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Curiosity and The Discipline of Being Whimsical

A dazzle of zebras look curiously on at Londolozi Game Reserve

Curiosity is the mechanism by which you pull a destiny better than what you could imagine for yourself towards you.

To remain curious is one of the primary disciplines of a tracker. It takes cultivation and awareness to become a curious person. You need to wake up daily in your own life and be willing to find the unanswered wonder, and then wonder toward it with intention.

This is the paradox: to be disciplined about being whimsical. To learn to follow what brings you to life.

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The Trail of the Un-rushed is a Path of Presence.

Sunrise over a river on Londolozi Game Reserve

One of the things I have always felt in the presence of masters is this deep sense that there is more than enough time.

I remember sitting with my guru, when I was young, in a garden in Delhi. It was the first time I had met him in person and although our encounter was only a few minutes it felt like hours. When you were with him, despite his intense schedule, he always felt relaxed and unhurried. You felt spoiled by the abundance of time you were getting when in fact it was not time but rather presence you were receiving.

To be more present is to make more life.

It is to be the sort of person who can bend time.

It seems to me that to be unrushed is a lost art form.

Presence and rushing have never met.

In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added.

In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped.

Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action.

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

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The Way of the Tracker: The Elephant Track

When you look at the image above, what do you see?

Perhaps you see a man standing in an odd position (I’m hiding a beer behind my back). Maybe you see the tree on the left of the frame that has had its head cut off or the odd shadow below it.

When I showed this image to my tracker friends and asked them what they saw they all answered as if I was asking a stupid question.

“The elephant track”

The first thing they notice is the twig in the front left-hand corner of the frame and the impression of itself it has left in the powdery soil as an elephant has compressed it to the ground. They see the wrinkled edges of the elephant’s foot.

They see it because they have trained themselves to see it. This is the development of track consciousness. It’s the development of searching images in the filing system of the brain so that you begin to see through the eyes of a tracker. You begin to notice what you’re looking for.

Life is full of tracks.  You have to train yourself to see what brings you to yourself and what dissipates you.

You have to learn to see the track. You have to become the sort of person who might notice the subtle signs of destiny if you walked across its path.

That is the way of the tracker.

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Growling As a Way to Maintain Harmony

The monkeys in the camp are cheeky. They like to sit on the paths between the rooms and scare the guest as they walk past.  Mostly, it’s a game of intimidation- they advance on you and see if they can make you run away.

Many of the people around the camp have actually become afraid of them. Yet there are certain people the monkeys do not mess with.It can be quite interesting to notice when you walk in a group down the path who the monkeys choose as their mark.

I remember another time when I worked for a period with big cats in a sanctuary that they would immediately select a person in the group that was interacting with them as the one to try and cut from the herd. It was fascinating to see the speed of the selection. Luckily these were cubs we were raising, so there was never any danger, but still the process was interesting.

There is a study that was done some years ago where known psychopaths would watch a 12 second video of people walking down a path. Without fail the psychopaths would select the same people as their victims based on a set of almost imperceptible cues.

We express very subtly to people how they can treat us.  Many people I work with need assertiveness training. They need to learn to stand up for themselves. I think of this as a kind of wildness. To know what you need and where you stand all the time. Like a wild animal, very honest and not at all harmless.

Finding this place inside yourself paradoxically makes you not dangerous but safe. People feel you are not the one to target. Being in touch with your truth says don’t inflict yourself on me or there will be consequences.

I see this all the time in nature. The animals let each other be, stay out of each other’s way and allow everyone to get on with it. Occasionally, when there is no other option, they unleash there teeth and claws and set a very clear boundary.

Trusting you can stand up for yourself according to the studies Brene brown did is the doorway to deeper compassion. She found that the people that were the most compassionate had the best boundaries.

Learn to growl as a way to maintain harmony.

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Finding a True Yes

One of the simplest and most powerful ways to break out of social constraints and be wilder is to find a genuine yes and a genuine no.

It’s so simple and yet it will break you out of all sorts of compliance and obligation.

There is a reason why, in courtroom dramas, the lawyer always says, “it’s a yes or no question.” There is simplicity to these two words that establish a direction without the spinning of elaborate stories. Saying no when you mean no will bring you to your integrity. Saying yes from deep within, before all the reasons you shouldn’t, will open your life.

When I found a clear no it came with all sorts of side effects. I couldn’t act or try to manipulate situations. I couldn’t pretend to be confused or that I wanted to but couldn’t. Learning to say no made me so much more honest. It put me in touch with myself. Then, ironically, it made me less selfish. The more I learnt to say no, the more energy I had, the more I ended up having to give.

This is the paradox of boundaries.

Finding a true yes, one that arose from deep down, started to open me to the things I really wanted to be involved in. A true yes started to discern more elegantly the places I wanted my attention to go. And where your attention goes, your life goes.

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The Way of Discovery

The way of discovery is fluid. The way of knowing is rigid.

The way of discovery invites. The way of knowing tells.

A tracker lives in immediate feedback loops of discovery.  Often when tracking fast they will simply walk rapidly on the line of the animal in small zigzagging patterns.  A track here: warmer…  Nothing here: colder…

They respond to the signs on the earth (or the absence of signs) making quick course adjustments as they move in pursuit of their quarry.

They are learning as they go. Giving themselves the space to try things and work through a process of confirmation and elimination. Often if they lose the track they will amble ahead trying different game paths until they cut onto the track again.

So many people I work with tell me that they are stuck. They tell me that don’t have a signal clue what they want to do. They are often of the mindset that when they KNOW what they want to do then they will begin to make changes. This is the binary mind of culture.   A culture obsessed with knowing the answer from the moment a young mind enters a classroom.  The culture says you can get it right or wrong. The culture says be perfect or flawed. The culture says success or failure. These are the subtexts that the ideals of modern life present.

Life however is not binary.  It asks us to try things, take small chances and allow a vision to emerge out of these experiments.  A new identity comes from giving yourself the space to try things.  To have no clue and, like a tracker, walk on the trail of the discovery.

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Into the Unknown

Boyd Varty Retreats

To be a tracker is to develop a relationship with the unknown.  Every time you come across a trail left by some elusive wild creature a question forms in the space between your eyes and the track, a question that is innate to every trail. The scope of unknown that lies ahead is unfathomable. The terrain is unknown, the animal’s movement, mood and whereabouts. Its presence on a vast landscape brings one to thoughts of needles and haystacks.

And yet, the tracker is inclined towards this. He is attracted by all the things he can’t know for within that evolution is the aliveness.

The tracker does not concern himself with outcomes but rather with the next track, the next step and then the one after that.

Rilke pointed to this as he learned to live in the mysterious unfolding:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

To the tracker this is not a flimsy whimsy but rather a resilient state of curiosity. It is a state that requires constant untold commitment to commitment.

Be courageous enough to know that you do not know where you are going, but you are going anyway.

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The Way of The Tracker – Part One

Trackers are adept at creating psychological states. On the trail of an elusive creature they enter a paradoxical place. They are obsessively determined to find the animal but the desire to find it has not been allowed to become a crippling attachment to outcome.  What they commit to in order to generate the outcome is simply the next track, then the next track, then the next.

To me, what it looks like, is the dynamic nature of play. They are relaxed; they allow the moment to evolve. They lose the track and check the trail up ahead the go back to the last track. Lightheartedly enjoying themselves doing something that seems almost impossible, they relentlessly allow the process to unfold.

All transformations begin with a single track and then another. Most profound shifts in our lives come from tiny decisions.  There are things we want, the person we believe we can be.  Between that person and where we are now are small steps… the next track.  Cleaning out your bedside table, an apology, a thank you note.  Learning to say no or yes.

Commit to the next small track, then the next, and meet greatness in the play of process.

This is the way of the tracker.

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The Defensive Aloe

There is an aloe in my garden I admire. With spiny fronds that protrude and odd wedges for leaves it looks like a kind of immobile alien.  Viewed from a distance the word curmudgeon comes to mind.  As a plant, the aloe looks defensive. That is because it is, with a supreme elegance. Its adaptions to the harshness of its surrounding are genius.

It is covered in small sharp thorns. Underneath the thorns is a thick waxy skin that prevents it losing moisture. Inside the frond is viscous foul tasting goo that, as a child, my mother would put on my nails to prevent me biting them. When a frond dies it withers and then folds downward to protect the stem- a kind of ever replacing armor.

The aloe that occurs from southern Africa all the way to the Arabian Peninsula (and even makes an appearance in Madagascar) has been perfectly shaped by its environment.

Like the aloe, our patterns of defense have been perfectly shaped by our environment. There is sophistication to a defense mechanism.  Rage, disassociation, isolation were born in us for a reason. Passivity or hyperactivity as a means to feel safe was constructed by the complex maneuvering of the psyche.

To understand and even admire our defense pattern is to step towards wholeness. To thank it for its necessity rather than loathe you for its presence is an invitation to be more yourself.  Not perfect, but on a journey of growth.

At certain times of year, out of the fortress of the aloes defenses, rises a beautiful flowered frond. This is the aloe’s essence. And from this frond, a multitude of beautiful birds come to feed- mirroring the beauty of the aloe’s fronds with the beauty of the birds themselves.

Love your defenses. They protect your essence, which is so beautiful that it can’t help but attract others to it.

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Podcast: Meeting Yourself in Wilderness

During a walk that I went on a couple of weeks ago, I felt a certain shift in consciousness, and a shift in the way that I was perceiving the natural world. It’s something that stayed with me for a long time, and I realised that what I was discovering was a much more native way of discovering myself in all things, in the natural world. It began with a very critical voice, centered on the fact that I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I had all these places I wanted to be, and things I wanted to achieve, and I wasn’t doing enough to get there. That’s my common theme (it may be a different theme for you…we all have one). When that voice should have made me do more and motivate me, it actually made me rebel against it, and stop doing things. It was a recurring pattern for a week or so, and so I turned to the wilderness for the answers…