Friday, April 30, 2010

"Baboon Matters"

Yesterday afternoon as I stood frozen, scarcely daring to breathe, a huge alpha male baboon casually sauntered past, barely half a metre from my position! I had already watched the self-same individual engaged in a ferocious tree-top territory battle with another male, accompanied by blood-curdling screams and a barrage of pine cones and broken branches that rained down upon us as we stood watching, transfixed. I had never dreamed that I would get THAT close to a wild baboon troupe and be able to observe them in their natural habitat, engaging in their normal social (anti-social?!!) behaviour. This troupe are never fed by humans and have therefore not come to associate humans with food. However, due to the daily presence of the baboon monitors (more about these later), they have become habituated to human presence, hence their rather casual attitude to our being there.

My partner and I had heard about an organisation called, "Baboon Matters", which comprises a handful of volunteers working to raise awareness of the plight of baboons in South Africa. Baboon
Matters also do baboon rescue and rehabilitation, baboon troupe management, as well as training. The 2-hour walk with the troupe of Chacma baboons we did in Noordhoek on the Cape Peninsula accompanied by our trained guide, Mzukisi, is aimed at raising awareness and also assists in fund raising for the work of the organisation. Mzukisi started out as a "Baboon Monitor"
trained by the staff at Baboon Matters. The Monitors play a vital role in ensuring that the baboon troupes do not clash with the human inhabitants of various areas in the Cape Peninsula. The baboon troupes are followed by the monitors and are herded to safer areas using shouts, whistles and clapping if they get too close to human habitations. This minimises conflict between humans and baboons and ensures the ongoing survival of the troupes, which are protected in the Cape Peninsula.

As we will very shortly be living in the forests of Knysna, which are home to several wild baboon troupes, we had decided to educate ourselves about baboons so that we can find a way to live in harmony with the baboons we come into contact with. Mostly baboons are considered pests or vermin and are often shot by people living on the edges of their territory. Clearly this is just NOT an option for us and so we need to find other management strategies. I was particularly concerned about how to keep the baboons away from our vegetable garden, out of our home and also how to manage the interaction between our dogs and wild baboons. We were given loads of tips and ideas on how to manage our future interactions with baboons. The walk was an incredibly exciting, heartwarming and very educational experience, which I really recommend to anyone interested in a completely different wildlife experience.

Below are some photos:

This is my favourite!

Aint life great?

Oh no, what have I done!


Mom's taxi

Maternal bliss

A mother's love

Yet another cutie

That feels SOOO good!!
Baboons spend hours carefully grooming each other to remove ticks and fleas

A group of baboons

Ho hum! Yet ANOTHER photo shoot!

The teenage years can be SO confusing!

Alpha male patrolling his territory

Mzukisi, the guide, and my own tame baboon

Next: Spiritual Guidance

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pause for thought

Yesterday I had a very interesting and challenging discussion with a dear friend and erstwhile authority figure in my life whom I had not seen for several months. This friend told me that, in his opinion, I was being selfish and cowardly in relinquishing my previous life, my career and all its responsibilities and my opportunities for making a contribution in order to follow my heart to the Tsitsikamma forest. He also said that my ideas made no sense at all to him and he indicated that he thought I was deluded or possibly under the influence of some external influencing person or circumstance. Furthermore he told me that he thought I considered myself more “noble” or somehow superior to others because of the choices I was making about the kind of life I wished to live.

What struck me very powerfully about this interaction is that just a few short months ago I would have been absolutely devastated to have heard this person’s negative opinion of myself and my venture. It had always been really important to me to do the “right” thing in order to be considered in a favourable light, particularly by the authority figures in my life. I suppose I believed that I really needed “daddy’s” approval. I had always gone to some considerable lengths to determine what I thought would be the “most right” thing to do and then I would do it, whatever the personal cost. But it didn’t actually bring me that much satisfaction or happiness; certainly not the level of happiness that I now experience whilst doing what my heart guides me to do.

I guess I find that I am now far more interested in being happy than in being “right”!

So, although I can see that many would view what I am doing as wrong or misguided or selfish or ignoble, it somehow doesn’t really matter that much to me because what I am doing is making me happy in a way that I could never have imagined before. This doesn’t mean that I no longer care about my friends and acquaintances from my past – quite the opposite – I care a great deal and I wish for them to have happy and fulfilled lives doing whatever brings them the most satisfaction. I am just no longer willing to sacrifice my own happiness in order to be accepted and loved or in order to have the dubious, and rather empty, satisfaction of believing myself to be doing the “right” thing.

The second thing that struck me about my conversation with my friend yesterday is that it was an immense gift.

Initially when I took the decision to follow my heart I had anticipated all kinds of resistance from friends, family and colleagues. I was really surprised when that was not the case. Mostly people just told me that they wished they had the courage and/or the opportunity to do what I was doing and just about everyone expressed support and good wishes for my new life. Subsequently I have met many new friends, both online and elsewhere, who have expressed support and comprehension for what I am doing. So I suppose I have started to develop a very distorted picture of how most people would perceive my choices. Probably those who found my ideas and choices strange or weird or threatening either did not continue reading my blog, or else did not interact with me.

Yesterday’s meeting was a huge eye-opener and therefore a gift. It allowed me to see my situation and myself from a completely different perspective.

This meeting gave me a much greater insight into what I am requiring of my loved ones in expecting them to accept the choices I am making. And I can also see that some of my choices are causing a great deal of pain and discomfort for people who have been really important in my life. While my friend was talking I found that I was able to look behind his rather harsh words to see the hurt, loss and sense of betrayal that he had experienced as a result of my choices.

When we decide to assume certain roles in life it is like putting on a set of clothing. After a while our friends and colleagues grow accustomed to seeing us in those clothes and it can cause a great deal of confusion, anger or even a sense of betrayal if we decide to reject the set of clothing in favour of another. It is possible that some could even experience this as a rejection of themselves, their friendship or their value systems; possibly even an act of aggression. I had spent a whole lot of time and effort and energy in building up a “persona” which people had come to know and rely upon and I can imagine that it could have been really difficult for some to relinquish their attachment to that specific version of me.

Does any of this make me doubt whether what I am doing is a valid choice for me? Absolutely not. I know in my heart that what I am doing is completely right for me and, for the first time in my life, I don’t require the approval or the validation of anyone or anything external to myself to corroborate that for me.

Do I know where this journey of mine will end? No, again! When some accuse me of not having a proper plan, I have no defense at all, because they are completely right! But somehow that doesn’t really matter because I don’t feel the need to defend my choices or myself anymore. I don’t feel the need to be “right”. My plan is to simply follow my heart in every moment to that which brings me the most happiness.

Is this cowardly?
Is this irresponsible?
Is this selfish?
Does that matter?

And so the journey continues…

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A narrow escape

I’m standing ankle deep in mud in the pouring rain on a deserted gravel country road at dusk, kilometers away from the nearest farm. I’m shivering from the cold because I’m dressed in a t-shirt, flip-flops and thin cotton pants, but also because of the shock of what has just happened. In front of me is the appalling spectacle of our car balancing on two tires at a 45-degree angle on the sandy verge of the road. The only thing between the car and the precipitous drop into the deep gorge below are a few scrubby bushes and small saplings.

Whilst negotiating a steep downhill turn, our car tires slipped on the treacherous wet clay on the road surface and the car careened across the road before coming to a halt in its current position. Climbing out of the car was terrifying because we feared that our shifting weight would send the car plummeting down into the gorge. It was also quite a feat to climb out uphill, over the handbrake and across the drivers seat, with the car at that angle. Fortunately we were both absolutely unharmed and the car only required a wheel balancing and alignment and a bit of panel beating work on the front fender. A miraculous escape indeed!

Despite the drama of this situation, it has turned out to be an incredibly wonderful experience. We have learnt a few important things:

Firstly, ABS brakes can only do so much – zooty city cars are just not suited for life in the forest! We definitely need a 4-wheel drive vehicle if we’re going to be able to drive safely in all weather conditions in our forest hideaway.

Secondly, no person is an island, particularly when living in remote and wilder parts of the world. As city dwellers we have come to anticipate that assistance will not be forthcoming if one finds oneself in a difficult situation and that considerable financial or other incentive is required in order to get out of a pickle. However, it seems that country people are very different from city people. We were overwhelmed by the kind assistance and support with which we were showered in the forest. A neighbour came to fetch us in his 4-wheel drive vehicle. He personally phoned around to find us the cheapest rescue service (after ascertaining that it would be impossible to tow us out himself), even going so far as to telephonically enlist his son’s assistance to find us the best deal. He sat chatting to us in his vehicle for over 45 minutes until the rescue truck arrived and then stayed with his vehicle’s lights flashing so as to warn oncoming traffic of the rescue underway. Then, when we discovered that our car could still drive, he took us back to his place to stay in his guest cottage overnight. I have never appreciated a warm shower, a hot meal and a soft, warm bed as much as I did that night!

The third thing I learnt is that moments of physical danger and heightened adrenaline result in unsurpassed clarity about one’s priorities. Whilst standing on that lonely country road, a strange sense of calm descended upon me and I realized that, despite the current difficulties, I was EXACTLY where I wanted to be and doing EXACTLY what I wanted to be doing! In addition, I had created this experience to show myself EXACTLY that! All the petty and irritating little details and uncertainties of the past few days dealing with agents, builders and architects just seemed to melt away into insignificance and I knew again with absolute certainty that following my heart to the forest is the right thing for me to do. The details will all work out in the end; the important thing is to get myself to my heart’s home.

As an aside, our neighbour told us that the people living in the area had declined the municipal offer of a tar road and that they would in fact sign a petition against the treacherous gravel road being tarred in future. Despite our recent experience, I’m pretty sure I would sign that petition as well! The place is special and unspoiled exactly because it is so remote and inaccessible and it should be preserved just as it is.

Only one more month to go and we will be moving to Paradise.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Pause for thought

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Return to Paradise

We’re back in Knysna again to meet with builders and architects and to finalise the admin associated with the purchase of our little piece of Heaven. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it is here, so I have decided to let the pictures do the talking.

Our driveway

This is part of the 8km gravel road that leads
through the indigenous forest to our property.

Gorge-eous views along the way!

Rush hour traffic

The beginning of the Gouna indigenous forest

Meeting the neighbours

These neighbours are still in their pajamas!

And THIS neighbour is in his very finest plumage

The big dam on our property (the small speck on the
far side is my partner, just to give you some idea of how big it is -
it's DAM big)

The smaller lily pond on our property

The view we will have from our verandah

A tree marking the border of our property

Next: A narrow escape

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Coping with impatience

I am probably the most impatient person I know. My talents lie in making things happen rather than in allowing things to happen! And so I have spent my life in an endless, frenetic flood of busy-ness with my eyes always firmly fixed on the future attainment of my goals. And this has worked very well for me in accomplishing most of the things I have wanted to achieve in this reality. However, right now this approach no longer seems to be working. I’m also pretty sure that it is not going to work in my new reality and it is definitely in direct opposition to my stated intent of being here-now.

But still, I often find myself frustrated with the delays in realizing my forest dream. Everything is just taking SO much longer than I had planned. Had I known at the end of December when I quit my corporate job that 3 months later I would still be in Cape Town, I would probably have completely flipped my lid! So, what, if anything, has “gone wrong”?

Well firstly, as I have decided to take responsibility for my creations, I have to accept that even the most frustrating delays are of my own making and are therefore absolutely perfect. I am no victim of circumstance, so, perhaps on some level, I am creating this breathing space, this moment in which to take stock and to prepare myself for what is coming.

And when I actually do stop, take a breath, and think about it for just a moment, I find it really difficult to explain exactly why I am in such a hurry. Everything is steadily progressing toward my stated intent, albeit slower than I had anticipated. Why am I in such a hurry to get to “the rest of my life”?

My life is right here, right now.

In addition, there are no external time limits or deadlines, other than those that I choose to impose. Is impatience merely a bad habit, a learned response that I must unlearn if I am to find lasting happiness in a new way of being?

The Buddhists tell us that, in this reality, "pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional". What they mean by this is that being human inevitably means some physical or emotional pain at some point, but that our response to that pain is what causes us to suffer or not. And most suffering is caused by resisting THAT WHICH IS.

My current “suffering” is caused by my resistance to being where I am right now and my desire to be somewhere else (ie: the forest). I am so busy rushing at top speed towards my future happiness that I have failed to notice how amazing this present moment is. And actually I have but a split second left in which to enjoy the city life. To be able to walk across the road and enjoy eating at 6 different restaurants in our street, to amble down the road to the DVD store at 9pm if I feel like watching a movie, to be within walking distance of 2 different malls, and all the other wonderful benefits of city life. I have but a few moments in which to cherish my beautiful “yuppie” home and all it’s wonderful memories before I have to hand it over to the new owners. I have a brief interlude in which to enjoy entertaining old acquaintances before moving on to my new life in which I definitely will not see them as often as in the past. Why not enjoy this moment right now instead of wishing it were over?

It’s equally useless to hanker after the past; to wish that relationships could be the way they used to be or that I could have the body I did 10 years ago. Because, of course, 10 years ago I wasn’t appreciating the body I had, but was rather focusing on all the things I needed to do in order to “improve it” in future. What a terrible waste! Right now I am the youngest I will ever be. Why not enjoy and cherish this moment? For it too will be over before I realize it. I think we do ourselves and the world a thousand small violences every day by resisting WHAT IS, rather than simply accepting things the way they are and enjoying them, knowing that this too will eventually pass.

So, this morning I got up and made homemade muffins for breakfast and relished the fact that my dearest love and I could sit for over an hour together talking, drinking tea and listening to music. There is nothing we have to do and no place we have to be. This breathing space is a blessing and one I intend to enjoy to the fullest.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Return to Paradise