I am finding it hard to concentrate as I type this. Not because of the usual distractions. No, it’s not facebook or twitter notifications that are drawing my attention. And it’s not the pressure of having to get to work or send out an email. Right now, what distracts me is the sheer beauty of the view before my eyes. As I sit here, I am confronted with a landscape of endless African bush. In the foreground – about two metres from where I sit – is a waterhole, ripples perforating the reflection of an azure sky, fish and turtles visible through the translucent water, birds flitting across from left and right, and in the distance herds of zebra and impala gather and disperse sporadically. It’s the kind of experience you may have once in your lifetime if you’re really really lucky.
But I am more than lucky. I am one fortunate and privileged human being. I am so incredibly grateful to have had this kind of experience on more than one occasion. Within the boundaries of South Africa, I have travelled to a number of different game reserves (The Kruger National Park, Entabeni, and Madikwe) where I have been treated to wildlife and vistas so vast and vibrant that the human eye actually struggles to take it all in. And this is why I am struggling to concentrate here – because the colours, sounds and movement around me are constantly changing and shifting. Nothing is static. Everything pulsates with life and vitality. It is captivating and mesmerizing, and quite rightly so, it puts things into perspective. The allure of facebook, the FIFA world cup, and the Oscar Pistorius Trial seem to pale in comparison. Nature has this amazing way of bringing one’s priorities into check.
But in amidst all this buzz and activity I have observed a magnificent stillness and quietness that one almost never comes across in the modern world of traffic and technology. Whether it is during a yoga class, through meditation, while on a run, or in the bath – we’ve all experienced a moment of stillness. It’s that moment when the mind clears from distractions, thoughts slow down and the body calms. I’ve mentioned how this kind of mindfulness helps to reduce stress and tension. But there is nothing quite like the quietness and zen that can be found in nature. On Friday night, I arrived at a waterhole at Okaukuejo, our rest camp in Etosha Pan, Namibia, to discover two male elephants bathing. There may have been over fifty human beings gathered around but I was astounded to find them all deathly still, in awe and in utter reverence. It was a truly spiritual experience. As my nervous system quietened, I noticed how the elephants seemed to move with the kind of grace and poise of a great Tai Chi master, their massive forms illuminated by the floodlights.
And so it got me thinking. Is this what is wrong with our society? Our lives are so busy and stressful but IT IS NOT NATURAL. Why shouldn’t we, like other mammals, strive to live in peace and quiet. Sure there are moments when one needs to charge through life. And yes, speed and power are needed for certain accomplishments to take place. But surely we can try and aim to reduce the speed at which we do 90% of our daily activities? My guess is that this will help to greatly reduce stress and anxiety. Imagine a life free from time pressure and urgency. I would guess our nervous systems would quieten, giving our digestive systems time to work. We would have less bodily complaints. We could potentially live a life without stomach problems, heart problems, obesity, and addiction.
For me, learning to quieten and slow down is a constant challenge. I need to remind myself daily. I need to make that choice each and every day. The best and easiest way for me to find inner stillness is when I find myself surrounded by nature. In Africa, that is easy. What do you do to find your peace and stillness?
Here are some links I found that may help: