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.