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GAMESTALKING IN THE OKAVANGO DELTA LIVING THE MOMENT AT ITS BEST

Dr Sibis Mouton

'Whoever is not kind to every form of life, to man, to beast, to bird and creeping thing cannot expect the blessings of the Holy one, for as we give, so God will give to us.
The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, Ch 74 v 24

The roaring made the earth and the warm air around the fire vibrate with tension. I was frantically waving the burning palm tree branch as instructed in the direction of the approaching lion. Jebe, our 58-year-old Setswana guide, looked petrified; he was also waving a burning palm in the direction of the primal sound of power emanating from deep within the king of the animals. One more mighty roar, this time closer, and Jebe instructed us to get into the mekoro, a canoe-like boat made out of the trunk of the sausage tree. Silently he poled us, through the reeds, into the river where it was deeper and less accessible to the lion on whose territory we were camping.

Some innate sense of the ridiculous made me want to laugh. Our camp literally looked as if it was going up in flames and there we were sitting, all three of us, in the middle of the river with Jebe shining his torch continuously towards the shore, 20 metres away. Behind us in a south-westerly direction another male lion was affirming his territory. My friend whispered a thought that mirrored my own: 'This could be a very long night.' Fifteen minutes into our sojourn on the waters, a hippopotamus, behind and to the right of us, started snorting. Hippo's kill more people in Africa than any other mammal (except humans) and their aggressive and moody behaviour makes them the most feared animal in the Delta. Suddenly, Jebe was convinced that the shore might be the safer place for us and he poled us back to dry land. Fortunately for us it sounded as if the lion was moving on. The faint twinge in my stomach (which my fire-walk instructor at the Quest Show in Devon the previous July described as 'FEAR': Friendly Energy Announcing Risk) subsided. I picked up my half-eaten plate of rice and chicken curry and continued my meal. What an awesome and wonderful place the Okavango Delta is.

This was my first visit to the living wonder of the Okavango, the only inland delta in the world covering a massive area of about 15 000 km2. As one steps out of the small plane, welcomed by the friendly staff at the Odd Balls camp, with the view of the water among the green reeds, the sense of tranquillity is immediate. We were standing still, admiring the view and taking in the serenity when a fish eagle came sweeping over the waters and let out his breathtaking cry, bidding us welcome to this paradise. His mate soon followed. At once this soulful sound spoke to our deeper selves it spoke of longing and passion and of being fully understood. In that moment, I shed the hustle and bustle of work and of city life and surrendered to the playgrounds and learning school of the wilderness and its inhabitants.

In our three days of camping, in a tent next to the water on a small peninsula, we saw many more fish eagles and seldom was one on its own. The morning that we left our camping spot to return to Odd Ball's camp, a fish eagle kept sweeping through the air above us and I could clearly see how he threw back his head in full abandonment to let out that beautiful haunting cry. One could literally see how his white neck reverberated with the sound.

Four weeks after my Botswana trip I was at the 10th Quest Natural Health show in Newton Abbott, in Devon, England, where I presented two mini-workshops. There I attended a talk by Malcolm Stern, relationship fundi and co-presenter of a series on the British Channel 4 called Made for Each Other. His topic was 'The Wisdom of Vulnerability' and he started by referring to the usual curve of a relationship: the 'falling in love' period experienced in the first three months, then the gradual levelling off of the active sexual life and then the subsequent coming to grips with the 'faults' of the other person.

He asked the audience if there was any couple there who had not experienced this normal trend. And much to my pleasure (and relief) a couple in their forties came forward and said that they had been together for 17 years (with children) and that their sexual life was still constant, exciting and enjoyable. One could see from their body language and togetherness that this was truly the case. One could have bowled Malcolm over with a feather. He kept repeating this was a real exception to the norm. The couple maintained that it was constant communication that kept their love fresh and exciting. The rest of Malcolm's message was that openness, sharing feelings and speaking from the heart was the key to a long-term and fulfilling relationship. If the emotional and spiritual connection stayed open and vibrant, the physical would endure and earn its rightful place in a good relationship. For a moment again I saw in my mind's eye the proud and regal fish eagles, always sitting in pairs, and remembered their soulful cries to one another, the sound of which spelled 'vulnerability' to me. I believe that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, the attraction between partners often becomes greater. The ritual foreplay of the fish eagles before they mate is dazzling. They grab each other with their claws and tumble through the air, continually changing position in this exciting, freefalling, love dance. Equally, couples who play together with vulnerability to one another's needs will stay together. They can match the example of the lifetime love of the fish eagle pair in the animal world and dispel what is the human 'norm'.

In order to play together we need to regain the ability to stay in the moment, to be fully involved. Game stalking in the Delta was an excellent learning school for this. One has to walk with total awareness of the environment and one's self, with all the senses awake continually listening to sounds as they unfold, checking the direction of the wind, smelling the air, with eyes wide open checking for the spoor in the sand. One is aware of the sun: if it is low, you walk in open spaces; if the sun is high, you rest in the shade. One walks slowly, always in single file and in silence. Every moment is pregnant with possibility. Around mid-morning on our third day out game stalking with Jebe, we took a break in the shade of a tree. I looked up and in the thicket of bushes about 50m away I spotted a movement; the catlike body and the moving tail was unmistakeably that of a lion. I broke all the rules in my excitement and shouted: 'There is a lion.' What one is supposed to do is indicate your awareness of big game by tapping on the person in front of you and pointing in the right direction. Needless to say, I frightened, or rather annoyed, the lion. Jebe took us wind up and we approached from the other side of the bush but the lion was gone. It is important to be relaxed, absolutely silent, when you spot an animal. A shy buck, like a kudu, will duck away quickly if you don't freeze and stay relaxed; the animal can feel your tension immediately and will disappear. These game stalking rules are the same as all the lessons in mindfulness that spiritual teachers keep repeating. While daily functional focus is necessary, it can make us tense and can rob us of the richness of life. Our secondary peripheral awareness brings us closer to experiencing life to the full. The continuous relaxed internal awareness of all that is around us must always be turned on. I call this the 'wonder eye'; the eye that is always open always present in the moment to see the wonder and splendour of life around us.

Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hahn, says that the present moment is our true home. We must be aware of the blue sky and the beautiful singing of the birds. By living every moment fully we experience the joy of existence. Thay (the affectionate name for Thich Nhat Hahn) relates the following story about the Buddha, in his lovely book Living Buddha, Living Christ. When the Buddha was asked what he and his monks practice, he said: 'We sit, we walk, and we eat.' To the questioner's repartee, 'But sir, everyone sits, walks and eats,' the Buddha answered: 'When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating.'

I felt fully alive in the Delta, completely aware of all that is, and loving the unfolding of each moment. Every night I felt as if God wrapped me in his blanket of love the black velvet sky with all its luminous and infinite number of stars the cover. I felt progressively at one with all around me and I experienced a heightened spiritual state where everything was harmonious and in its place. I felt a part of the space rather than a separate entity. I was a step closer to that ideal state, which all seekers of the truth agree is oneness with all that is and complete love for all that exists a position so few of us reach. Dr David Hawkins, in a kinesiology study which tested thousands of people, reached the conclusion that only 4% of our worldly population ever reach the level of 'Love' and only 0.4% reach the level of 'Joy' (here love becomes unconditional). In the Delta the king of the animals, the lion, showed me a gateway to these states.

Camping meant waking up with the rising sun, early morning tea/coffee and then a ride in the mekoro to go game-stalking for three hours. This was followed by a hearty breakfast made in a black pot and pan on an open fire. In the midday heat one relaxed, even snoozed, in the tent. Tea, made on the fire at 15:30, was followed by another two hours of game stalking. Every morning and late afternoon Jebe would pole us on the peaceful waters to a distant shore. The mekoro is a Delta speciality, and the tree it is made from has huge 'sausages' hanging from its branches and its trunk that, when fully grown, are big enough to carve a small boat. The baboons love to eat the 'sausages' they look like giant German polonies, which would flatten you in one second if one fell on you. Being on the slow moving waters of the Delta as sunset is approaching is an exquisite experience full of beauty and serenity. I will never forget the crescendo sound when a large flock of hundreds of black open-billed storks ascended into the air. The air vibrated as if a thousand butterflies were flapping their wings. A similar sound was made by the lechewe buck as they ran through the water escaping any possible threats (the lechewe, with its huge hindquarters, is a species of the antelope family which only exist in Botswana). After sunset we would sit around the fire, cook dinner and listen to the sounds of the night unfolding.

For the final days of our holiday, we exchanged the rough and simple existence of camping for luxury and comfort to spoil ourselves. We spent this time at Kwara, a luxury lodge on the edge of the Moremi Reserve. Here, your guide takes you game spotting by Landrover in the morning and then again for a night drive in the late afternoon. It is a much easier way to see game. I asked the staff about the possibility of going for a jog (the dirt airstrips looked a pretty plausible place for me) and they simply looked at me in horror. This is just not an activity that one even contemplates in the Delta; running makes you an open target for the reigning predators.

The first evening at Kwara Lodge we saw two young male lions that had finished devouring a buffalo that morning. They looked like two giant dead cats as they hardly moved. The next morning we found them again, this time more awake but still idling and often lying down in the tall yellow grass. The third morning we followed them in the vehicle as they approached the same herd of about 100 buffaloes. What astounded me was their totally nonchalant attitude towards the group of six humans sitting on the Landrover. As far as they were concerned, we could just as well not have been there. They were completely focused on stalking their prey. To see this big magnificent animal walking within four meters of one, with huge paws moving rhythmically along, was an exhilarating experience. In psychological terms this detached behaviour is classified as having no need of a mirror universe. So often as human beings we dwell within fear, anger and pride, the world of 'me and my effect on others' and vice versa. We are dependent on other people's opinions, on their approval. We have a need to mirror ourselves in the behaviour of other peoples. But once we accept ourselves and start to live authentically, the need for this mirror universe gradually disappears. Then we become kings and queens of our own existence and the state of love for self and for others and for all that is becomes the next possibility. Our intentions move away from the ego and we reach the higher road of extending kindness, respect and consideration to all whom we meet.

As we move onto this higher road we experience another of the paradoxes of life. As we release dependence 'on the world', we actually become more connected and willing to give. This is the state of power where our pure state of thought and heart sends out messages to attract others to this state. The behaviour of the thorn trees in the Okavango swamps illustrates the saving grace of our collective power. The tall and graceful giraffe loves to eat the juicy leaves of this tree. A giraffe's tongue is very long, coarse and flexible, so the animal can circumvent the thorns and get to the leaves. After a while, however, the thorn tree starts secreting tannin which makes the leaves taste bitter. Even more significantly, the tree then sends out pheromones to the surrounding trees, warning them against the giraffes. So the surrounding trees also start to secrete tannin. In this way, the whole clump of trees is saved from too much destruction and the giraffes move off to another feeding station. In our holographic universe, we have the same powers; we can also project our thoughts. By sending out good and wholesome messages, we can build a good and wholesome universe together.

One of my favourite sights among the bushes and trees in the swamps was that of the lilac-breasted roller. When this colourful bird spreads its wings in full flight, the flash of dazzling blue and green mesmerises one completely. I think it is time that each one of us shows our true colours, our God-given immortal touches of splendour. We can only do this if we pursue activities and experiences that raise our collective consciousness to a higher level.

The harmony and beauty of life that I experienced in the Okavango wakened me to this higher possibility. A benign and balanced universe does exist and we have the power to benevolently influence existence on earth every day. We are truly all sons and daughters of God. Let us in our collective oneness make choices that will create a dream that is worth waking up for.

REFERENCES

1. Levi. 2003 (eighteenth printing). The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

2. Stern, Malcolm. 2004. Falling in love, staying in love.

3. Hanh, Thich Nhat. 1995. Living Buddha, Living Christ

4. Hawkins, David. 1995. Power versus Force Hidden Determinants of Human Behaviour.

5. Hawkins, David. 2001. The Eye of the I.

Dr David Hawkins site can be found at : www.veritaspub.com

This article was published in Odyssey, October/November issue 2006, page 21-23 under the title "Stalking the Wild".