to stay grounded, focused and moving towards the goal, even if at a Turtle pace. When I was in high school and going through very turbulent times, she was someone I could always count on. When she passed away my senior year in high school, the public school she taught at had to close school because so many students and teachers attended her funeral. She deeply and profoundly was able to effect change in people’s lives.
Since her passing, I have always been a turtle person. I have two turtle tattoos, the first one was a tribute to her. But really, she was the personification of both turtle AND rabbit. She found a way to let both things exist and thrive and guide her. She embraced both and it is what made her who she was. Even almost 20 years later, she is still someone who inspires me to live my life with fervor. She reminds me that there is a time for the Turtle and time for the Rabbit.
We all have our natural tendencies, in life and in running. I think we all lean either more Turtle or more Rabbit. But how do we invite the other into our lives? How do we learn to slow down and be steady or patient when we are used to going a million miles an hour? How do we learn to go fast, take chances and gamble on ourselves when we have taught ourselves to take the reliable, safe path. You make a choice; you stay open to the reality that just because you’ve done something one way or been one way, doesn’t mean that is always the right/best strategy all of the time. You may have started out running PR’s in the marathon by going slow and steady, but you will never know your true potential if you never take any risks, if you never run “eyeballs out” as my mentor Hollis says. Alternatively, if you find yourself crashing and burning and not living up to your potential in racing (or life) perhaps a more restrained approach might yield a better result.
The spirits of Turtle and the Rabbit both have a place in each of our emotional, logical, strategic skill sets. By embracing the energy of both, we open up to not only a greater range of possibilities and outcomes but to a deeper, more rich version of ourselves.