Updated: Jun 26, 2020
Author: Hazel Farrer, Mindfulness Teacher
All I knew was that we were going to the Kalahari on a safari. The Kalahari Desert is a large semi-arid sandy savanna in Southern Africa extending for 900,000 square kilometres, covering much of Botswana, parts of Namibia and regions of South Africa.
I had imagined animals back-lit by rolling sand dunes with stunning sunsets and vivid colours. My daughters wanted to see the mountains made of sand, and thus buckets with spades were packed. Our friends from England bought a new camera to photograph all the wild life shown in brochures. Yes, our perceptions, and expectations, of the desert were high.
What we found was different to what we had expected.
After 15 hours of traveling we arrived to what appeared to be, well, nothing much. It was a a seemingly barren scrub land. Clearly my minds picture was in the wrong country, my daughter's mountains were somewhat flatter and less sandy and the wildlife had emigrated to make way for the ground squirrels - Although a different species of squirrel, squirrels can be photographed in many parts of the UK. The bush seemed – EMPTY! What were we to do with a week of emptiness?
Hyena's teaching lessons
As we set up camp, I became nervous as we had been told about a rogue spotted hyena. We were warned to stay in the tents after dark as he had apparently gone for someone who had come out his tent - I engaged in a mad hunt to find plastic containers into which we could empty our bladders in the hours of darkness.
Then as as the dark arrived, I tried to empty my mind of fear. BUT the faster I emptied it, the more it filled with memories of scary situations, stories of hyenas biting off noses and visions of my using Tai Chi to ward off the scavenger. To add to this, the camp we were staying in was empty of other people. I tried blocking it out using meditation. Could hyenas undo zips? In the end, I just lay there waiting, sleep was not going to come.
Sure enough, my ears, now feeling like they had reached the size of a bat-eared fox's ears, heard the snuffling. And what did the hyena do? It emptied! It tipped up and emptied every bin. All the discarded food, the rubbish, all the stuff we had tried to hide was scattered everywhere. I lay there focusing on my ragged breathing and listening to the sonic boom of my heart, waiting for the stillness to return and a safer emptiness. I waited for the new day to arrive, with light, sunrise and cute squirrels.
The hyena highlighted our vulnerability in a wide-open space, and demonstrated that the bush was not quite as empty as I thought. Being fully awake to what was happening, captured my complete attention and resulted in a full sensory awakening. As my minds storytelling, and catastrophizing ability, was shifted into present moment focus, there was an acute awareness of physical sensations and the feeling of a privileged presence.
The hyena taught us many lessons. We felt an increasing ethical responsibility to the rubbish we were creating. On a deeper level, I realized that the process of emptying in our lives is a necessary step to "see" the old rubbish/ baggage and dispose of it responsibly before creating space for the new.
“It is necessary to make room, to leave an empty space in order to allow new things to come into your life. The force of this emptiness is one that will absorb and attract all that you wish” Joseph Newton. The principle of emptiness is key in terms of change, clearing out and shifting.
The Kalahari desert taught us lessons
It took two days to get used to the desert's emptiness. No cell phone coverage enforced a digital detox; We could not check our phones nor communicate. There were no familiar frames of reference in the landscape, no human or machine based sounds, no fresh fruit or vegetables, no distracting activities and apart from the night stalker, not many large animals to photograph.
The “emptiness" teaching, defines emptiness as “a deep experience in mind and consciousness that gives an experience of an open heart, still mind and present moment reality”. In this way, emptiness is also like mindfulness; An awareness that comes from paying attention, to the present moment, intentionally and without judgement.
Slowly as I allowed my mind to quieten, by acknowledging by what was actually there and staying in the moment, I became entranced by the self-expression of nature, the world of insects, rodents, bird song and the colours of trees. I found wonder in small but significant life, an appreciation of a pristine environment, the quality of the land and the beauty of how nature flows and moves. This was very different than just scanning horizons for the more obvious.
I arrived in the Kalahari with a set of expectations that were not met, yet I left with so much more. There was beauty in the solitude and simplicity. I had not expected to learn about myself in the manner I did, nor did I expect the seemingly flat scrub-land, "emptiness" to bring me instead a sense of peace, natural rhythm and order.
Allow emptiness to work her magic.
Allowing for emptiness, creates a powerful balance point. If you find yourself needing to clear out, experiencing cravings for places of peace, or being stressed out by constant activity, chaos, loss or apparent endings, it is may be time to explore the force of emptiness.
The state of "being" in emptiness, is not as a state of nothingness but a rich, full and sacred place of consciousness that allows for re-connection. Learn to enjoy the precious space of emptiness and allow it to work it's magic.
Hazel Farrer is the director of Hazel Tree Coaching. She is a life coach and mindfulness teacher. She also owns Mindful Caminos combining mindfulness practices with Camino experiences and walking journey's in wilderness around the world.
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