These days everyone has his or her own definition of what Yoga means to them. This week while on Safari in South Africa I explored mine.
I had no idea what to expect when my friend suggested we go and see animals in their natural habitat on a Game Reserve close to Cape Town. I have been to Zoo’s and seen the odd Elephant, or Hippo. But seeing a Giraffe craning its neck over a fence at the Sydney Zoo and watching 20 Giraffes cross the road in front of your vehicle in Africa is a completely different thing.
As soon as we hit the dirt in our open-air vehicle the land around us came to life. “ Those are Springbok,” our groovy Game Ranger Dimitra called out, “ I’ve heard that as they run they secrete a scent from their bottoms which smells like fairy floss not that I’ve ever gotten close enough,” she added. After watching the flight of about 40 frisky Springbok, which look like deer without the spots, we drove a little further to view the Giraffes. There were Mothers and Baby’s and Fathers and Grandfathers and as they passed each one stopped and stared at us. “ They are very curious,” Dimitra shared “ they love to know what’s going on.”
As I watched each Giraffe I was in awe of how tall they were and how gentle in nature. “Wow!” Dimitra exclaimed once we were a little further up the road, “everyone pipe down this is very very rare.” Ahead of us in the bush were three black Rhinos completely relaxed and lying next to each other oblivious to our clicking cameras and hushed whispers. A Rhino is absolutely huge and there it was just lying around like we do when we couldn’t be bothered doing anything. I relaxed just looking at them.
“Lets move on,” Dimitra said after we’d had our fill of viewing Rhinos, “I think the reason we are seeing all the Giraffes today is because a Lion has killed one of them. Let’s check it out.”
The Game Reserve was set on 25,000 hectares. “How big is a hectare?” I asked Dimitra as we bounced along towards the Lions. “Well imagine 3 football fields times 25,000” She replied. Driving in the landscape was unbelievable, valleys, hills and scrub as far as you could see, the grasslands teaming with wild Antelope, Wildabeasts, Kudu and Elans.
I couldn’t help thinking about how funny it was to hear the names of all the animals, names I had never heard before, each name existing because we’ve named it. Does a Springbok know it’s a Springbok? How can it? It just exists as an inseparable part of nature. And how does that relate to me? How do I know I’m Rachel? Isn’t my name just like any other name- a name for the nameless?
Breathing in the pure air, watching the animals and pondering my own nature are things I can do because I’m self aware and can identify and relate to the world around me on more than an instinctual level. But where has that gotten me?
Watching these unaffected creatures around made me feel kind of Goofy. How silly to be caught up in opinions and judgments and emotions. I am so busy identifying with myself as an individual with a name and a history that there’s no chance for me to relax and just be!
“Look there that’s the matriarch of the pride!” It was past sunset now and Dimtra was shining a light on a big female Lion relaxing on her side while a host of Giraffes hovered nearby. “The Giraffe are definitely upset you can feel it otherwise they would leave the area. We think the Lion killed a baby Giraffe this afternoon lets see if we can find the kill.”
You can’t imagine what its like to watch a female Lion crunch and munch the bones of a baby Giraffe or to see a huge male Lion not too far from the vehicle keeping watch. I should have been afraid or disgusted or both, but I surprised myself. I just felt that I was participating in life. I realized its only me as an individual who makes a judgement call and says this or that is wrong. Nature is supposed to work and it does. Its only human beings that have tried to manipulate nature.
It was on the following day after seeing more Rhinos and watching a herd of Elephants feeding and playing that it hit me. Nature is here to remind me of SELF. SELF being the presence in which everything from a blade of grass to a Butterfly effortlessly exists. And Yoga is not a practice. It’s the unnameable ever-present totality in which we all participate. Yoga is existence whole and complete. Whether watching Zebras, their manes swept back against the wind, Rhinos posturing with each other for status or Lions rolling around each other affectionately made no difference to the peace that is ever existing . They acted naturally and if they ended up being someone’s dinner well that was natural too.
The rest of the day unfolded effortlessly. We came across two thirsty Rhino’s, a Mother and her Calf who were being pestered by Cattle Egrets. The Baby kept making her way to the edge of the waterhole only to shy away when she felt the wind or the bustle of the Egret. The Mother eventually ushered the Calf away from the water perhaps sensing a more private spot to drink. Our vehicle was in her direct path but that didn’t stop her. Magnificent horn and all she stomped straight past us. It was slightly harrowing to say the least as that horn could have picked up the whole vehicle and overturned it but I had complete confidence in our guide. She had obviously been well trained and it was easy to trust her.
That night as I lay in bed sifting through the feelings and images of the day I thought about the role of the Game Ranger. A Game Ranger is trained to know the environment and the animals she observes. Everything is managed and accounted for so that when the guests are out in the field they feel safe and cared for. As a Yogi, I also need to know my environment- the environment being the truth of being human. Knowing who I am and my purpose in the creation gives me carte blanche to enjoy creation fearlessly. The whole of Nature is a constant mirror for that truth.