I wake to the alarming call of a bird. At least I think it is a bird. It is an unknown sound to me as I am far from home in the South African bush. I struggle to my feet, dazed and confused by jet lag; reeling from my experience in the airport the day before. I step into the shower, quickly get ready and start preparing my video equipment to capture the events of the day. As I connect the external microphone to my camera my mind works frantically through the events that transpired the day before. Overwhelmed by the negative images of the airport, I am less than happy.
“The flight to Johannesburg is….”
I could not hear the rest of the announcement as the couple next to me was engaged in a venomous argument.
“Put your stroller HERE!”
An overwhelmed mother with an infant was instructedcoldly as she struggled to disassemble her stroller at the end of the gangway.
An elderly woman whispered to a man who pushed past her knocking her off balance. As she regained her composure she sadly stared at the ground.
With my microphone finally connected I pick up my camera and realize that I am anxious. Consumed by yesterday’s airport images and visions of what is in store for me on my journey back, I am not happy. Happiness. For most, myself included, happiness is what lies in the past or will happen in the future. We become so obsessed with preparing to be happy; often adding one responsibility after another in our lives. Who has time to be happy?
Stepping outside I catch glimpse of the sun peaking over the horizon. For a moment, I am swept away by its exquisite beauty. As the past day’s events fade away, Ifind myself mesmerized by the sun’s golden rays and the graceful silhouette of a nearby tree. With one last glance at the horizon, I climb into the safari vehicle. I am eager to experience what it means to be on a “Mindful Safari” organized by world renown author and mindfulness expert David Michie. As I listen to the calm in his voice and the fascinating conversation by our safari guide, I am transported; transported from worries of the past and obsession with the future to the present moment. The morning stretches into the afternoon and I remainedengaged by the safari guides, fascinated by the information presented about the terrain, animals and South African culture. Completely immersed in the experience I am enjoying our ride down the bumpy dirt road in the bush.
Suddenly the Land Rover comes to a stop. I catch sight of a single bull elephant exiting the trees on the left. He is a magnificent creature, bold muscular body, ears flapping calmly and white tusks glistening as he gazes in our direction. I can see him inhale slowly and I hold my breath in anticipation. As I exhale I hear a low rumble from the elephant. What does that sound mean? My silent question is answered as the bull elephant moves forward and proceeds to a clearing in front of the vehicle. As if on cue one elephant after another exits the trees and follows the bull to the clearing. We sit mesmerized by beautiful herd of South African elephants directly in front of us.
The herd consists of the elderly, bull, female, and baby elephants. There is an obvious communication between the creatures which is most marked between a mother and baby directly in view. I am thrilled to witness the baby become playful; frolicking a bit too far from its mother. With a flap of the mother’s ears and a wave of her trunk the baby obeys and quickly falls in line by her side.
The large bull elephant suddenly looks up from eating. His eyes lock on our vehicle and he begins moving towards us slowly and confidently. The herd follows him in unison. Soon our vehicle is surrounded by these magnificent creatures. It is an extraordinary sight to see.To our left is the mother elephant with the baby tucked close to her side. The large bull elephant is on our right; his body moving slowly and methodically. We wait in breathless anticipation as his massive frame came to halt three feet from our car door. Slowly he turns his stately head towards us. Breathtaking. The full beautiful ears, long graceful trunk, curly long eyelashes are a sight to see. His eyes are deep, wise and reach far beyond what words can describe. We sit still with baited breath, face to face with the bull elephant, an experience gone in a moment but one we wish would last forever.
As the herd disappears back into the trees, I run my hand up and down my arms; the hair is standing on end. Looking around the vehicle I see tears of joy from my safari mates. Having forgotten about past worries and future obstacles, I am ecstatic, humbled and truly happy being in the moment with nature.
I wonder… Why was the elephant encountering so emotional for me? The experience touched me in a way that has changed my life forever. In the course of a few hours, one pivotal experience taught me valuable life lessons. The interaction with the herd gave new meaning to the term “respect.” Respect in the African Bush, very much like life, is something that must be earned. There is a profound responsibility that comes with respect and the trust that follows is equally important. The experience made me think about compassion. It was entirely evident to me that mother elephants are not much different than human mothers. The female elephant’s interaction with her baby demonstrated concern, love and kindness. The compassion within the herd did not stop there and was evident in each animal regardless of age, sex or social standing. I also learned a great deal about curiosity. The bull elephant that paused by the side of the vehicle today was curious. He approached us with a gentle inquisitivecuriosity. Our vehicle was something different to him. Instead of being scared and reacting with anxiety and violence, he approached us calmly without aggression. Clearly “different” to him was not something to be afraid of.
Incredible really. Think of our families and communities. Think of our world. The world can learn a lesson from nature in this respect. Instead of blaring music, looking away when someone is struggling, or pushing in front of someone to get ahead perhaps we should approach life with a degree of respect, compassion and gentle curiosity.
Watching the herd of elephants slowly make their way back into the bush today I am inspired by a word that comes to mind. That word is unity. Each individual elephant is part of a herd. Likewise, we as human beings are part of a larger collective. It is entirely clear to me that in this world, in nature, we are one. Our collective happiness does not lie in the past or the future. The time to be happy is truly NOW. The place is to be happy is where we are at any given moment. Our elephant friends extended a gift to us. Our experience today left us high on life; truly happy and in the moment. By keeping respect, compassion, and gentle curiosity at the forefront of our minds we become better able to extend kind word, a loving gesture to another living being. Yes, the elephants extended the gift of happiness; a gift I am determined to give to others. There is truth in what is said, the way to be happy is to make others so.
Dr. Shelley Plumb/CEO PlumbTalk Productions
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