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On Mindful Safari
On a game-viewing vehicle at Stanley & Livingstone Reserve looking out for wildlife
Mindful Safari for 2023 has come to an end - and as always, Koala and I come away from the experience feeling extremely fortunate about the extraordinary experiences we shared, uplifted by the special connections we made with people from around the world, somewhat exhausted from all the organising – and eager to return to this uniquely beautiful part of Africa.
Our two Mindful Safari group experiences this year were the first since the Covid hiatus. As a tourist destination, Victoria Falls is still operating around 30 to 40% of its pre-pandemic level. This means that the locals are very eager to see any visitors, on whom most of them depend for their livelihoods, and the staff at Masuwe Lodge, where we stay, really couldn’t do enough to help us.
The tourist respite seems not to have had any long-term impact on all the wildlife – I was concerned that, without visitors, poaching levels would soar. Although this has happened in some places, for the most part the numbers of animals has held up really well, as we soon discovered. We were treated to this really wonderful experience without even having to put a foot out of camp.
Africa’s wild beauty remains unchanged, including the deep red sunrises …
… and sunsets, at least one of which we enjoyed from a boat in the middle of that great, pranic artery of Africa, the Zambezi River.
and only a short while later …
Each day begins with a gentle guided meditation session. Most days we have two such sessions, morning and afternoon. When we first embarked on Mindful Safaris, practicing meditation in nature was an intuitive thing – I felt drawn to share Africa with like-minded people who would want to experience safaris from a calm, centred, open-hearted perspective.
Since then, a wealth of research studies and books have emerged about the now validated benefits of spending time outdoors, which we do just about all day every day during our visit. Because being in nature quite effortlessly promotes mindfulness. It is no coincidence that many of benefits of being in nature are the same as those that arise from meditating – a calmer psycho-physical state, boosted immune system, less mental agitation, and greater clarity and coherence.
In such a state, we are better able to see those things that may have been staring us in the face, but have remained unseen behind a haze of thought pollution. We are also more open to insights that have the capacity to transform, in particular leading to an enhanced capacity for self-acceptance, a wider perspective on the things that trouble us, a deeper sense of connection to nature – and most of all, a profound gratitude for this privileged but fleeting experience of consciousness as human beings.
All our meditations are outdoors, whether on the deck at Masuwe Lodge, at a nearby Viewpoint, in the bush or perhaps on a sandy Zambezi River beach.
There’s no freedom quite like being on the back of a game-viewing vehicle, driving through the likes of Stanley & Livingstone game reserve, on the lookout for animals. We benefited from having seasoned guides who shared their wisdom and enthusiasm for everything around us, and who helped us experience very close encounters with giraffe, buffalo, elephants, kudu, warthogs, eland, a variety of antelope and birds, and even a glimpse of leopard.
It was a particular privilege to spend time in such close proximity with four black rhinos that we could clearly hear them munching on branches. There are only around 6,000 of these ancient creatures still in existence, even though they have lived on earth for over 50 million years and numbered around half a million at the beginning of the last century. We always ask guests not to post photos of rhinos online, because these may be used by poachers whose pursuit of these poor creatures is brutal and relentless. But we got just as close to them as to this beautiful giraffe.
Practicing generosity is an important part of Mindful Safari, and one of our highlights is a visit to Masuwe Primary School. The children there come from poor rural communities, and frequently have to walk long distances on an empty stomach to get to a school where there is no electricity, only a hand-operated pump for water, and a teaching staff who are mostly unpaid volunteers. We ask guests to bring 10 exercise books and pens each – some people bring a lot more in the way of toys and education aids. The cost of coming on Mindful Safari includes a US$100 levy per person which goes towards providing the school kids with at least one meal a day.
Despite their deprivation, the children are very well-behaved, welcoming and exuberant in their gratitude. For me, much better than absorbing any number of articles, books, or TV shows, a simple visit to this school is all I need to remind me of my life of extraordinary privilege. To make me realise just how fortunate I am. And to further encourage me to make the most of this precious opportunity not only for my own sake, but for the sake of others.
I believe that showing, rather than telling, is incomprehensively more powerful as an agent for change.
A group of girls, kitted out in traditional costumes, sang and danced with great verve, during our visit to Masuwe Primary School
Another important part of Mindful Safari is connecting our visitors to people on the ground here who are passionate about uniquely Zimbabwean products and activities. This year, Michele Vickery, who has a background in the beauty industry, treated us to some of the skin products she now makes using botanicals such as those of the Baobab tree of life, the marula or ‘marriage tree,’ the moringa or ‘miracle tree,’ and the sausage tree, which bears a fruit from which extracts have been used to help treat various skin cancers. Sampling moringa tea, and indulging in a shot of Amarula – a creamy liqueur using marula fruit – helped deepen our experience of this part of Africa with an authentic and multi-sensorial treat!
We also visited Panda Masuie, where Roxy and Jos Danckwerts, and the Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery team have established a rewilding site for orphaned elephants. The elies are free to go during the day and stay out for as long as they wish. Many choose to return to the safety of the boma (corral) in the evening, where they are also fed. Some have left for good. Others stay out for a few months before returning. The hope is that they will ultimately choose to return to the wild. Panda Masuie is not a tourist site or open to members of the public. Our access is a special privilege we are granted – and an opportunity to meditate with animals with whom I feel a particular connection, and which I know many who join us also do.
Part of the magic of Africa is sharing the evenings with our guests. Whether it’s over a lamplit dinner table out in the open, sitting around a firepit sharing stories over the burning leadwood logs, or on a boat cruising up the Zambezi river as sunset turns the horizon deep crimson, there is something primordial and deeply peaceful about these times we have together. And I know that others feel the connection, because quite often, years later, there’ll be messages from Mindful Safari family members who have visited each other in different parts of the world.
Nature. Meditation. Peace. Kindred spirits to share the extraordinary vistas as we let go of our usual lives and come home to ourselves. As we conclude every meditation session:
May all beings have happiness and the true causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the true causes of suffering.
May all beings never be parted from the happiness that is beyond suffering.
May all beings abide in peace and equanimity, their minds free from attachment, hatred and free from indifference.
To get information on dates, rates and how to book on Mindful Safari 2024, please click here.
I am spending just one last week home in Zim before heading back to Australia. My time here has been really inspiring and I’m working on some fresh fiction and non-fiction for you, including a short story I will post next week. Stay tuned …!
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