Into the wild

Yoga Journal - - Live Well - By Meghan Rab­bitt

OUR OPEN-SIDED LAND ROVER inched closer to a clear­ing in the thick bush, and our guide, Fan­nuel Banda, whis­pered ur­gently to us to stay seated—and quiet. A cou­ple hours ear­lier, the enor­mous red sun had sunk into a vast hori­zon, which meant that in the pitch-black dark­ness, Banda had to point his large flash­light to­ward what he wanted us to see: a lion, de­vour­ing its fresh kill.

De­spite the fact that we’d been hop­ing for a lion sight­ing all week, my ini­tial in­stinct was to look away. I was mere feet from this bru­tal feast and could prac­ti­cally smell the blood. I caught a glimpse of the poor warthog’s face, an ex­pres­sion of fear still present in its eyes, and won­dered if it was the same lit­tle guy I’d spot­ted ear­lier that day, in­no­cently dig­ging his big snout into the ground in search of his own din­ner. But I didn’t look away. None of us on this game drive through South Luangwa Na­tional Park in Zam­bia, Africa, did. In­stead, we stayed seated and quiet, ob­serv­ing this death in its per­fect, if grue­some, un­fold­ing.

It’s ad­mit­tedly strange to go on safari, prac­tice yoga and med­i­ta­tion in the bliss­fully quiet and Wi-Fi– free bush, and have this zen-like re­ac­tion to a scene so filled with harm. Yet what I learned al­most im­me­di­ately, here and on guided walks un­der that beau­ti­ful African sky, is that be­ing on safari is a les­son in be­ing a wit­ness— a true ob­server.

The San­skrit word for this is sak­shi, and its mean­ing is de­rived from the word’s two roots: sa, which means “with” and ak­sha, which means “senses,” “eyes,” or “spir­i­tual wis­dom.” We em­body sak­shi when we can wit­ness the world with­out get­ting in­volved in, or be­ing af­fected by, worldly things; when we can look at our thoughts with­out get­ting at­tached to them; when our aware­ness can dis­tance it­self from our ever-chang­ing breath and bod­ies, al­low­ing us to rest fully in our true na­ture.

Un­til this trip, I’d thought of sak­shi as a beau­ti­ful con­cept wor­thy of work­ing to­ward, yet im­pos­si­ble for mere mor­tals like my­self to achieve—at least in this life­time. In the weeks lead­ing up to my trip to Zam­bia, the thoughts that sur­faced in my mantra-based med­i­ta­tion ses­sions were any­thing but unim­pas­sioned. I’d been dat­ing a man I was fall­ing in love with, but who was about to em­bark on a year of travel. And as my mind in­evitably drifted to­ward what might hap­pen be­tween us— It will never work! Why can’t the tim­ing be right with this one?— I found my­self re­act­ing as usual, rather than soft­en­ing and stay­ing calm. Other anx­i­eties reg­u­larly came up around my writ­ing ( Am I chal­leng­ing my­self enough with the as­sign­ments I’m tak­ing? When am I go­ing to fi­nally start

that book?), as well as the bleak state of the world—from nat­u­ral dis­as­ters to po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions that filled me with re­sent­ment and rage. And in­stead of watch­ing these un­set­tling thoughts sur­face with some man­ner of de­tach­ment, I clung to them with a fer­vent ur­gency.

This didn’t change when I ar­rived at the Bush­camp Com­pany’s Mfuwe Lodge, where I med­i­tated be­fore dawn each morn­ing to the sounds of hip­pos stomp­ing out­side my chalet and hye­nas howl­ing in the dis­tance. It’s funny how the pat­terns of your mind will fol­low you to even the most re­mote reaches of the world.

Yet an in­ter­est­ing thing hap­pened as I sank com­fort­ably into the busy-yet-peace­ful pace of this safari: I started truly ob­serv­ing ev­ery­thing around me. In just a few days, this would shift how I started ob­serv­ing the thoughts scur­ry­ing around my own mind.

On morn­ing game drives, we sat qui­etly in the Land Rover as Banda drove us through the bush, African an­te­lope leap­ing be­side us while mon­keys scram­bled up trees. We stopped so Banda could point out the most col­or­ful birds I’d ever seen, some with black-and-white, polka-dot­ted wings and red breasts and oth­ers—called love­birds be­cause of how they care for each other— a kalei­do­scope of blues, pinks, and yel­lows.

We spot­ted wild African dogs, ze­bras, gi­raffes, ele­phants, African buf­falo, a leop­ard, and on our last game drive, the lion. Be­ing so im­mersed in this king­dom all week, with no con­tact with the out­side world and no agenda other than to ob­serve these beau­ti­ful an­i­mals in their un­touched-by-man habi­tat, of­fered a sur­pris­ing gift. By watch­ing the rhythms and cy­cles of these crea­tures’ lives from a place of pure awe, I won­dered if I could ap­proach the wilds of my mind’s wan­der­ings with the same de­tached self-ob­ser­va­tion. If I could be­come less in­volved in my emo­tions, would I then be­come more at­tuned to the world around me, and more present in sur­pris­ing ways?

On my last morn­ing on safari, I sat in the pre-dawn still­ness from what felt like a much dif­fer­ent seat. My new ro­mance may fade or flour­ish. My writ­ing will un­doubt­edly ebb and flow. The hur­ri­canes, fires, and po­lit­i­cal storms will surge and pass. And my prac­tice is to nudge my aware­ness to ob­serve it all as I did that hun­gry lion, from a place of seated, quiet awe. These are just some of the an­i­mals you’ll see on safari with the Bush­camp Com­pany. Rates start at $455 per night, which in­cludes all meals and ameni­ties for one per­son. For more info, in­clud­ing up­com­ing yoga re­treats, visit bush­cam­p­com­pany.com.

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