Being still in the wild

Our open top Jeep slowed.  As it came to a stop, our guide Murray switched off the ignition.  Silence. Not even the sound of running water since the river behind us had dried-up.  We watched the bright orange sun descend beyond the bush, throwing hues of pink and purple across the sky.

We had just hopped off a small prop plane from Johannesburg not even an hour before, and we were already out for our first run.  Up until that point our day consisted of three flights, lots of standing and waiting in customs as we made our way from the airport in Zambia, to Johannesburg, then to a small airstrip not far from Mala Mala Game Reserve.  I was tired and slightly irritated. This was the last leg of the trip and I was starting to miss home, but I was also dreading the 16-hour flight from Cape Town to Atlanta. My mind wandered as we made our way through the bush, thinking about seeing my friends, having WiFi, and starting my nannying job when I got back to the states.

While driving to this exact spot in the brush, I kept glancing at the large rifle strapped to the front of the Jeep for emergencies.  Murray emphasized to us that for the rest of our time here it was imperative when we were around the animals to stay very still. No speaking, no gesturing.  The animals were used to the shape of the Jeeps. The moment we stood up, made a loud noise or a quick movement, the animals would start to get nervous and run, or worse, attack.  And since we were on our way to see a mother Leopard and her cub close to sundown, there was an even larger chance that the mother would be protective and territorial.

Okay so the one thing I needed to do to keep from being attacked by new mother Leopard was stay still.

Easier said than done.

How often do we take a moment to actually stay completely still?  Quiet not just our bodies, but our minds. It’s not something I’ve never been good at.

Did I email that person back?  Should I just get a jump start on this?

From sun up to sun down my mind constantly runs, making lists of what I need to do in that next moment, hour, day, and even for the rest of the week.  Trying to stay one step ahead and on top of things kept my mind running at a level I didn’t even realize was detrimental to my health. It led me to overthink and speculate at the worst-case scenario when it came to my activities, my school work, and even my relationships.

Taking time to be present through whatever means necessary is so vital to our everyday functioning.  I would find myself having conversations with people and not truly listening to them.  Sometimes taking a deep breath is all we really need to quiet our mind and our body.

When our Jeep rolled up and I spotted a mother Leopard and her cub nestled just under a bush, I remember my mind going quiet.  I remember being able to hear the cub and the mom, and being in awe of how they acted and sounded just like my cats. I could feel a cool breeze making its way over the hill and past me, making the hair on my arms raise up.  I suddenly took stock of the tension I was holding in my shoulders and hands and let go. I felt completely and totally in the moment.

I could feel that same calm wash over me each time we rolled up to a different animal.  Taking in the way they moved and interacted with another, and being all too aware of how close they were to us.  I wasn’t sure of the next time I would ever have another experience like that one, and I wanted to savor every moment.

But it made me think: why don’t I savor every moment like this?  When I’m out with friends at dinner, or talking to my mom after walking in the door from school.  If I can quiet my mind and tune in to that same stillness internally, I could learn as much from each daily moment and interaction as I did watching cheetahs stalk their prey, or elephants finding a snack.  The smaller moments and the connections we make in them teach us just as much, if not more than the big moments. Trying to quiet our mind and body and find that inner stillness is easier said than done. Some turn to meditation or exercise.  For me, it’s a deep breath in through the nose, and out through the mouth.

So, I invite you to stop and take stock, and not just because it might save you from being attacked by a mother Leopard.

Enjoy one of my favorite safari videos! (keep in mind, this was taken before I was actually taught how to shoot video…)


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