We had been silent all day, and I’d been internally cooking in my intention to stop obsessing over how I look, my dance with menopausal body-confidence. Ugh. Now I’d be sent out to sit on a rock. Alone. Overlooking the river. Ugh. Whatever. I was in no mood.
A lizard was sunning himself on the rock next to me, striped like a circus ringmaster, with bright blue tail and a pink face. Audacious. So there I was, in my floppy hat, with a gnarly vulture right wing primary feather strapped into my left pigtail. And I was silently complaining to this fancy lizard about being out on this rock when I was hungry and tired and wanted to lay on my bedroll. Poor me. Poor poor me.
And then something stirred across the river. A zebra stallion leading his family down to the river. Real zebras. Oh yeah! I’m in Africa! I watched, rapt, as the zebra family made their way down to the sand. So rad.
But wait there’s more! Seven Nyala (they are really beautiful deer/antelope creatures with elegant curving horns) joined the party. They were all watching, waiting their turn to come down to the river. I looked down for a moment, and up again, and they were gone. “Disappeared into thin air. That’s the prerogative of the Wild ones. Bail whenever. No apologies. No justifications.” I found myself jealously bitching to the lizard.
OK despite miraculous animal sightings, I was still feeling vaguely irritated. Time for a clearing. I pulled the feather from my ratty pigtail and flicked it around my midsection, my power center. “I release and excise anything passed to me through my ancestors and all of life that trained and programmed me to associate my worth with my appearance or my sex.” I could feel the energy lift from me, and I suddenly felt vulnerable, weepy, and raw.
In that moment I looked up, and saw the young elephant appear just down river of me. He gazed up at me, then lumbered over to munch on tall reeds, daring to bury his whole self so all I could see was elephant butt and swishing tail. Wow. He trusts me! I was weeping again. And then he, too, disappeared, seemingly engulfed by those same thick reeds he’d been munching. “Disappeared. The prerogative of the Wild ones,” I laughed to myself. Perhaps that’s part of what I need to give myself – the permission to disappear, to say no, to be Wild. “Chase food. Chase fun. Chase tail. And you disappear whenever it suits your fancy,” I said to the lizard who did pushups to register his agreement.
I laughed out loud like a crazy person who talks to herself, and that felt amazing. I was starting to understand this thing.
And that’s when the parade began. It was hard to believe. Unless that lizard really WAS a ringmaster. Because it was way cooler than the circus.
Three elephants crossed my vision first. THREE. Playful real live elephants.
Then a white rhino, swaying back and forth just cause he’s so dang big. Dipping his big long lipped mouth into the river for a slobbery drink.
And then a dancing army of baboons. Are you kidding me? I’m talking multi-baboons. Big daddy baboons with audacious red butts. Mommy baboons with babies gripping their backs like little racehorse jockeys. Baboons splashing. Baboons laughing. Baboons skipping and tumbling and rambunctiously migrating across the river right in front of me.
My heart is in my throat as a big alpha daddy baboon locks eyes with me, sizing me up. “Don’t smile don’t smile don’t smile Mellissa – baring teeth is aggressive to monkeys.” So instead, I look down like a monkey and pick a piece of dirt off my shirt, then look back up. Done. He’s satisfied, as he turns and lumbers on with the baboon circus parade.
I turn back to the ringmaster lizard. “Haha very funny, a circus parade,” I say to him, imagining again that the entire natural world is simply playing into my imaginary metaphors. But really, I feel as elated as a kid with her face buried in her first-ever cotton candy. And then the pang of grief again, realizing that seeing these animals in the circus was my first association when I see them all together. Should I feel great that I at least got to see them as a child in that way, or horrible that those circus creatures were prisoners compared to these guys?
I watch one very fun monkey drama play out. A baby riding the mommy. She gets to the deepest part of the shallow river crossing, and just before she carries the baby over, he jumps off her back and bounces round like a gleeful rapscallion. The mom monkey waits a few beats, then she seems to roll her eyes in exhaustion and crosses the river without the baby, looking over her shoulder as if to say, “I’ve had enough, Junior.” The baby looks a bit chastened, and he’s looking at the river, and over at mom, and pacing a bit. A big male baboon comes up behind the little guy, and sizes up the situation. He walks partway into the river as if to show the kid how to do it, looks back at the kid, and then takes one more step forward. The baby gets the idea, and follows the male, bouncing like a rubber ball through the water to end up on the other side with his mom, where he promptly does a touchdown dance in the end zone. The mom starts moving again and the baby leaps onto her back and holds tight, as the whole clan moves up the opposite bank of the river where 30 or more have already crossed over.
I’m left on my rock, realizing that we are all animals.
I’m left on my rock, post parade, as the light begins to fade from the slate blue sky, realizing that we creatures of the world are all going through the same dang initiations, the same dang passages of life.
This work with the 7 Life Initiations I’ve been doing – it happens all around us, even to the creatures. We are all moving through the life stages. No one is immune. And that’s when I also realized something important to my work. The work I’ve been doing, helping creative people find the right work for their talents and gifts, and then how to create a business strategy so they can be wildly successful – this is really just another INITIATION – the ones I refer to as the 4th Initiation to discover your PURPOSE that is designed to happen at age 21, and the 5th Initiation to be placed in your right ROLE which is designed to happen at 28.
If we lived more in tune – like these baboons – we wouldn’t need to make it a big deal. We wouldn’t need a complex business economy. We’d each do what we’re best at in collaboration with the whole. But hey, we live in a more complex world with technology and huge numbers of folks who live rather disconnected. In this modern reality, we have created “business” as the form through which we express Purpose and Role. So be it. And that’s why these two initiations need to happen. That’s why people need to align with their true purpose and their right-fit role. That’s why they hire me to help them do that.
And guess what? The first three initiations that are supposed to lay the groundwork for our confident sovereignty – these are supposed to be precursors to the business/purpose ones. So that’s why once you dive into creating a business, the places where those first three initiations didn’t get fulfilled – those wounds and blocks show up BIG time. So that’s why we get to circle back sometimes and fix/redo/heal the earlier initiations. It’s a process. It’s cyclical. And as I’m sitting there on that rock in Mfolozi protected wildland, I realize – it’s NATURAL.
So this brings me to the end of my sharings about my Africa trip. Of course there are more stories I didn’t tell you here. And maybe I’ll tell you later. But I do want you to know, that walking into the wilds with my intention in my heart, and a supportive circle of people around me, was just about the best thing I could do for myself. I came home from Africa feeling more grounded, more soft, more solid, more embodied – than ever before. Mission Accomplished, and Mission set – there is so much more to do. I’m grateful you’ve been witnessing and participating in my stories. Thank you.
And if you feel moved to make a difference in protecting this wild space from the encroachment of the mining and other interests, please make a donation here to the protected wilderness, or here to the Wilderness Leadership School that supports these educational expeditions, and trains local leaders in the arts of protecting these wild places.
The Wild Creatures
“Here, follow me off this cliff…” That’s what Saida says to me silently (cause today is silent day – as we spent 2 days of our journey with NO words). I see the top of the big round rock she’s just summited, and the shallow river twenty feet below. But like a trusting lemming, I follow, to see the next small foothold, and the tiny ledge, and the bush she mounts like a man (or horse I guess) and then the rock face she scuttles down, wincing at tiny pains (?) until she leaps onto the sand riverside. I follow, a giraffe to her tiny antelope, stopping for a few minutes to make lewd gestures with my body straddling the bush half-way down. (hey, it’s silent day, but you can’t force me to behave). The other women follow us, giggling but not speaking, so as not to break the rules! Now all 8 of us women, are all naked, and splash-fighting in the shallow river on silent day.
I dunk myself in the deeper area under a rock outcropping, willfully baptizing myself into my intention – to release my body-self-brutality and claim my Soul Beauty, my natural embodiment for the benefit of all I channel in the world. And as I arise from my dunk, all goose pimpled and feeling wild, I land on all fours, feeling like a feral lady leopard.
I prowl forward on all fours, growling and snarling, and a few of the women squeal, which delights the predatory carnivore I’m embodying. I set my sights on Saida who lights up with the recognition of me, animal to animal. We crawl towards each other, predator eyes locked on each other with wicked smiles until we meet, sniffing each other’s shoulders and gnawing on each other. Now we are cackling, and smearing each other’s bodies with the mud, then purring and twining around each other. Once we are covered with mud, growling and laughing riotously, we turn our sights towards the surgeon. She knows resistance is futile. We have her covered in mud and are moving on to attack the next woman when we stop – still and silent – as we see the giraffe arrive.
This giraffe is watching us, sizing us up. And we go silent – on the outside and on the inside, quieting our minds and softening our gaze to create safe space for this incredibly tall sweet beast to feel comfortable. I have tears rolling down my face, and I know I’m not alone in this. We are bathing with a giraffe. WHAAAATTT???!!!
Giraffes have to get down on their front knees to drink from the river. That’s a vulnerable position. But this giraffe feels safe, and as he drops to his knees to drink, we all look from one to the other, in total reverent awe. We relax a bit again, enjoying the cool water on our legs as we sit naked in the mud. We nod at each other with our stupid grins, knowing this is an experience that will affect us forever.
Then the miracle expanded.
Downstream, and more amazingly, downWIND from us, an elephant has entered the river on the other side of our group. He watches us keenly as he sniffs the air, and judges whether we are safe.
And because I consider myself the center of the Universe, I think (as perhaps we all did), “This is for me. I so wanted this.” We all come together slowly, naked on the sand in the wind, and grow silent and still together, watching the elephant is who is not far. Elephants are generally “safe” for humans, but you know what – in these times, as elephants have been hunted and poached, occasionally elephants might charge if they feel threatened. Who can blame them?
We had been prepared for this meeting. We’d been shown how to be less threatening. Get quiet, inside and outside. Do not look at the animal like a predator would – with intense penetrating gaze. Instead, use Owl Eyes – a wide diffuse gaze, a soft gaze, and let your energy be soft.
We sat, watching, and we wept.
My heart went out to thank this elephant. It grew to thank these women, and especially Saida for inviting me here. My heart expanded to thank all of Africa. I felt my heart grow so fast, so big, it reminded me of the triumphant moment of the Grinch in Dr. Suess’ classic. Corny. True.
And then it got better. Because two more elephants appeared. They were bigger. Perhaps this young bull’s parents. A whole family. And as we all gazed, they drank, they ate the reedy greens by the river. They blew sand with their trunks. They did elephant stuff.
And the dad bull stood watch, keeping an eye on those wacky ladies while his own family enjoyed a beautiful river buffet of the Divine’s own creation.
Holy Moly. And as I journaled about this, a white rhino just sauntered along the other side of the river. This place (!). This day (!). It is so gorgeously natural, and so tragically precious.
I want desperately for EVERYone who might possibly stop the encroachment of mining on this place to experience this day. “Animal conservation” sounds like an academic theory until you sit naked in a river with a giraffe and 3 elephants, feeling their ancient presence stirring you to the soul, weeping.
My friend Dr. Saida Desilets has been running these trips every year for 7 years. I can only hope and imagine she will continue. You can see the info on this year’s trip here. If you feel called to an experience like this, you should contact her. No, she did not ask me to share this. But I know some of you will be itching for a trip like this. But please know this area, and this sort of journey, are complicated. It’s not just about booking airtix and a wilderness guide – haha! Saida not only curated the most incredible conscious and soulful trip, with the most poetic and knowledgeable guides, in the most sacred valley that is both wild/unfenced and protected…. but she is also gifted at holding space for transformation. Deep transformation. And so… we ended up seeing more animals than most groups do. We ended up each having a profound shift in our consciousness and lives. As a facilitator of groups myself for the past 35 years (yes, I’ve been leading retreats since I was 15) I can tell you that there is a LOT that goes into facilitating this. So I encourage you to follow your own intuition, and also get the right knowledgeable help, advice and facilitation before charging off into the wilds! 😉
Carving with the Feather
My first full day on the trail, I awoke so excited for my day. I climbed the number-number hill, and enjoyed the view and included the Land Honoring Song in my morning ritual. What a gorgeous view. The river below, winding through the wilds, with flat-topped lacy trees perfectly spaced in the bush, lit up with a golden gauzy light that may only exist in Africa as far as I can tell. Resplendent. Glowing. Mystical. Amazing.
As I was trained to announce myself to any sacred land by my indigenous earth wisdom mama/teacher Maria Yraceburu, I used my fingers to create a small circle in the chocolate silty soil, and scratched my personal symbol with a twig, set prayers into the circle, and finished my “hello” with a small drop of my spit, a part of myself that holds the codes of my DNA, and the value of my moisture in a dry place. I sent my consciousness down into this soil, then, connecting with the minerals here, with the bones of this land. I beamed my love into this land. My gratitude. My honoring. And I asked again for what I wanted – please, Mama, help me to fully embody in this body, to love myself here as I am, so that I can contribute, serve, and love without distraction. My intention looped back as a big blessing feeling, and I knew the land agreed.
We walked again, with some extra weight in each of our packs, as one of our sisters was struggling with back pain. And I felt grateful for my big strong body – for my long legs, for the heartiness of my digestion and my spine. It was not lost on me that the sister was experiencing excruciating back pain had a “perfectly shaped body” according to my girl-training. So here is another reflection… my body is an instrument, not just a decoration. I am healthy, strong, stabile, resilient in my body. There is so much to be grateful for.
We walked and enjoyed so many animals. Kudu antelope. Wildebeest. And we learned more about identifying the tracks, the dung. Everything here works in silent brilliant harmony. Symbiosis everywhere. And we were walking as a pack. As we walked, single file and silent, the animals could see us as one strange big beast, and this helped us stay safe.
Stopping for a short sharing circle, it was revealed that more than half of our group were now experiencing body pains – pounding headaches, deep sadness, a sore foot, bad back pain. And as I listen and respect my sisters for holding themselves through these challenges, I reflect again – my body feels great! And so I am able to serve.
As we stop to eat our picnic lunch, my eyes are drawn to a long black feather sticking straight up from the ground, maybe 30 feet away. It appears to be glowing, calling to me. What is that? I walk over to this area, a bit closer to where the baboons are having their own lunch, pulling up grasses and seeds from the ground nearby. And yes, a single long glossy black primary right wing feather is on display, calling to me. I retrieve it, and remember how when I first began with the god-given gift of energy healing, I was often called to use such a feather as a sort of etheric scalpel to cut away dense energies, to extract and remove blocks and intrusions from people’s energy bodies, to help them feel better.
I put the feather to use. My sister who has the headache is now in emotional misery as well. Once we arrive at our next camp, I approach with the feather, and clear her field as Saida gives her expert touch to her neck and occiput. Her mood lifts. Her pain releases. She is feeling free and clear. I flick the feather a few times to clear it of any lingering dense energies, and then I use it to cleanse and clear myself. I realize that the wilderness guides are tracking this, curious.
“We have healers too. And prophets,” Zondi shares in a private moment later. This work that bridges the worlds is held with reverence here, but it is not seen as strange in this circle. It is a part of our natural instinctual abilities, our gifts, and our contribution to the community. I feel received, seen, and of deep use. Again, my body is a tool, an instrument. And there is deep beauty in what pours through me.
That night, I sit in my evening contemplation, and I write in my journal, “Can I see that my sisters whose bodies I most envy are feeling pain today? Can I release my critique of my body’s current size and shape? What pins it to me? Am I embarrassed that others may judge me lazy, ugly, repulsive? Do these little rolls and jiggles make me less valuable, less noteworthy? Less beautiful, special, loved? I’ve always needed to be the most physically alluring. It somehow meant “safety” and I don’t know why yet… but I want to understand and release.”
I know it’s insidious, and so common. There was one friend who occasionally made comments, referencing little things about the shape of each of us, especially those of us who were not thin. She spoke it matter-of-factly, not in offense, but rather with kind regard. And yet it triggered me. And I realized she was a bit obsessed too – even though she was fit, thin, petite… she shared her own insecurities, her own need to be sexy, her fears of any fat on her body… her desire to be wanted, and perhaps like my old training – the need to be the “most” beautiful. Oh yes. This is such a mirror for me.
I could feel my grief about the loss of natural habitat for the wild creatures we were seeing, and simultaneously I was grieving a similar intrinsic loss in my culture. I feel my grief and frustration of the loss of body-confidence-habitat of all of us powerful women. What would the world be like if women lost all self-brutality about our bodies? Would we be as harmonious, playful, relaxed, and deeply present as the wild creatures around us?
I took this question to my source, and here’s what came through.
Feral. Unconditioned. Mellissa.
Elementally Fueled – Breath, Water, Orgasm
Moving from impulse and pleasure
Deep reverential respect and pleasure of and with this now body
Take the spiny bra off, the heels off, and CUM
Gushing truth without apology
This is no young girl’s coquette beauty.
this is Raw Real Fleshy power in earth-quaking potency embodied.
Soft, warm, wet and strong – in that order.
There is much space for Gentleness in this wild.
It is the injured WILD that seems rough, pushy, reactive, dangerous.
The Whole WILD, the integrated WILD – is gentle and inviting, connective and kind.
Even the hunting and predating is a balancing force – calling those in pain to feed the leaders.
Not bossy, pushy, controlled
But guided, open, inviting.
This push for sex, attraction, sexual validation – it is a BIG distraction for me. Whether others find me sexy is none of my business. My pleasure and orgasm are not according to a size chart.
I took my feather and turned it on myself, carving away everything that was not in alignment with this channeled statement of Truth of Me.
Muscles in shoulders sides and hips are talking to me, but I feel strong. I’d forgotten how the exertion of hiking clears my mind. Last night on the baboon ledge, I talked with my wild.
That’s what my son Collin said I have that time, in this poem he wrote for me on Mother’s Day a few years ago… and he is right.
I can’t fuck up my beauty.
“What if you let the humans adore you for what you ARE – the power of Her Truth?”
The Beauty of my Soul
To embody this as I wish. None other.
My mom, gorgeous as she was, didn’t always know how to embody her effortless apology-free beauty. How many models do any of us have for this, in this culture? Of course it is harder without a model. Ironically perhaps, I have been told I serve as that model of body-confidence for some others. So me chasing external ideal is not just silly – it’s counter productive to my path!
Now we are washing pots and pans with moist chunks of elephant dung and sand as scrubbers.
Can you imagine big balls of fibrous dung, the size of big melons in a pile?
Did you know hyenas eat bones and turn them into calcium supplement poo for the other creatures to ingest?
Did you know elephants take trees down to eat the roots, creating habitat for others?
Did you know some seeds and pods have to be pooped by elephants or burned in fire just to germinate?
Isn’t that beautiful?
That giraffe carcass, with head and hooves and half skin still on – that giraffe laid down and died here of natural causes, on the top of this perfect hill.
Isn’t that beautiful?
What if the stinky earthy poopy parts of us are also beautiful?
Oh look, a herd of seven stocky zebras, blowing and grunting, just 50 feet away. Oh look “another” giraffe. This beauty is becoming expected. Easy to take it for granted. We don’t even stop to gawk.
This cohesive Garden of Eden is becoming expected, normal, run-of-the-mill. Perhaps this is what re-wilding re-earthing re-membering looks like. Allowing ALL of it, so that we can experience the true Beauty of Cohesive Natural Harmony.
More to come…
Walking in the Wild
As we walked, the animals were already showing themselves to us. The baboons with their red behinds. An older male giraffe with darker coloration. Spotted deer. A big dusky buck. Every time an animal revealed itself, I feel something in my heart mending as inwardly I exclaim, “You’re ALIVE!”
My grief is pulsing through me. This is a grief I didn’t realize I had so deeply. I am shocked to see these “zoo” animals alive and radiating such peace and happiness. Something inside me has been grieving the loss of so many endangered species. I had become hopeless I guess. I had become cynical. I had given up on wild animals. I had assumed there was no where left on the earth where these giant beasts could possibly be happy. I realize that to a great extent, with the loss of natural habitat from the virus of humanity, this is becoming true.
I grew up visiting the San Diego Zoo very often. I would sit with the animals, watching the elephants, the giraffes, the big cats. I could feel that they were often depressed, listless, neurotic. But these animals in this wild place – they were watching, awake, present, peaceful, confident. They were truly ALIVE. And witnessing this, and even thinking about it again now, has me weep with a strange mix of grief and relief and joy and hopeless hope.
How is this dichotomy reflected in how I am in my body? How we all are in our fleshy animal bodies? How does my vanity keep me in my own enclosure, neurotic and caged in something that tries to approximate my own natural habitat?
We walk on. Black rhino foot print. We begin our quiet lessons about the tracks of the resident animals. Birdsong. Hazy gorgeous African light through the grasses. A family of White Rhino grazing peacefully nearby. My tears wash the dust from my eyes, so that’s convenient.
More baboons, chillin on the rocks like lazy frat boys drunk on beer on a football Sunday. Their spirits are so light. On top of the world. And I can feel their joy pulsing through me. Yes. Wild ones still exist, in this balanced environment, co-existing with the other creatures in harmony. Yes. It is possible to simply relax on the rocks at the river and enjoy life.
We remove our shoes to wade through the river we will be drinking from for the next week. Nearby we hear a grumbling growl and moaning roar. “Ah. The lions are mating,” says Zondi. “We will camp here so we might see them. They know we are here. They see us. Perhaps we will see them.”
Camping in the Wild
We set our first camp on the rocky ledge over the river that the baboons usually use to sleep, since it is an easily defensible space. We camp on the northern ledges, and let the baboons have the ledge as it extends beyond brush to the south.
It’s hot, and we are tired even though this was our shortest walk day by far. Three of us women climb down the rocks, strip down, and lay like crocodiles in the cold water. (This, after the guardians checked it for crocodiles and gave us permission to do so!). We squeal in body-shock and ecstatic joy as the crystalline water sends goosebumps all over our bodies. We keep saying “we are in Africa” because we still don’t believe it fully.
The serpentine river winds through course sand, spotted with the dung and tracks of elephants, hyenas, giraffe. And appropriately, the theme of the next group talk is poo. “Here, there may be times when you feel you must release with your body. We do not call this number 2. We call it number-number. And we must be careful where we do this. Here is a spade. Here are the leaves that you can use to clean yourself. Do not use these other leaves, as they are toxic. If you must use a piece of TP, then you burn it with this lighter before you leave the ash behind. We leave no trace for the hyenas or dung beetles to spread. We are guests here. We number-number away from the river. It is safest if you only do number-number when the sun is up, and never go alone.” In this particular campsite, the place to number-number was up a 100 foot almost-vertical climb rock step “path.” As part of orientation, we scramble up to this number-number spot around sunset. Well worth the climb. We acclimate to what we’d be experiencing the rest of the week as well – something I came to refer to as “poo with a view.”
I sit on my bedroll, a few feet from the cliff’s edge that drops to the river below. Listening to the growing sounds of the frogs, the creatures, the occasional rumble of the lions mating a few hundred yards upstream, I am shocked to realize I feel completely safe. Protected. Home.
First night watch
That first night sleeping on the rocky baboon ledge was a dreamscape experience. We each took turns standing watch. So early in the morning, when the full moon was almost set, and the cold dew was wrapped around us, I was awakened by the gal before me, and handed the big flashlight. She whispered to me her report. Lots of lion mating sounds. She saw a hyena she thinks. Apparently a water buffalo met his death downriver, and the hyenas were actively celebrating the open meat buffet. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, and realized I’d woken briefly a bit earlier, to the sounds of the dying animal, and thought “Well, someone’s dying tonight, so it won’t be me!” And another time I’d awoken when someone whispered there was a lion. I had grabbed my binoculars to peer at the far off creature moving in the flashlight beam so far away, thinking I was looking at a lioness. But by the morning, the guides had ruled it was more likely the hyena I’d caught sight of.
Anyway, on night watch, it was my job to keep the small fire going, to keep the kettle water hot for tea, and to patrol the perimeter of our small camp with my big flashlight beam, ready to wake the guides if I saw eyes flashing back to me in the darkness above or around our camp. Really, though, night watch was about watching the critters come to the river – to drink, to hunt, to live. And to listen to the sounds of the bush alive in the dark.
There were times when the frog-song chorus laid down such a groovy beat, I broke into hip-hop moves, and was tempted to break our rule of quiet so I could boisterously rap about the bad-ass-ness of this wild world. But instead, for my night watch, I donned my wool cap, my fingerless gloves, and sipped my tea, praying that I wouldn’t have to number-number, because there was no way I was scaling the cliff in the middle of the night! When the moon and stars showed me that about an hour and a half had passed (we had no watches, devices, or any other way to tell “time”), I woke Naomi, the one who would enjoy watch after my rounds were over. Then I climbed back into my sleeping bag and passed out for a precious hour or two before a blazing gorgeous sunrise woke us all to watch the animals come down to the river for their morning drinks.
The next day brought even more adventures, as we deepened into the wild, and into the silence. Read on to continue the journey with me.
Entering the Wild
Packing for the trail, and it’s fun to get minimalist. It all has to fit in the provided backpack. Already provided is the bedroll, the sleeping bag, and some part of the kitchen to carry. For me, it’s a fifteen pound bag of food, and a giant spaghetti pot to set on the campfire. I use my packing skills to stack everything into my knapsack so I can still fit my blow-up mattress.
And already, my inner game is afoot. I realize I am one of the eldest in the group. I feel like an auntie. Others have the definition of muscle in their cute little shoulders and petite upper arms. Others seem like sweet little meerkats, and I’m the water buffalo. “Stop it,” I tell myself. I put my face to the sun, and breathe in the warm spicy African air. I remember that my great great grandfather was of West African descent. I picture a few of my African American women friends I admire most for their beauty and strength. They are not meerkats. They are strong, curvy thick, fit. “This is Africa and I am strong and thick and fit.” My mind has to go through this strange association game so that I can calm down and claim my body again. I realize I just expended energy just to make my own body OK. Is there a way to live without this game?
Before we begin our walking journey into the wild area, away from cars and roads and humans, we sit under a tree near an old watering hole. Baboons come to the edge of the clearing to watch us as we sit on our sleeping-roll part of our packs to enjoy the ritual of entering.
We are led by two local guides, trained wilderness experts who carry rifles that could take down an elephant if they absolutely had to. But we all know that they’d much rather take out a human poacher than ever harm one of the animals in this beautiful place. They assure us – it’s never before come to shooting an animal. But you can’t be too careful.
Zondi (pronounced ZOHN-Di) is a quiet smiling gentle soul in the body of a beautiful strong Zulu man. He is all quiet dignity and gentleness until you tease him enough to get him teasing back, and then he is guardian protector, patient teacher, and playful watchful companion.
Sotelo (pronounced See-TCH-eh-Loh) is a great big bear of a Zulu man, with a smile and infectious laugh that kept us giggling from the moment he entered the van, boisterously introducing himself with the widest smile I’ve ever seen on a man so big. He is also known affectionately as “Big-C,” because he really does seem like your jolly big breather. But Sotelo is also a man of sacred devotion. And as we sat under the tree by the watering hole, our nerves rippling through our bodies with anticipation of entering the wild, he reverently arranged some Helichrysum herb on his aluminum camp plate.
“My friends, I do not speak of this as just hiking. I enter this place with sacredness. This is a special place. Here, we share the land with the animals. We use their trails. We are quiet in our voices and our energy, so that we can meet the animals and not disturb them. They will be seen only if they choose to be seen. It is up to us to arrive with purity, with good energy.”
He lit the herbs on fire, allowing the smoke to billow up. I began to weep again, feeling the poignant power of this moment, and the commonality with my own shamanic practices.
“I gathered this herb from the mountains with my own hands. It is special to me. I am honored to share this here with you. Smudging is a ritual used in so many cultures. My culture, the Zulu, came here to South Africa, from as far north as southern Sudan. My ancestors drove out the indigenous San people who used to live here, driving them up into the difficult mountains. Everywhere, indigenous people have been driven off of their lands. But we still have some ways, like smudging, that we all use everywhere. Let this smudging ritual clear us, purify us, and allow us to enter this sacred wild place with the right energy.”
We passed the plate around, letting the herbal smoke flow through us as we purified ourselves. This was the beginning of our quieting. And then we silently helped each other haul the backpacks on, clicking the wide waist belts so the weight could ride on our hips, and we began our walk into the wild.
After this opening ceremony, the land would open to us. As I’ve experienced before, ceremony allowed us to drop into a new relationship with this sacred community of trees and critters and soil. The magic ramped up. I’ll tell you more about it…
Journey into the Wild
A day of preparation to enter the wilds, but already the critters are showing themselves!
A walk to the ocean alone.
Feet in course sand.
Prayers for grounding, setting my intention to embody.
A tall black man playing “catch me” with the waves like a child might.
Heron-like birds that caw like crows.
Monkeys playing in the park.
A black woman walking towards me on the sidewalk, she goes to the trouble to cross over, stepping FAR off the sidewalk as she passes me, avoiding eye contact. I am sadly reminded that this country is steeped in systemized racism, overtly like the south of the US.
Back at Teremok, two of my new sister friends engulfed in backgammon.
Chi Kung on the lawn, mountain and sky, giving and receiving.
Nut milk and salad and refreshing splashes from a second story hose.
A giggling gabbing 3-hour drive together in the van toward Imfolozi.
Even in the van, my inward learning begins. I notice how often we comment on everyone’s bodies. I am mentioned as one of the “voluptuous” ones. My breasts are mentioned. My long hair. Another woman’s hair length. Another woman’s butt. Another woman’s calves. As we drive and chatter like hens, I realize just how many comments and topics are reflections of judgement on others’ bodies and our own. Is it always like this? I imagine it is.
I realize that wild animals don’t care about the shape, size, or appearance of their bodies on the day to day. And when I’m fully in my experience of something fun, in the present moment of something intense, in the pleasure of something truly delicious, there is no space in me for such banal pickiness about appearance. So perhaps this is an issue of wildness vs tameness? Perhaps this is a cage of sorts? I ask myself what would it be like to release all perfectionism about my appearance.
It is commonplace for us women to complain about, compare about, categorize and judge ourselves and each other on our bodies, our beauties, our fashions, our appearance. Wow. What would we be talking about if we weren’t so obsessed? Granted, this is a group of women devoted to sensuality, to embodied power, to celebrating the body and its power to be a conduit of energy and vital force, as taught by Dr. Saida Desilets. So much of the chatter is connected to these practices and all they do for us. Yet, I couldn’t help but realize that the small triggers inside me were already tenderizing me for the inward shift and healing I’d requested.
Three hours in, and the van crosses through a fence. It’s time to enter the nature preserve. We just went from very tame to more wild. Yet we are still in a fenced park-like nature preserve.
And within the first thirty minutes, we are overwhelmed as the creatures appear around us as the van rolls along the gravel roads…
Bull Elephant, weeping from the eyes as he is in “myst,” his hormonally raging time for mating and asserting himself.
Family of white rhinos, with mothers and babies, and the bull rhino napping a distance off under a tree.
Impalas. Kudus. All the cute antelope.
Big male giraffe munching treetops.
Wide-winged dark vultures both circling and perched.
Water Buffalo, with their thick and beautiful curved horns, looking like muscled statues.
Pumba pig, which got us singing of course.
Baboons checking us out quizzically.
… And we haven’t even gotten out of the van yet!
These animals were living inside the fenced protected area, the area where many tourists come to snap pictures and gape from the open tops of tour jeeps and the rolled-down windows of white rental suvs. They are “wild” but they are still contained. And this is the case in almost all of the wild-game experiences in Africa. Fenced in areas with well supervised animal populations.
Ok, this is a fenced reserve. These animals are wild, yes, but also contained. Even so, I am weeping at the mere sight of these majestic creatures. “It already feels like enough,” I think. But that’s because we haven’t yet stepped foot out into the truly wild space – the unfenced preserve where the animals are at choice to come or go… the place where only those with permission may enter, and only on foot, and only with certified and well-armed guides, and only with promises to honor the animals, to use only their trails, and to leave no trace. That is where the big magic happens. And yet I am already dizzy with the grandeur of these ancient creatures, and the extreme privilege of witnessing their dignified beauty.
We arrive at the wilderness lodge, where we stay tonight before hitting the trail tomorrow. the caretaker there says there is a resident leopard. We will hear him tonight even if we do not see him. He was right. We heard his growls and chuffs from inside our bamboo huts. My belly grumbles in return. A small voice in my mind repeats, “Is it safe?” And my worry-wart mind stays busy envisioning the potential scenes of death-by-leopard I might possibly experience. Is it a primal fear, or a well-trained cultural program of fear of all wild things?
And how wild am I? I’m prone to worry and overthinking. I’m addicted to distraction and technology. I’m constantly nitpicking myself in a perfectionist spin. I have a lot of questions about wildness – the wildness of this land, and the wildness of myself in this body.
One thing is for certain. This was only the beginning. Tomorrow we would be sleeping under the African sky. No tents. No easy exit. We would have only what we carried in on our backs. My body would be tested with exertion and heat. But I’ve been backpacking before. I figured it would be kinda like that. Little did I know that every night in the wild would be accompanied by the rumblings, growls, and roars of giant cats. How does one get used to sleeping through that?
The next day, I would find out. Because that’s when I started walking into the wilds with 7 other amazing women and 2 local guides I would come to love.