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.