My mystical avoider.

Quite a few people I know have had bush holidays and recalled sightings of leopards ‘hanging in trees’, ‘walking past their cars’ ever-so nonchalantly. ‘Making kills right in front of there eyes’. I don’t know leopards like this at all. To me they are illusive and shy and… would be damned before strolling by casually for me to feast my leopard-sighting-hungry eyes on. 

Of all the hours I’ve spent on game drives, in a car, a game viewing vehicle or on the back of a monitoring/conservation truck I hadn’t ever seen a real life leopard. My mystical avoider. 

I was spending my 29th birthday with a few close friends in a private reserve a part of the Greater Kruger. A beautiful camp overlooking the Klaserie river with rondavels and night time boma fires (also known as bush-tv). The on-sight game ranger, Ronald, can read the bush so well. It’s home to him and how he must have laughed at the eagerness of us guests.

Soon into our drive one morning, we (he) came across some spoor (tracks) and they were apparently evident to be a leopards, with drag marks indicating a kill in it’s clutches. 

Ronald took us through some bushes to discover the dead buck (antelope) lying there. Untouched. He told us, ‘This must have been a recent kill. We’ll come back later and the leopard will be back.’

In short, we went back. Three or four times over a 10 hour period to find the kill moved in and out of surrounding trees, disembowelled and gradually eaten away at. But no leopard to be seen. 

As we were returning from our evening drive, the sun had set and we were heading back to camp, we took a last attempt at catching this crafty cat and once again, the remains of the buck had moved a little further into some long grass near the river bed but no lazy satisfied leopard in sight.

Tracking this leopard was exciting, and yes, a little disappointing… (a lot)… as we accepted defeat, turned the vehicle between the trees to do a 3-point turn and gave up. Outsmarted, of course. 

But as Ronald drove the 4×4 a little towards the riverine, and obviously encroached on the leopards prized kill – from right next to me, left of the vehicle – so close I remember feeling my breath leave my throat… Leopard stood up.

Startled by the bright lights in the darkness and starring right at the 4-wheeled intruder, rather than immediately turning and making a run for it, he took an astounding step forward – there were a few gasps from behind me as he lifted the carcass of the impala and only then turned around and vanished into the thicket. 

The sighting couldn’t have lasted longer than fifteen seconds. But it is engrained in my minds eye in extreme slow-mo. I recall time standing still. 

The absolute cherry on top was the fact that a photographer friend who was with us, had his super-fancy camera all set up and was simply resting the long-lens on the door frame of the vehicle. It just so happened to line up perfectly with where our leopard popped up above the grass (yes, now I’ve claimed him as ‘ours’) and without looking or checking Mark simply snapped 4 to 6 shots in motion. Freezing that seductive image in my mind ever since.

This was May 2014 and to this day I’ll give you one guess as to what the screen saver on my mobile phone is. I look into those magnificent eyes everyday, a few times everyday, as a constant reminder of the glory of persevering and the blessings of chance. 

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Photographer: Mark Sampson

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Etched in my heart.

There’s a strange thing that comes over me in the bush.

As someone who notes down the running commentary that goes on in my head on a regular basis I feel pulled toward documenting the most memorable moments of my life. Moments that are so vivd in my memory. Memories of my time spent in the African bushveld.

Because I write whenever I am overcome with feelings … life, mind-altering, soul-expanding experiences I am shocked to page through my numerous journals that I took with me whilst in game reserves in South Africa and find near-empty pages.

Lists of sightings. Various species. Numbers and dates. That’s it. 

I’ve spent up to two weeks at a time in the bush, blessed to have embraced my love of the wild and discovered volunteer projects which monitor endangered species. I have reams and reams of photos and video footage. Yet, this self-proclaimed writer, wrote close to nothing at all.

Why is it that the bush envelopes me in such stillness? I suppose absorption is stillness, being so fully immersed in your surroundings and so tuned into the present moment, there was nothing to say. Just awe. Complete awe in gratitude, the amazed bewilderment of the immensity of life that surrounds you. The anticipation of the surprises around every corner.

There is no space for any time but the present, basking in what is or what has just been witnesses. The thrill of the chase. And chance. The strain of your game-spotting eyes; seeing a rhino in every rock and a cheetah in every tree trunk. And the unmatched high of YOUR absolute PURE luck. 

The depth of the sleep fallen into after a bumpy nine hours on the back of a 4×4 to waking up to another sunrise, simply to do it all over again. Knowing nothing will be the same.

Oh, I know why I never wrote. 

‘Cause is all etched so deeply, right here in my heart.

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A prayer to the wild spirit.

I pray to the spirit of the wild

 to please help me get out of my own way

golden protective light

help me to hear and channel your divine guidance 

please help me to open up fearlessly

support me in knowing and trusting I’m on the right path

please allow me to draw from my experiences: 

all the lessons, growth and evolution,

yours and my own

please allow me to express myself

fiercely & precisely

please help me put words to the silence and stillness

be with me through this process

please help me surrender.

tracks

 

Conversations with Trees

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Talk to me old one about the lessons you’ve learnt, the things you’ve heard

Talk to me about growing upwards towards the light
Talk to me wise one about 100 years of stillness,
growing from your roots

To the greatest of heights

Speak to me Great Grandfather about your reasons and seasons
In silence, knowing what you know
Growing how you grow
Speak to me Great Grandmother about bending and not breaking

In times of woe
In silence, glowing how you glow

I’m listening ancient one
for you’re the observer of so much time
Guide me through meandering thoughts
They’re yours, channelling through mine

Talk to me oh tallest one
I feel such strength in your shadow
Your clarity I breath in
Your vibration I will follow

waving flags for spirit

it may be mundane and underwhelming

it may seem small and insignificant

but character is when you commit to even the smallest task
with widest smile and greatest attitude

I think of the guys who direct the traffic past a construction site, who I see as I drive to work some mornings.
taking SUCH pride in waving their *green for go* or *red for stop* flags 🚩🏳 while they dance in the street with dedication to do their best with the job they have.

I believe deeply that the universe sees these guys.

it brings tears to my eyes as a grin is wiped across my face and I am humbled me to the core.

that kind of spirit money can’t buy
it doesn’t sit in the size of your pay cheque
it sits in your soul
that life force that always does it’s best.

I honour that essence. 

What is a holiday?

It was my first “Merry Christmas” since I can remember. 

When I was younger, I’d miss the boyfriend in my life as we went off to our separate family’s for Christmas day. 

In my twenties it was filled with “Is this my step dad’s last Christmas?” to “I’m not going to spend Christmas with the one I thought I would.”

There where those Christmas’s running away from heartbreak and depression, hiding out of town and sobbing into the lawn on Christmas eve at my sisters place and once as far as to a tropical island of misery, teaching me that sadness follows you wherever you go and joy and appreciation can light the darkest room.

Then there were gradually less and less people around for Christmas. Loss after loss after loss, year after year. 

Holiday times are heavy times for some. And that’s the way I knew it. So much so that this year I didn’t bother taking leave, “let it come and go” I said.

Until this Christmas came and surprised me with peace and joy, togetherness and love.

                                       • • ♡ • •

It still leaves me thinking, what is a holiday though?

So, many of us set out to make the 24th – 25th – 26th of December THIS WONDERFULLY JOYOUS occasion. 

HAPPY FUCKING HOLIDAY !

May it be filled with love and happiness 

ALL AROUND YOU 

Fa la laaaaa 

La laaa

La la.

Make your own holiday. Choose your time.

What does a holiday mean to you? Does a celebration have to fall on an agreed holiday?

The “holiday-feeling” is something you can feel at any time when you are centered, filled with appreciation of the gifts of your present moment. But when you assign it to a specific day, we all arrive with our own expectations, self-imposed and society-imposed pressures… and that’s a recipe for all kinds of disaster.

My 2018 reflection crashed and burned and was just a forced reflective word vomit because I was actually so caught up with what the end of year should signify, how I SHOULD feel at 6pm on the 31st of December, as well as lulling in my sweet gratitude for the surprising peacefulness of the festive season this time round, that I struggled to get deep about it.

But here it is from inner peace to outer dynamism.

Let 2018 revolve around:

Wisdom•Celebration•Service•Commitment

Stay Tuned in ~ Tapped in ~ Turned on ~ To your highest possible frequency.

And when in doubt. Never underestimate the power in the voice of silence. In a bit of quiet, you’ll find the answers and reconnection.

WISHING YOU A WISDOM-FILLED 2018.

                              • • • •

Footnote.

Tonight’s medicine for a tired mind:

+ A spoonful of David Attenborough wildlife documentaries

+ 1 spoonful of Guruji wisdom 

+ 1 spoonful of Abraham Hicks 

Authentic relating.

Authenticity: The quality of being genuine or real.

There are things that we all resent about the antisocial (dis)connection of social media, but what I can definitely praise it for is the “So and so is interested in this event” newsfeed feature, because, whether ‘Joey’ made it to the event or not, I certainly  did.

Conversation HUB: A day of meaningful conversation at a beach house. Now, that’s exactly the kind of event that catches (and keeps) my attention.

Why? Because Meaningful Conversations are rare. And I’m so aware of that since I’ve been teaching ESL “Conversation class” over the last 3 years. Colleagues hate teaching  these sessions, exclaiming “There’s no lesson focus!” and “What is the aim of the lesson? What are the students actually learning?”

My fellow-teachers and management staff of the English Language School I work at all know that I love this slot. Students who have been in my communication classes know why too and the feedback I’ve had for my method of teaching has continued to inspire me.

There is no focus, you say.
‘Well, what is conversation?’ I usually open my courses with.
I get a lot of answers.
“Speaking, listening, answering questions, asking questions.”
I bring the students attention to ‘responding’ without planning what you are going to say while their partner is talking. How often do we do that? Um… constantly….  no longer listening simply preparing our next injection of words and opinions. To respond to what your someone says to you, once they have finished saying it to you, that’s a good habit in communication worth practising. don’t just talk at them.

What’s the aim? you ask.
Giving students the freedom to just go for it. To speak freely and openly, voice their opinions, to talk about things in depth that we often brush over or don’t even indulge in in regular daily chatter. Some topics that are exciting and wholesome, some controversial, some socially awkward. All real.

What are they learning? They are learning life skills in English. Communication skills that they haven’t even been taught to do in there mother tongue. How freakin’ meaningful is that language and expression? How much more true and authentic do you get? How to say what they feel, what they believe, to formulate their own beliefs and express them (in a foreign language as well) to learn about other minds and opinions and have a space to change their minds if they wish, update their point of view.

That’s the safe space I call my classroom. Where no one is wrong or right. Only, different.

I won’t elaborate on my techniques of guided conversations, conversation journeys or conversation rotations but I will highlight how I ended up at the “meaningful conversation HUB” on Sunday 15 October. Alone, stepping into yet another Unknown – out of pure curiosity and need to experience possibly what my students get to.

You see, I see these meaningful conversations happen so often because I facilitate them, and I suppose my lessons have taken on this description out of my own need for deeper connection and sharing. As a facilitator, I witness the magic but by being removed I don’t get to experience it as a participant.

Driving to the beach house on Sunday I was thinking about how I feel about certain topics and realised I don’t really know… because I’ve only ever thought about it briefly but never had the opportunity to put feelings to words to verbalised it. Students have asked me before, “But tell us, how do YOU feel about this? What do you believe?”

I brush it off, saying that it’s not my conversation to have, it’s theirs – a bit of a cop out, but I rarely want to label myself with an opinion I haven’t had time to mould.

So, there I was. It was a small group of mostly strangers. And I was asked to “check in” with why I was there. Which was most of what I’ve shared above. I want to gain skills and I’m open to any opportunity for personal and professional growth.

What I learnt about human conversation and interaction during our “authentic relating” task was that I was really listening and really present in what my group was saying. And when I felt how I was truly able to engage and listen to another, not for any other purpose other than to hear them, a thunder bolt of realisation struck me: people listen to me everyday but “I don’t feel heard”. This was a very emotional moment as I also had to face the fact that I listen to respond, I listen to form an option, I listen to react with advice or show empathy through my own personal experience. We don’t just listen to hear one another.

And it’s a HUGE pothole in the road of connection and communication. Authentic relating is all about giving someone the space, not to speak. But to be heard.