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.
Covid and deep tensions in the world are forcing us to adapt in unprecedented ways. The compounded stress of Covid and global tensions are forcing us to adapt without tools or references, in unprecedented conditions. The very core of who we are and what motivates us is being questioned. Most of our creature comforts; those of finance, security, comfort, convenience are being compromised and threatened in various degrees. For me, this is another validation of what I call the human animal's greatest illusion: we have mistaken comfort for quality of life. There can surely be no greater urgency to relook how we are living with nature than the present hour.
The natural world has its own will, its own direction and force, one that no man despite all the technology, science, money and intellect in the world can stop. Mankind's disrespect of this fundamental law has led to the present day … I hear of so many people referring to ‘how to save the planet’ which I consider another great illusion; the planet does not need saving, it is us who does. What requires conserving is our unity of thought, of mass action based on the sanctity of common sense But it is now time to be this leadership, one that can only come from people who understand the value and implications of living respectfully with nature. That everything is inter-connected, how goes it with nature, goes it with us.
One from the archives, so apologies for the low quality photo. But it's an amusing story. Some time ago I had an idea to install a cooking pot on the engine block of my trusty 2F Toyota landcruiser; I had never heard of the idea before so it made a whole heap of sense at the time and be as original as possible. In those days we referred to our walking trails as 'MouldBreakers" so the novel idea certainly had merit. Enter one long and convoluted discussion with old friend Beano later, and the design was done. Presto. An airtight pressure pot was mounted on the hot water line from the engine block to the radiator, so hot water was diverted into the pot on its way to the radiator to get cooled.
The more we went on safari, the more skilled we got at hauling out an assortment of hot snacks for sundowners or coffee breaks. In fact, I could work out a pre-dinner snack of pre-cooked chicken and veg ... it would take a drive to the airport to collect the clients, a return to the camp, and half way through a game drive to be ready to serve!
Lots of fun in those days. I doubt if modern scifi game viewers (or their warranties) would handle this. Rolling back the years.