Do you know that sensation of being totally committed, determined, prepared? It was 2005 and I’d had all the support I could wish for to live my dream, to engage with wild nature in one of the most intimate ways possible in a modern context: To be a wildlife cameraman in Africa’s premier, most remote and sometimes truly forgotten wilderness areas. Little did I know then that single-minded focus, bordering on obsession, can be a recipe for stagnation, if not destruction, when the most important relationship is not in place: That with Nature. The inner Nature and the outer, as far as those boundaries still exist when that relationship has been deepened to its very core.
A year before, a South African TV producer gave me, a rookie with a conservation vision, and valid advice upon my question how to film for editing, i.e. for story: If it looks right, it is right. Little did I know that my career would awaken and instill a far wider, deeper and higher sense in me which, thinking about it even now, applies to all areas of not only my life, but as a useful mantra for all of us: If it feels right, it is right.
Maybe, especially as a man, I knew little about feeling – its function, the doors it opens – and certainly not its nuances as components for sensing what’s happening, what’s ‘truthful’ and what’s not. It took years to reconnect with my emotions and sense of feeling as a component that enables intuitive thought and action. As it turned out, reclaiming the sense of feeling became an integral part of a life-transforming journey for me and, as I have witnessed in various degrees, many others’ too. In general, we men become more in touch with our emotions, we learn to recognise destructive patterns which we created directly or as byproducts, through our modern, industrial culture defined by disconnect and unconscious behaviour.
My assistant cameraman and I had arrived in November 2005 in Liuwa National Park. Producer Peter Lamberti sent my assistant and me on our way with a Land Cruiser which served as a mobile hide, carrier of camping and filming equipment and sleeping platform any night. My approach of being self-contained and independent resonated not only with him, but with landowners and lodge staff equally well. It served as the passport to a kind of freedom experienced in wild nature few of us ever have the opportunity to taste these days. For months on end we spent time in the wild, at times living a pioneer lifestyle that consisted of engaging our creativity to compose and roll tape on the one side, and to keep the Cruiser going and our stomachs happy on the other.
“If we want to take full responsibility for our healing and evolution we have to reconnect with Nature, consciously.” Herb
But freedom comes with responsibility and, in order for us to get footage that could be crafted through the classic hero’s journey into wildlife documentaries for international channels, I’ve been challenged to forget what I thought I’d known through classic varsity and guide’s training and open my mind to Nature’s authentic way, her operative and inherent principles as they play out through, for instance, the elements, repeated during her age-old seasons. If I wanted to make this work properly and with a measure of personal authorship, I had to engage deeply and more fully with her expansions and contractions, the amplitudes that enable movement, flow and transformation, and the evolution of everything. I had to surrender to that attraction, surrendering to where she would take me through my own hero’s journey, my individual and authentic path through cycles and seasons, on an individual journey from head to heart, as the saying goes. And although my chosen function as wildlife cameraman defined what I did, was it the constant scrutinising of the How, based on the Why, that engaged me as a human, one of seven billion, each with an individual vision and purpose, even when we’re totally oblivious to it?
Lady Liuwa was the last survivor of the majestic prides that had succumbed to a mass slaughter of wildlife in western Zambia’s Liuwa National Park. By 2005, African Parks Network had managed to put an end to the carnage, in collaboration with Zambia’s wildlife authorities, an epic achievement. Lady was known more as a mystery without name than from appearance and, when we managed to film her hunting successfully on the first day of my first assignment, I should have recognised the relevance of what’s been gifted. Was it ambition that stood in the way of my recognising those gifts more fully, or was it just too early? I do understand that passion, dedication and awareness were helping me to access at least their beginnings.
I had a recurring dream as a young boy. I’ve only ever met one person who had a very similar dream. I was chased by a lion pride and each time one of the lionesses caught me, my back would go into such a strong spasm that the only way to have relief for the rest of the night was to lie in a foetal position. Finding physical comfort and solace in an energetic womb, protected inside the feminine. The dreams had totally stopped by the time I reached puberty but started again during assignments in Liuwa.
Long story short, as a social species, Lady sought company but even more, her physical behaviour served as an initial doorway which enabled me to recognise her as a consciously rather evolved being. As with nature at large, she met everyone at the level at which we were ready to engage with her. Open-mindedness was the primary factor needed for deeper communion with Lady to unfold. By open-mindedness I don’t mean reckless acceptance. It is awareness, a mix of trust in one’s intuitive perception and diligent, healthy scepticism.
So it happened that Lady and I have forged a unique bond rarely observed with an animal that is completely wild, where one would often question specific behaviour that simply went beyond what one could ascribe to her becoming habituated, or being lonely. For me, personally, two instances stood out. During the first one she challenged me during a stand-off which could have gone completely wrong, causing death at least for her and permanent injuries to me. After this I’ve had disembowelment dreams associated with a life stage where I faced my shadow.
The second one seemed totally uneventful on the surface but was even more powerful. Lady simply walked past me one morning, as she had done hundreds of times in camp before, when I was suddenly hit by an energy into my solar plexus and heart centres so powerfully that I seemingly lost my sense of reference to everything. I left the camera standing on the tripod where it was and went to my tent, sleeping – which seemed to be the only activity that made sense – for the rest of the day. My perception of life as I knew it has changed permanently from then on. Lady has walked through my heart as Linda Park so fittingly observed with a male lion in her own life. In both instances my assistants had observed what happened and somehow accepted this to be natural, although unusual. How could it be any other way?
Life, Nature, is the big initiator of our different authentic stages when we live a life close to her, striving for balance and harmony with her. Through personal experience we’re moving through childhood, early and late adulthood, elder and sage when we connect consciously with Nature, with Spirit, with Life in the grandest scheme of things. Entire communities and countries’ populations move through these stages and express their seasons’ consciousnesses.
As a global community it’s time to embrace the cycle in which we again perceive and interact with the Earth much more consciously, i.e. beyond the mere physical. A tree, for instance cannot move when it’s too dry, cold, wet or hot. It integrates a huge amount of knowledge while being exposed to severe differences in weather, becoming both a store and conduit for wisdom borne from a tremendous capacity for experience. When we open our minds to perceive a tree for far more than a source of shade, wood and fruit, we allow Nature to recalibrate our minds, emotions and even physical realities. Each species carries a wisdom, a medicine, a power or an archetype we benefit from when approached with respect and love. Earth, water, air and fire seem to be just phenomena, but are, like everything in the universe, conscious.