It was 8 o'clock on Praslin Island and I was still fast asleep when a knock on my door woke me (it was 6 o'clock on South African time). It was my friendly landlady, Emilia. She had come to inform me that it was possible to land on Aride Island today and that this long awaited day trip was now finally going to materialize for me and the three Americans downstairs. Aride, about 16 km from Praslin, is the most northerly of the Seychelles granite islands. It is also the most important bird reserve in the Seychelles, host to more that 750 000 breeding pairs of seabird species, which is more than on any other island in the region. It is also home to several thousand Frigate Birds and five species of land birds endemic to the Seychelles, amongst them the very rare Seychelles Magpie-robin. As the island is almost completely protected by its dangerous surf, it was not colonized until after 1851. Today there are only between 5 and 10 people stationed on the island at any given time. The island "belongs to the birds".
The previous night I had shared the most marvellous dinner at the exquisite Cafe des Artes on the Cote D'or (translation Coast of Gold - a white stretch of beach more than 3 kilometers long where all the main hotels on Praslin island are situated) with the American family - daughter Julie (working in Ghana) and her parents. We enjoyed a bottle of imported French red wine from the Rhone Valley while eating the delicious food prepared for us by the restaurant's wonderful cook. We were sitting totally alfresco under the starlight of the equatorial night sky, with the gentle sound of the waves only twenty meters away. Now this added bonus! As we approached Aride Island in our boat, we noticed the many Lesser Noddies and Brown Noddies flying above the clear turquoise coloured sea. The world's largest colony of Lesser Noddies (true seabirds with tiny webbed feet) is found on Aride Island.
On this island holiday, I had just finished reading "Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer". This book strongly suggests that the lost secret is that prayer is based on the feeling that we carry in our bodies; it is not necessarily the words that one uses but the feelings that we carry inside that have an effect on the surrounding "Quantum Field". Gregg Braden, the author, quoted a vivid example using the science fiction movie The Abyss. In this movie the crew of an underwater vessel is trapped under the sea and there is a mysterious life energy, in the form of sea water, that comes to their rescue. When this life force finds the crew huddled together in one room a remarkable thing happens. As each crew member looks at the tube of water, it reflects back, like a mirror, the exact emotion that is portrayed on the crew member's face; if the human face smiles then the tube of water smiles back! The suggestion is that we, as humans, literally choose our day and that each day unfolds according to our emotional state, that we actually attract that which we emanate! In the same way people and the inner feelings that they are carrying inside have an effect on us when we meet up with them. Some people can leave one lifted up and inspired and others can drain one to the core! The high energy field of a true mystic can change one forever. The peace of mind and purity that a true guru emanates can have a profound effect on a person - this is the so-called "silent teaching" or "Grace of the Teacher" effect (Hawkins, 2006). I recall reading Terry Winchester's story about the rare privilege he had, during his tours of India, of meeting up with a real enlightened Being: Anandamayi Ma. As Terry walked into the small room to receive a personal Darshan from this wonderful woman, he looked at her and his mind, suddenly, was filled with the most horrible and disgustingly bad thoughts; he was completely mortified because he knows that these Realised Souls can read one's mind! He later realized that, in contrast to her immaculate state of being, all his own impurities were reflected back at him. The second time he looked at her though, she blessed him with unconditional love and his mind was cleansed of all negativity. Following this he walked around in a daze for days.
As animals also have this reflective effect on us I wondered what this bird island visit would bring me today. Just three months earlier, (after the workshops I had offered at the annual Quest Show in Devon) I visited the Scilly Islands off the south coast of England. It is my dream to visit 100 islands before I die and the visit to the Scilly islands brought my total up to 35. These islands in the Atlantic Ocean, 28 miles beyond Lands End, consist of five inhabited islands with subtropical vegetation and some 140 other islets. It is a place where bird lovers can see the Puffins which come to breed here during the months of April to end of July. (The Puffin is a large seabird with a white face and front, red legs and a large deep bill which is very brightly coloured in summer; it is a poor flier but an excellent swimmer). At my guest house on St Mary (the largest of the five islands), there were signs in each room with a picture of a Puffin, and underneath was written "No Puffin!" (a very original 'no-smoking' sign). It was off some small islets west of St Mary that I went for a swim with the Grey Atlantic Seals, hoping to experience more of the same magic that I had felt when I was privileged to swim with the dolphins on Islameralda in the Miami Keys a few years earlier. So much has already been written about peoples' experiences of swimming with dolphins - what I found so magical was their incredible intuition and ability to tune in to our own "fields" surrounding each one of us, as well as their influence on us: their playfulness and exuberance brushed off on our group and we were all in high spirits when we left the Keys that day. I have read that dolphins are conscious breathers (if a dolphin is anaesthetized it will die) and consequently must remain in the present, totally aware, unlike us humans who are unconscious breathers - some humans can live a lifetime and never experience the present moment where life is actually happening. At St Mary's the seals were friendly and came really close to our group of eight divers (kitted out in thick wetsuits with hoods and booties to protect us against the cold Atlantic water). Some of them were whitish in colour but most were grey and they were very big. They came to us; swimming and diving underneath us; every so often sticking their heads (tiny in comparison to their big bodies) out of the water to look at us, but they did not have the same presence as the playful dolphins and did not impart the same magic.
Now I was back in warm tropical waters and eager to learn from the thousands of birds surrounding us. The day did not disappoint me - the tremendous beauty of the island alone is uplifting. The island experience is illustrated by the following joke told to me by the German lady who ran the Underwater Centre at the Coral Strand Hotel on Mahe (the biggest island in the Seychelles) : 'A certain man was starting on the spiritual path, so he began to visit holy places and churches. In Rome the priest showed him a golden telephone with a huge sign: 10 000 Euros. The priest said it was a direct line to God. In New York the man encountered a similar phone in a holy place: 10 000 dollars for such a call. Down in Brasilia, it was the same story: 10 000 Brazilian dollars. He then flew to the Seychelles and in a local church he spotted another golden telephone with a sign saying 10 rupees above it. He asked the priest why it is so cheap here on the islands. The priest looked at him and said: "Oh but here it is a local call!" '
We were truly in Paradise, with no other visitors - just the four of us! The landing on the secluded island was something else though: a rubber duck was sent from the boatshed to come and pick us up where we anchored about 400 meters from the shore. It fought its way over the on-shore waves and the four of us clambered in and the skipper, putting the engine on full throttle, charged over the waves right onto the white beach - the engine got lifted up, we disembarked and the on hand helpers moved the rubber duck back into the shed by letting it roll on large black air filled cylinders. We were the first visitors to land on the island since May that year - it was now the end of September. The landing can be difficult during the south east monsoon. After paying our obligatory landing fees of €30, we were ready for our guided tour. The island was purchased in 1973 by Christopher Cadbury for the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, a British based conservation organization. Imagine buying an island - probably nothing much if you inherited the Cadbury fortunes! However, since 2004, the island has been in the hands of the Island Conservation Society of the Seychelles, though it is still manned by British staff. We left our small daypacks with our snorkeling gear (the island is surrounded by a spectacular coral reef) in the wooden building and set out with our Seychellois guide to discover the island.
The sounds of the many birds around us were overpowering. As we started out on our hike the skies, which looked ominous and grey, suddenly opened in a heavy tropical downpour. We all took shelter under the tropical trees, the storm lasted about five minutes, within minutes the sky cleared up and we were ready to start our ascent up to the look-out point Gros la Tete, 134 meters above sea level. The path meandered through lush tropical growth, with lots of big fat island lizards crawling over the tree trunks. We spotted plenty of the fluffy chicks of the White Tailed Tropical Bird - this bird's population on Aride are amongst the world's largest. Some of the chicks were still tiny, others big and round and fat. When the chicks become fatter than the parents the mother bird abandons them. As hunger overtakes them they eventually make their own way down to the sea to feed. We also saw a few Fairy Terns (the emblem of Air Seychelles) sitting on their breeding nests. These birds are beautiful, they are completely white and the epitome of purity; a fairy tern pair will stay together until the end of their lives. Surprisingly, these birds are notoriously bad with their choice of their breeding spots; they will lay an egg in any available place (see photo). On the Bird Reserves in the Seychelles the conservationists often put out coconut shells attached to branches so the fairy terns can breed in this much safer spot. We reached the summit after about 40 minutes of gentle climbing, and we sat down on the rocks at the lookout point, enjoying the warm tropical sun on our skins and the most exquisite view - the blue sea below and the other islands on the horizon. There were thousands of different birds playing in the air around us. We were privileged to see one Red-Tailed Tropical Bird in amongst all the big Frigate Birds, Noddies and Terns. The Red-Tailed Tropical Birds are very rare and only breed on Aride - they are white with a thin red tail and a bright red beak. We were also privileged to spot a Seychelles Blue Pigeon high up in a tree when we were walking down again - the bright red head with the white neck and blue body is striking. The guide told us that ever so often some of them fly in and sit in the banyan trees. (Banyans are part of the fichus family and look a bit like 'Tarzan' trees; many ropelike branches sprout from their trunks giving excellent opportunities for swinging around like a real jungle expert, imitating the well known character found in the book of the same name by Edgar Rice Burroughs). This tree bears a small red fruit that the blue pigeons love and which they eat with relish when it is in bloom. This little fruit has alcoholic properties when it ferments so after a while of nibbling these fruits, the big pigeons often get inebriated and one by one topple over and fall to the ground with a thud - completely lights out and drunk. The warden's wife said they have picked them up and put them in a box and they can stay lights out for up to a week! Talk about escapism! When they slowly come to, they shake their feathers and fly away as if nothing has happened. There is another naughty bird amongst the island birds, the Frigate bird - they are called the pirates of the bird Kingdom. To feed themselves, they will attack the other birds and steal their food.
Our guide also told us about the phenomenal Wedge-Tailed Shearwater (this bird sounds exactly like a ghost and must have frightened some real pirates away in the 19th century when they approached the islands) that can dive up to 60 meters deep to catch their prey. They are completely waterproof and "shear" through the water. I initially thought our guide meant 16 meters, so I repeated in French "soixante meters" and was amazed when he confirmed that it was 60, not 16, meters. I later found confirmation of this phenomenal statistic in a book on the Seychelles' birds. The Wedge-Tailed Shearwater can dive to a depth of 60 meters to catch fish, but they usually stay within 20 meters of the surface. Incidentally, the human free diving record (with fins) is in the vicinity of 66 meters.
The presence of what is on the island completely filled my senses, everything was real. We were shown the vegetable garden and the herb garden and then we were called for lunch. We had our lunch (barbecued fresh fish and chicken with salad) under a primitive wooden shelter built for visitors. We sat down after the long hike and asked for our beers that were packed for us that morning on departure and we were astounded when the skipper, who was also the cook, nonchalantly said he had drunk them! Well, getting upset on such a lovely day was not worth it, so we let it go and drank the cola that was left! We could celebrate our wonderful day that evening again with some cold Seychelles Brew and a French Champagne on Praslin. After a rewarding snorkel on the reef in the clear blue waters later in the afternoon, we had to leave this wonderful place behind. The surf was much higher than in the morning due to the wind and we nearly capsized, one big wave rolled over the rubber duck and we all got completely wet. However, nothing could spoil the feeling of benevolence that was in each of our hearts. On our ride back on the bumpy sea I was in a different world - I felt transformed by the beauty and the simplicity I encountered. The island had a beneficial effect on me. Nature, raw and unspoilt by human intervention, had cast its spell on me.
In reflecting on our own lives and our effect on others in the world today, spiritual teacher Eckhardt Tolle (in his book "A New Earth") says that it is those who are simply themselves who are the big transformers; they are the ones who truly make a difference in the world today: "their mere presence - simple, natural, unassuming - has a transformational effect on whoever they come into contact with". Dr David Hawkins, spiritual guru and teacher from Sedona in America, and one of the few contemporary enlightened beings, says that the greatest gift we can give the world today is to increase our own love, to raise our own consciousness: "One's inner spiritual evolution is of greater value to society than any form of doingness." Through the "Field" surrounding us, we can then have the greatest beneficial effect on the world.
It was suddenly my wish that more of us (the six billion here on Earth) could experience the naturalness of the island and be pulled back to our roots, to love: "The origin of all religions is love and beauty" says Hazrat Inyat Kahn. Beauty is always the beginning of worship; every soul is love and it is love's innate desire to satisfy itself by admiring someone, by respecting someone and to worship someone. And in the greater scheme of things we all want to worship and get closer to God - that is the key to all happiness - "In Him we live and have our being". It is the separation from the Divine through our own minds and egos, our own deeds that make us seek escapism like the Blue Pigeons. When we are awake to the fascinating world we live in, every call becomes a local call where no costs are involved. The free flying birds of Aride Island, the magic presence of the dolphins, the beauty of unspoilt nature on the world's isolated islands are all avenues that bring us closer to our soul, to that ocean where we can truly bath in life everlasting.
- Braden, Gregg. 2006. Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer.
- Hawkins, David R. 2006. Transcending the levels of consciousness - The stairway to Enlightenment.
- Winchester, Terry. 2004. The Secret of Happiness It's all in the mind.
- Tolle, Eckhart. 2005. A New Earth.
- Hawkins, David R. 2003. I Reality and Subjectivity.
- Khan, Hazrat Inayat. 1995. In an Eastern Rose Garden.
This article was published in Kindred Spirit UK as "Rock Fever" in the September/October 2007 issue, page 47-48.