BY MARCELL KAMPMAN
HAPPY PLACES PROJECT
Article published at www.medium.com/happyplaces-stories/how-alan-mcsmith-creates-nature-and-wilderness-space-bbbd950c2fe1
‘The wisdom of natural leadership’ defines what Alan McSmith is all about. He believes that you can develop a compass that helps you make choices that really matter by being in touch with your wisdom and intuition. This requires that you consciously pay attention to what touches and inspires you, make space for what is within you, and see nature not just as a place but as a way of life.
Kees Klomp was kind enough to connect us, so I was able to pick up Alan in the wilderness of Staphorst. Alan’s deep understanding of the wild and his readiness to share it with all who are interested make him a much sought after wildlife and wilderness guide and speaker. After we introduced ourselves while driving, we continued the conversation about mammoths, the land, and the history, which inspired me to head towards Schokland, a former island in the polder where there is a small museum with an exhibition of natural history legacies from a distant past. Including locally found remains of mammoths and hippos.
In my presentations, I sometimes say: if you want to know all there is to know about lions, go to the jungle, not to the zoo.’ (I know, lions don’t live in the jungle, even though they are considered to be the king of the jungle.) Point is, if you really want to know what’s going on, what’s true, and how something works, what people feel and think, you must go out and ask or experience it. Or, in this case, you can also meet with Alan. Then you learn all about lions, nature, the wilderness, the wisdom of the Bushmen who pass it on from generation to generation. Fortunately, we also recorded a piece of that wisdom.
Maybe it is a good thing to start at the beginning and understand more about space. I think it is; when we ask ten people sitting around this table today: ‘What is space to you?’ you get ten different answers or definitions. I guess the core of my work is always ‘coming back to yourself’. That is where natural leadership differs from conventional or organisational leadership. The space within yourself is my reference point in how I would choose to define space. For example, consider this: if you imagine that most people in modern society are either living in the future, worrying about what will happen tomorrow or in the next five minutes, or living in the past. In other words: they are replaying, refocussing on all the information, the data, and experiences they have undergone in their lives. And they’re trying to connect the two. In other words, they learn from their experiences to project or navigate into the future. And there is very little time to spend in the present moment. For me, what the wilderness experience does, and why nature is incredibly important in modern society, is that there is a little space between the past and the future, between our imagination and memory. You can literally come home to yourself and make an appointment with life in that space. It is there where this original creative inspiration emerges. Then you are not influenced by your memory or by your future. Both worldviews of landscapes will define; the inspiration will emerge because of them, but not due to them. Spending some empty times or empty moments in nature creates this sacred space, which for me is crucial in understanding the direction of modern leadership — that is, coming back home to yourself first.
For me, what the wilderness experience does, and why nature is incredibly important in modern society, is that there is a little space between the past and the future, between our imagination and memory. You can literally come home to yourself and make an appointment with life in that space. It is there where this original creative inspiration emerges.
Reconnection space. Our relationship with nature is fundamental to our sense of wellbeing or stillness in the modern world. We’re sitting here at Schokland, in the Netherlands, a remarkable place. It is one of the areas in the Netherlands where I feel the most connected. I just walked through the museum and touched the tusk of a woolly mammoth that died here some eleven thousand years ago. That immediately rolls the clock back; it reconnects me with the sense of nature and timelessness here in the Netherlands. I refer to a reconnection, not a connection, because I believe it is already there. This is the landscape in which modern man developed. Since things have recently changed in our development, the urban man has little time or opportunity to connect with nature. We don’t even come to places like this and spend a few hours in this sacred space. So for me, it is crucial to check in with myself, slow the pace down, learn from the past, and understand the implications of what has been happening in the world to get to this present moment. It is about going back in time and possibly, or hopefully, breaking the cycle of not learning from the past and not discovering how to live with more peace and more sense of wellbeing with our natural world.
Finding that moment, having a cup of tea with yourself in that space, treasuring that moment of a sunrise or a bird landing on your washing line, or spending some time listening to your friend, partner, or wife — and then really listening, is a wilderness moment.
Wilderness space. Whether you live in a high-rise building in Amsterdam or in the middle of the Kalahari desert, the concept of nature is universal. My office is in the Kalahari. I’m blessed to have the lions, the leopards and the elephants all around all the time. In Amsterdam, it is a little different. But finding that moment, having a cup of tea with yourself in that space, treasuring that moment of a sunrise or a bird landing on your washing line, or spending some time listening to your friend, partner, or wife — and then really listening, is a wilderness moment. So many of us have a conversation and prepare what we’re doing to reply or respond. Try this, for example: spend a day saying 50% less than you normally would. Try that. You would be amazed. You would be empowered by what you say and don’t say and how much you will discover and learn about the people around you. Silence, for me, is a keystone of nature. I can say nothing in 150 different languages. So spending time and making yourself available to the information and what people are saying and doing around you is a wilderness experience. Those experiences are all around us, all the time.
Connection space. The morning spent with Marcel here at Schokland was my first experience in the Netherlands to visit an archaeological museum and find these old stone tools, bones and artefacts from a time gone past. I come from South Africa, which is still a rather young nation in Europe. I stayed in a house that was 300 years old. I saw an old church that was almost a thousand years old. For me, that was different because we don’t have that feeling of medieval history. In Africa, there is recent history, or we have prehistory. For example, in the Kalahari in Botswana, there are a lot of stone tools that are picked up. The item I show here is one such artefact. It is a stone shard, possibly coming from the late stone age; it is possibly 20,000 years old. It is an artefact, possibly dropped by an ancestor of mine.
What it, for me, immediately does is that it connects people to the land. I often say, living in the modern society, every generation of people that are born or perhaps every conversation that is had, every Whatsapp or email message that is sent that is not paying attention to the wellbeing of the planet is almost a step away from this ancient connection that we all have. The connection is through people and the understanding that people are a part of that landscape, as are the birds, the elephants, the lions and the woolly mammoths that once were. I think it is fundamentally important to find our way back to nature and to find our way home. The Bushmen in the Kalahari represent that, being living stone age people. They are living museums. They have lived an unchanged lifestyle for the past 40,000 to 50,000 years. When you’re spending time with traditional bushmen or elders, you feel you are going back in time and accessing this ancient wisdom and knowledge we once connected to. We are all trying to find our way home in many ways. For me, visiting the Bushmen and the ancient landscapes of Africa is ground zero, I guess, in that process.
Perhaps the first or most fundamental layer of space is the space we have within ourselves. The mental space we have is the space we have within ourselves. It is an area we can explore inwardly, a non-material understanding of what is going on. No one else knows that space; there is only one set of tracks.
Inner space. To cover what this concept of space is and how it influences our energy and our connections with the people around us — not only people, animals too. I think it is important to understand that we are all connected. Separateness is an illusion. How I choose to conduct my days has an influence and consequences on what happens around me, on the energy that the day brings and on the actions with people. So for me, it is a vital part. Perhaps the first or most fundamental layer of space is the space we have within ourselves. The mental space we have is the space we have within ourselves. It is an area we can explore inwardly, a non-material understanding of what is going on. No one else knows that space; there is only one set of tracks. The concept of natural leadership is an inward journey; you are exploring that sacred space within yourself. And then you play it forward. You merge from there into the bigger world. The bushmen always say: ‘We live in two worlds. There is the little world, the inner world. It exists because we exist. And then there is the big world, the external one. That existed long before we were born and long after we die.’ So it is interfacing that space and traversing between these two areas that is perhaps the art of living. I believe the energy becomes positive if you move through them with ecological dignity. It becomes empowering and it becomes enlightening. But if you move between those two worlds with arrogance, then the opposite happens.
The bushmen always say: ‘We live in two worlds. There is the little world, the inner world. It exists because we exist. And then there is the big world, the external one. That existed long before we were born and long after we die.’ So it is interfacing that space and traversing between these two areas that is perhaps the art of living.
Space for quiet. What I had with the elephant encounter was an example of that. I could consciously blur the boundaries between my little world and my big world. I had no idea where my boundary ended and where the elephant’s boundary began. You can see it in the video that we recorded from it. One of us, myself or the elephant, becomes mindful of it. We manage to step outside that zone, and the elephant charges again. The tension rises. And then we both can find a frequency. If you are trying to understand the people around you and connect meaningfully with them, you must tiptoe through this space between these two worlds. And be alert, conscious, and aware of the information coming towards you.
I have always believed that if you move slower, say less, listen more and listen intently, you can pick up a lot of information about what people are expecting, what mood they may be in, or what has happened during the day to that person. Try being compassionate and empathetic towards that space before you barge in and maybe demand something or ask for something that might not be sustainable. All this can come from paying attention to nature and spending time on your own, in quiet places, listening to the birds, listening to the wind, and feeling the change in pressure before the rain comes in.
If you are trying to understand the people around you and connect meaningfully with them, you must tiptoe through this space between these two worlds. And be alert, conscious, and aware of the information coming towards you.
Looking at the trees around us here, you can see on the tree behind that the foliage is denser and thicker on the southern side of the tree. The tree is, in a sense leaning towards the south. What is happening there is if you imagine that each leaf of a tree is a solar panel, for the tree to create enough energy to sustain itself, it needs to have as many solar panels as possible in the right position. You need the scaffolding and support system in the right position to do that. So the tree grows bigger, taller, and often thicker on the sun-facing southern side. If you spend a quiet time walking in the fields, working on the farmlands and stop and notice these little things, you’d be pleasantly surprised how much other information and subtle sights you never noticed before come rushing in. A lot can happen from that.
Space for infinite wonder. Spending time with busmen and natural people, and I believe there is a Bushman or Bushwoman in all of us, many things come to you. One of them is this understanding that human intelligence and intellect are infinite. We will never stop wanting to discover things. We are curious by nature, by default. The information around us is constantly interesting and inspiring if we take the time to listen to it.
I have to pay tribute to many different people I’ve learned from, mentors or inspired me. One of them is Satguru. He does have his critics. But he once referred to this idea, that the human mind will never stop exploring by nature of the universe and how nature works, which is completely infinite. We will never be able to understand everything. If that is the case, then we are all in a state of confusion, which is probably apt for the modern world. He says that we have no choice, that we are perpetually confused. The only choice we have is whether we are happily or miserably confused. I choose the first. There is a sense of wonder around that nature exists. I don’t have a problem not knowing; I don’t have a problem with mystery. I can sit on this rock all day, listen to the wind, and watch the birds fly by. For me, it is not relevant what kind of bird it is or its biology. It is a sense of endless wonder that nature brings. Inspiring a meaningful and sustainable curiosity is essential now in our modern world and examining our relationship with the planet moving forward.
There is a lot of negativity and pessimism. We all understand the state of the world we’re in. Climate change, our social problems. The other side of the coin concerning nature is wars for territory and resources. I choose not to dwell on pessimism and consider a way forward. For me, the way forward might not be where you think it is. It could be 180° away from where you think it is. It could be internally, having a cup of tea with yourself to chart the way forward. That is what nature and natural leadership bring me.
Marcel, to conclude, what I would like to share with you is this patch. In it is a stone. It is a little gift that I picked up from our garden in Africa. There is a little stone in here. It is not a diamond; far more valuable than that. So whenever you need to check out or spend a little time with yourself, have some tea with yourself to make an appointment with life; this will help you find it. It is a sense of timelessness.
LEARNING FROM THE PAST: THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF COMMUNITY ECOLOGY
The San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert of Botswana and eastern Namibia are considered to be the oldest known culture on earth. Quite literally the remnants of the stone age that has remained unchanged for some 40 000 years. Although most are illiterate, their signatures in the form of exquisite rock art are widespread. Ancient San artists and storytellers have adorned caves and hills throughout southern Africa offering us tantalising clues of a deeply fascinating lifestyle.
In modern society, I believe that it would be of infinite value to acknowledge this culture for what it is; a connection with our origins and our genetic pasts. To pay homage to the Bushwoman or Bushman within us all, and the landscape of Africa as the landscape of the human soul. The one from which we all emerged. And why this ancient culture, now sadly confined to small isolated communities deep within the Kalahari thousands of miles away, can still offer much to our modern world. A world, its fair to say, in urgent need of healing and inspiration. For a moment consider the following.
In Bushman society very little happens that is not community orientated. Games, dances, songs and rituals are all inclusive, embracing the fabric of togetherness and teamwork. Competitions as we know them today, do not exist. The fastest runner, best musician, dancer or healer are embraced and celebrated for the gift and talent they have. This without envy as it strengthens the ecology of the community.
These time honoured traditions that have bonded the community without exclusion for thousands of years, have ensured that each person and personality has been embraced into the clan. As a result conflict, social tension or personal agendas did not gain traction and were defused with empathy.
Survival as a tracker-hunter-gatherer in the Kalahari requires a great deal of knowing, skill and resourcefulness. Hunters would routinely share their knowledge and information and the most skilled bow-makers, arrow-makers and fibre spinners would co-create together. A hunting party is about the sum of the parts, with each team member essential to the outcome of a successful hunt. Perhaps the most specialised trade of them all was the sourcing of the toxic beetle larvae to produce arrow poison, and is a highly skilled pastime. Locating the larvae at the right time, and producing the lethal poison in the correct doses is one such example of the brilliance of their ancestral knowledge.
Bushman society, as basic as it may seem in the context of our modern variation, is actually a highly sophisticated system of intricate knowledge, strength and support, of compassion and resolve, and of authenticity. Most importantly however, it is one of total freedom to proclaim who and what you are within the community! Insecurities and feelings of guilt or inadequacy are pretty much foreign concepts. This is connected simplicity.
This, for me, addresses the fundamental component of San society and why they have survived as a culture for thousands of years: strength may lie in an individual’s resourcefulness, gifts and talents. But power lies in the combined impact of these.
In order to survive in such demanding and harsh environments, resilience is perhaps the keystone. And is it indeed any different in our societies of today? We may no longer live as San hunters, but we all remain hunters of sort, gatherers, trackers, nurturers and craftsmen. This in our world of escalating unpredictability and turbulence. In fact I would suggest that despite all our comforts and conveniences, not to mention the technological advancement at our fingertips, our world is far more sinister and dangerous than that of the Kalahari.
And to navigate meaningfully and with grace through our world, we should re-discover how the Bushman do the same through theirs. How they cope with uncertainty and are able to remain resilient in unforeseen circumstances. Perhaps the most fundamental definition of resilience is the capacity to remain motivated and empowered by your own self. To remain true to our own selves and life’s energies. This when faced with fear in life. Or perhaps when the systems, structures or environments that you are a part of seem impervious to change when every cell of your being recognises the urgent need for it. What then? How do you remain motivated and focussed, true to your self? A short term solution may come in the form of compulsive behaviour and stress management. Is it possible that the escalating cases of stress related illnesses, prescriptions of medication and even substance abuse around the world, is a reflection our inability to cope naturally? Sustainable resilience, as we can learn from Bushmen, comes only from within.
Perhaps a clue lies in the core concept of ecology, and what it represents for us. Lets refer to “ecology” as the standard operating system of the universe, and there are some basic laws that govern everything. Including our societies and our personal lives.
Firstly, our natural resources are limited and we must live less consumptively.
Secondly, the law of inter-connectedness reminds us that we are personally accountable for our impact on the natural world, our immediate society and a broader global community. Our legacy, in other words.
Thirdly, the law of biodiversity reminds us that the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more vibrant, productive and resilient it becomes.
While these principles certainly apply to our impact on nature and our natural resources, perhaps they also apply to the outcomes we demand on our own selves, our immediate family, our friends, colleagues and communities. What the Bushmen teach us is that the individual is the first priority, that each person is uniquely creative, resourceful and an essential part of the ecosystem. The way of living necessitates this without ego, arrogance or self indulgence. And that the more aligned you are with yourself, the more meaningful impact you have on the group. Traditions, rites of passage, rituals and superstitions are conserved and the more successful and harmonious the group becomes.
The consequence of this is what can be referred to as ‘community ecology’ which flows naturally within us and from us. Just as ripples on the surface of a pond. The impact of authentic intuitive individuals is the stone cast into the water, and like the ripples, each conscious thought or deed becomes the community. After all, should the collective consciousness of society be determined by the people within it, or the consciousness of people being determined by society?
The economy of the Bushmen society, although somewhat different to modern times, is based on this premise; that it all depends on the partnerships between awakened individuals, alert to meaningfully maintaining their own self and space. And a hunt was, and still is, considered one of the pivotal events in this process, one alive to all ancient tradition and ritual. In the heat and harshness of the Kalahari, both the incredible physical and mental endurance of the hunters are tested to breaking limits. A hunt is not only about providing protein, but also a sacred rite of entry into a state of timelessness, one without boundary between the past, present and future. One that provided a great sense of meaning and identity for each person. And of course, uniting the relationships between them.
Its easy to understand why traditional hunts are of incredibly important spiritual significance to the clan. Hunters had to compete with lions, leopards and cheetahs for survival and would pay homage not only to their own ancestors, but also the animal spirits of each steenbok, eland, kudu or springhare that fell to their arrows or traps. Each kill was made entirely out of necessity, and for Bushmen, the great law of the bush tolerates this necessity if done with respect, but does not tolerate any disrespectful or unnecessary killing or destruction of any kind. It is believed that should this great law be broken, the clan would be at risk of perilous consequences. The rains would fail, hunting and gathering would become difficult, illness and conflict would prevail, or the great mother would stop providing for them in some way.
Although our hunts may no longer be in pursuit of meat, leather and sustenance, they are very much in pursuit of a bigger and better economy. Of profits and possessions. Status and resource. Of wars to claim territory. Have we disrespected the great law of community ecology?
For me, spending time with San Bushmen in the Kalahari reminds us of this. It is an enlightening journey, a completely natural comforting step into the past, and a glance into the smokey mirror of time. In the reflection I recognised not only myself, but my own ancestry, and felt connected once again to the landscapes of our origins.
Published by www.newfinancialforum.nl
I’m writing from an ancient land. My office for a while is a remote dusty pan, deep within the wilds of the Kalahari. What little water that is left is drying fast. A tall and sprawling camel-thorn tree offers welcome shade against the searing sun as a flock of buffalo weaver birds flutter overhead, ever active tending their enormous communal nest and the precious chicks within. My colleagues are the wild animals around me. There are no other inhabitants here for as far as I can drive in a day in any direction, but it’s the space and solitude that are my closest and most comforting companions.
I am alone but not lonely.
At the pan, I notice the footprints of a lion. Last night he had been lying in the grass waiting for a herd of kudu to come and drink. His tracks indicate how he had stalked, waited and charged, and the chaotic signs in the sand indicate how the kudu were quicker, how they turned, jumped and fled, surviving for another day. My senses are alert and focussed. Where is the lion now I wonder, and what do I need to know about him?
Pausing, I look up again at the distant clouds ever thickening, and a changing wind tickles my cheeks, arms and legs. A sign of impending rain, the lifeblood of the desert, and a gift from the heavens that will soon transform this landscape into one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on the planet. You see, the Kalahari is never dead and even amidst the driest of times, restoration and regeneration is only some rainfall away.
My campsite is a long way from central Europe, and perhaps centuries apart in terms of culture, comfort and convenience. Let’s call this, for now, progress. For there is no sense of contemporary history here; no five-hundred year old buildings or medieval fortresses, nor are there two thousand year old foundations and walls of the Roman Empire. Out here, there is a sense of pre-history that stretches back considerably longer, all the way back to the origin of us all.
If Europe is old, then Africa is ancient. Stone tools unearthed from the desert are some 200 000 years old, and most scientists, palaeontologists and geneticists agree that it is within this secluded and desolate outback that the human animal, as we know us, emerged.
Quite literally, the motherland.
And as this sense of ancientness in the spirit of the place is palpable, perhaps it is the awareness of the present moment that is most invigorating.
For if this place formed the outer landscape of our ancestors, so did it mould our inner landscapes. And if we consider that where the human race is at present, our industrialised modern age has occurred very recently on our journey. I would suggest that over 95% of our genetic memory, of what defines us as a species, is rooted within a hunter-gatherer origin. Or, within a state of harmony with nature. This means that the tracking of animals and the attention to sounds, smells, feelings and intuitions of the environment around us was absolutely fundamental for our survival.
Modern society, although not on the track of antelope to hunt or predators to avoid, are still searching for the tracks of survival in other ways. Is there not an inner tracker in us all?
Tracking is all about paying attention, about being available to explore the processes of life. And I believe it is not possible to separate this very process, with who we are as a species. If I can explain further: if you find a lion track, the information you see is that what has been left behind (the past). But in order to find or understand the lion, you are initiating an outcome, which is something ahead (the future). So in order to understand the process, the past and the future cannot be separated.
Tracking places us in the present moment, allows us an opportunity to peek back and learn from the past, and simultaneously glance ahead and scan the future. This is the principle of it.
There is no co-incidence that the most dedicated trackers and community leaders, are those who tread lightly on the earth, passing through a sacred space with a deep sense of knowing and attention. With an ecologically inspired sense of personal leadership. According to The Oxford Dictionary, the term leadership can be somewhat simplistically defined as the state or position of being a leader.
But there is surely more to it than this.
Perhaps the very notion of tracking suggests that the first track of leadership is a step within our own selves and a meaningful encounter there. Back to this state of harmony with nature. First of recovery, then of restoration. I believe that the impact of nature in our life cannot be separated from our spirituality, and deeper awareness of the world around us. By sinking down in the stillness, we can empower ourselves by listening to our own hearts. It could then be possible that our values and priorities may change and a sense of clarity and possibility may emerge.
There is a shift from a need to be heard to a willingness to listen. The consumptive utilisation of not only the resources of our natural world, but the resources of our own self, becomes increasingly relevant. Perhaps only through this elevated awareness can we lead intuitively and innovatively.
There is a Bushman belief that suggests that when you are tracking an animal you are symbolically attaching it to a piece of string. The animal is on one end, and you are holding the other. So when the animals moves, you feel the changes in the string. The presence of another, a change in behaviour, a gust of wind or relevant birdsong are all resonated through it. The connection becomes complete.
Indigenous trackers may follow the trails of eland, rodents, predators or insects, as opposed to perhaps your more familiar ones of business trends, costs, customer demands, fitness levels, infection rates or academic progress. We are all trackers on the different tracks of life, and while the quarries may vary the principles remain the same.
The buffalo weavers stop calling and the wind picks up. The smell of rain is strong in the air. And as the clouds build in the distance, I turn my thoughts to my upcoming mid-year speaking tour to the Netherlands. I am truly privileged to have been asked to share my story of stories at some prestigious leadership development events.
Soon, a long way from the Kalahari, I will be following tracks of anticipation into the jungles of your land, treading lightly along the way, threading our worlds together.
It’s fair to say that mankind is the most advanced and intellectual species ever known. And it is also probably correct to suggest, that for most purposes, we have been brought to our knees by a virus. Something that is technically not even alive. How did this happen? How could we have strayed so far from the blueprints of nature?
Over the past 18 months or so, the Covid pandemic has settled like a thick fog. The social and biological impact has hit hard, personalising the concept of ecological checks and balances for all of us. And as we slowly emerge from the fog, our vision clears and our perceptions focus; that we need to re-evaluate our relationships with the natural world.
This relationship with the earth has been the focal part of my work as a wilderness guide now for over three decades. By sharing and facilitating meaningful encounters with nature and the iconic big game of Africa, my inspirations are largely drawn from spending time with people who are considered to be the oldest known culture and deepest pool of ancestral knowledge on earth; the San Bushman in Botswana.
Much can be learned from ‘The First People’ and their partnerships with the environment, in which the earth is viewed as a mother and all species of life are accepted as essential and dignified role players. Communities of expert hunters and trackers, skilled pharmacists extracting medicines from the veld, and incredibly advanced traditional healers who offer cures for ailments ranging from leg fractures to headaches. From musicians, dancers, poets and painters, the soul of cooperation was the centre pivot.
This within the deep Kalahari, one of the most challenging and harshest landscapes on earth. All are bound by a social fabric woven from the relationship with the earth, one intricately stitched together by the values of empathy, humility and a deep sense of knowing.
The notions of conservation, environmental sustainability or regeneration that are on the lips of modern society, now rightly so more than ever before, have never even existed and are alien to Bushmen communities. In fact, in the San dialects, there is no word for conservation as there was never any need to discuss it. It just was. Default. And it is the same in any traditional or indigenous community around the world, who all share a fundamental belief that the earth is life: that the less you take the less you need to replace. Again, there is a common thread weaving through their respective cultures that are separated by great distances. For them all, conservation is not an entity, an act or a thought, but a declaration of validity. Spending time in this ancient space, regardless of who we are, what we do or where we are from, re-connects us with these values. And as this immersion with nature cannot be separated from our origins, I specifically refer to this process as a ‘re- connection’ as the connection is already there. Like coming home.
But how is this relevant in our world of 2021, specifically in Holland and within the setting of your social, professional and personal lives?
For a start, please allow me to quantify what I mean.
30 years ago it would have been incredibly challenging to have transparent conversations about this. The majority of people I met ‘did not get’ the deeper meanings of nature and leadership. Now however, and I believe the pandemic has a great deal to do with this, it is far easier to speak about balance and harmony with nature, even to complete strangers. As if trickling streams of awareness now have converged into a flowing river, a river that is gaining strength and force. A flow that recognises that, as a society we need to live differently with our natural world. Less consumptively. Less compulsively.
Perhaps though, the greatest challenge we face in fully embracing this process is believing that somehow our lives or livelihoods will suffer. That our sense of well being, personally and professionally, is perceived to be at risk by this concept of ‘less is more.’ That our traction within the development of society, and therefore our opportunities within it, will be under threat.
This, for me, is the mindset of ego-centric communities, those who centre around ‘what’s in it for me,’ as opposed to the ‘what’s in it for us’ worldview of eco-centric thinking. Reconnecting with our own wild natures and the wise Bushman tracker who still resides within us all can activate much thought, word and deed. And change, ever constant in the Bushman society rooted in this soul of cooperation, may not necessarily be challenging and unrealistic, but a completely natural process. Letting go of stuff may be more organic than you think.
With Mother Nature, as our silent protector, we are offered the sense of well being we crave. And her restorative quality provides meaningful and lasting effects on our own self-discovery. It provides us with a sense of belonging amidst a rapidly changing landscape, and affords us a space to find balance within the changes, in both our personal and professional environments. Through this we can turn the trajectory of what we call progress toward one with a capacity to innovate, restore and be ecologically astute. To integrate the misguided genius of mankind, that of science, engineering and technology for what scientific discovery was originally intended for: exploration, and not exploitation. If we take our lead from the wild, a remarkably different future is within reach. After all, everything we consider should have the environment in mind.
Nature and what she represents, is a healing and redemptive place. Then, by virtue, it ceases to be a place but something far more valuable than that. We can’t go to it as it is in us. And we are it. It is something that requires protection at all costs. Regardless if it is ancient Africa or forest, mountain, coast or river, we emerge from it as default conservationists once again, alive and intelligent to the implications of tinkering with her ways. And while modern life, science, technology, communication and education may provide us with the information we require to navigate through our world, is this in fact enough to prevail? While knowledge comes from assimilating the data around us, knowing comes from an entirely different space. It emerges from within, it does not arrive from without. Look deep into the eyes of a seasoned Bushman tracker, a wise Indian shaman or an aboriginal elder and you will see the difference.
Perhaps this is the essence of where modern man is at the present hour. That despite all that modern ways have given us, our comforts, conveniences and consequences, we simply don’t ‘know’ enough.
All of her fluid, languid and deliberate behaviour indicates that she is hyper-curious and very relaxed. An acknowledgement of the location of each person is further wonderful evidence of elephant’s highly advanced cognitive ability to process information around them. All of this was intentional. She approached to discover this.
This for me is about communication and acceptance across a divide. Tantalising proof of elephant's capacity to cross the line between what we may first deem logical, and what is undeniably not.
Are these not the virtues we normally confine to being human?
If so, then this surely suggests we can discover a great deal by paying more attention to subtle signs, by tuning into a deeper and more meaningful awareness of our natural world. This can change your life!
Filmed on a specialist elephant safari at Umlani Bushcamp In association with Elephants Alive
In order to regenerate and restore our social or financial structures, we need to take instruction from the healing virtues of nature. But how? By first finding stillness and inspiration within ourselves perhaps.
The following article addressed this and was published by Willem Vreeswijk's NEW FINANCIAL FORUM
Visit Willem's website at: www.newfinancialforum.nl
original article visible at https://www.newfinancialforum.nl/bestanden/Alan_McSmith-purpose_in_praktijk.pdf
Photo credit: Kendal Quicke
NATURE & 2021
Okavango Delta, Botswana. Even the trees seem wilder here. The moon is high and we all opt for a glass of wine at the fire. There is no better place to celebrate the day’s meaningful encounters so I pull the canvas chairs closer, and stoking the flames with some small pieces of leadwood, the warm glow of the embers creates a cozy translucent cocoon around the campfire and forest behind us. Even the giant fig trees, towering over the tented lounge and the mercury moonlit floodplain beyond, seem to be leaning in and listening. It’s a beautiful scene, and peering into the flames we sit in a mellow, comfortable and contented silence. Soon, the stories begin.
This is my office, or a part of it anyway. I’ve lived and worked as a wilderness and wildlife guide for over three decades, and the sights, smells, impressions and energy of wild Africa have settled so deep within that wilderness is no longer a place, its a way of life. And of all the impressions, and there are countless that can emerge, one seems to stand out: that there is something more to the experience than spellbinding outer landscapes. The beautiful panoramas and natural splendour are one thing, but there is a soul song here, a melody that awakens a profound dance of the inner landscapes too. In fact, I cannot be sure where my job ends and my personal space begins, or where the boundary of my office and my home actually is. Or if it even exists at all. My life is a declaration to share both, and to respectfully suggest that the human experience cries out for harmony with nature, and that our natural world should not be a thing apart, but a living comfort that feeds our souls.
This now more than ever before. Because is it not true to say that our world is currently being fundamentally transformed by both social and ecological forces that can no longer be ignored? The global pandemic we all face has realigned the fabrics of our societies in inconceivable ways and we are all personally and professionally navigating though a stormy sea of changing tides. I believe that it is during these traverses that a re-examination of how, who and why we are with ourselves, our society, and our environment will naturally occur.
For when uncertainty is the only constant, the human condition yearns for a simple solace: stillness. A safe harbour, a sense of calmness. Call it what you may, but this desire for stillness allows us an opportunity to download, to unwind. To create a little distance between the thoughts of our past and the projections of our future and to be more attentive to what is in the moment. It is in this redemptive space we can restore our own self, and from where original thoughts, deeds and energies consciously emerge.
Perhaps it fair to suggest that in this desire for stillness, we have gotten little lost along the way. We assume that accessories, possessions or arrangements in our lives would do it for us, that “stuff” around us would provide peace of mind. I am certainly not suggesting that we should not enjoy our successes or fruits of hard work whatsoever, but perhaps modern society as a whole could reflect on the balance between these two components: the desire to acquire wealth and accessories, versus the desire to be able to step back in the moment and acquire stillness.
For me, this is where nature comes in. The wilderness experience and regular quality time in nature, on her terms that is, slows our life down. It restores and awakens within us meaningful levels of awareness and perception. It slows everything down. By paying conscious attention to the environment around us we can be both humbled and inspired by the intricacies of life, those that are restorative in nature, awakening our potential to integrate more social and ecological responsibility in what we aspire to acquire.
But with the pace of modern society, we are swamped by information and stimulation around us. We may mistake this instant availability for comfort or solace, or perhaps efficiency. With little respite from omnipresent social media and the volumes of mass information that we absorb, perhaps we need to become more consciously aware of the effect this has on us. We invariably then live either in the past (memory), or the future (imagination). Nature can create some distance between what we think, and what we think we think. Stillness is not about what has happened in our past, or what could happen in the future. It's in the moment.
I’m not for one second suggesting you need to travel to Africa to experience this. Or do you need to drop out of society and become a recluse, or that these moments can only be confined to your leisure or holiday time. They are around us all day, every day: walking barefoot on a beach, chirping birds, the feel of sunshine on your face on a cold morning, sailing, listening to giggling kids, a forest trail, the scent of rain, or gazing into the eyes of your loved one. For a moment please pause from reading, close your eyes and think of a time when you were in such a space … how did it make you feel? Return to the campfire of your mind and spend some time there for a while …
Is this not the most primitive, normal, natural and regenerative instinct we have? The capacity to sink down into stillness and silence, the universal dialect of attention and becoming empowered with the ancient art of perception. To rethink life. To tune into the space around you, the requirements of others and your own life energies and priorities. Natural, self-inspired and inspiring leadership is about a quiet interpretation of these, and how to translate them into meaningful personal and professional encounters. But first, its about coming close to your own self as I don’t believe its possible to have a meaningful connection with others around you, without first having a meaningful connection with yourself. Transformation is first an internal process and only once you become more visible to yourself, can you become more visible to others. I believe that this process is so deeply rooted in our DNA it perhaps defines us as being human.
If this resonates with you then it could be said that the conservation of our natural world is not just about landscapes and resources. It is about this fundamental inspirational reconnection with our spiritual home, one that solitude and stillness provides. It is about a repaired connection with the basic laws of ecology that are pertinent to mankind on this planet: firstly, how perceptive am I when interacting with my own self, others and the natural world? And secondly, what is the level of positive impact that my thoughts, words and deeds regenerate?
Two years ago last month, legendary Namibian desert elephant Voortrekker, pioneer of the Damaraland desert elephant population was shot. He was killed as a trophy, under the guise of being a problem animal. Another casualty of that day was man’s inability to associate Voortrekker with sustainable tourism value, community benefit, ecological integrity or a sense of wonder. Instead he was killed for short term greed.
Some friends have asked me to re-post an article that I wrote a few days before the incident. Unfortunately it turned out to be prophetic. Here it is .....
Amidst an iconic and ever-changing desert landscape, legendary Namibian elephant bull Voortrekker has a story to tell. It goes something like this.
During the turbulent war years of southern Africa that preceded Namibian independence, the desert elephant population was virtually decimated. Some found refuge from the poacher’s guns deep within the remote and desolate gorges of Kaokoveld in the north. As a result, the Ugab and Huab River systems, the southernmost ephemeral waterways of Damaraland, were devoid of elephants for well over a decade.
Voortrekker, one of the bulls to trek north during the conflict years, returned home in the early 2000’s, commencing a relay of south-bound expeditions, penetrating deeper and deeper into the dry and uncertain landscape before commencing with an epic traverse through to the relative bounty of the Ugab River. It was a marathon across arid plains and ancient craters that would ultimately redefine what we know of elephant endurance, intuition and behaviour. Just how he navigated, or knew where to find water, is anyone’s guess.
But his legacy does not end there.
For over two successive summer seasons he returned north, returning each time to the Ugab with a small family unit in tow. An elephant patriarch. These elephants are still resident in the region and have formed the nucleus of three distinct breeding herds, making the Ugab/Huab Rivers perhaps the most viable desert elephant habitats in the world. Voortrekker continues as the Godfather, a true legend of the Ugab. His ancestral knowledge has been passed down to a new generation of desert dwellers. What a legacy!
For me, all of this addresses one of the most crucial fallacies of elephant conservation, trophy hunting, and the notion of sustainable consumption: that older bulls have no value to an elephant community and can be hunted under the banner of ecological benefit.
This is a fundamental calamity.
If Voortrekker’s right of way is conserved, then so too will a vast landscape of conservation, employment, education, financial viability , hope and possibility.
ELEGEND. He is actually showing us the way if we take a moment to realise it.
And is precisely why Voortrekker’s story needs to be told to a wider audience. I invite you to share widely. Elephant, generally, are considered as a keystone of an ecological circuit, but THIS elephant could be considered as a keystone of elephant consciousness.
READ MORE >>>>. https://www.alanmcsmith.com/blog/june-13th-20214530153
With the pace of modern society and the availability of information and stimulation around us, we allow ourselves to be swamped by social media triggers. We may mistake this instant availability of information for comfort or solace, or perhaps efficiency. Necessary data in order to keep pace with our society and up with the Jones's. We invariable then live either in the past (memory), or the future (imagination) and we bypass the opportunity for a sense of stillness which exists in appreciating the moment.
I believe that the greatest desire that drives or motivates a human being, and particularly within challenging times, is the desire for stillness. To be peaceful in the moment.
To create some distance between what we think, and what we think what we should think of.
This is what nature does, it can create restorative moments to sink down within. Stillness is not about what has happened in our past, or what could happen in the future. It's in the moment.
Doesn't our world need more of this?
After many long hours of training courses, interpretation safaris and motivational talks in support of elephant conservation, it’s all about the share ... to platform a higher degree of awareness.Not only for the sake of elephant conservation, but for the sake of the degradation of the human spirit that occurs without the influence of wilderness.
Empathetic encounters with wild elephant like this are incredibly rewarding. And therefore, humbling. The feed the source of commitment and empathy to all nature, the folk around us and our environment. This in turn inspires conservation ambassadors.