“Humans are tuned for relationships. The eyes, the skin, the tongue, ears, and nostrils—all are gates where our body receives the nourishment of otherness. This landscape of shadowed voices, these feathered bodies, and antlers and tumbling streams— these breathing shapes are our family, the beings with whom we are engaged, with whom we struggle and suffer and celebrate.
For the largest part of our species’ existence, humans have negotiated relationships with every aspect of the sensuous surroundings, exchanging possibilities with every flapping form, with each textured surface, a shivering entity that we happened to focus upon. All could speak, articulating in gesture and whistle and sigh a shifting web of meanings that we felt on our skin or inhaled through our nostrils or focused with our listening ears, and to which we replied—whether with sounds, or through movements, or minute shifts of mood.
The color of sky, the rush of waves—every aspect of the earthly sensuous could draw us into a relationship fed with curiosity and spiced with danger. Every sound was a voice, every scrape or blunder was a meeting—with Thunder, with Oak, with Dragonfly. And from all of these relationships, our collective sensibilities were nourished”
~ David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
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.
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.
What if bees might be holding the key to an algorithm that could teach humanity how to create vast shifts in our collective consciousness? What if they are holding the key to how an individual can create waves of change through complex social structures. What if they teach us more than any creature about how deeply relational all life is. Well I learnt all of this…and then respect. Listen to my story on how being stung by hundreds of bees taught me all of this and more!
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.
There is a tree I know that has been teaching me about the power of presence. It’s an ebony tree with a thick black stem and dark limbs that flex into a thick canopy of evergreen leaves.
In stillness, the tree is uniquely itself. It is elegant. It does not have a five-year plan. The tree does not need to look busy to feel valuable or important. It is not actively doing anything. Yet, the scope of what that tree achieves is quite remarkable.
The tree invites birds to its branches. Recently a giant eagle owl took to roosting in the recesses of it dark shaded branches.
At a certain time of year it fruits and monkeys and baboons gleefully take to its branches.
Nyala can bee seen under the tree eating leaves that have fallen to the earth due to the monkeying around in the branches above.
A monitor lizard is living in a hollowed section of the trunk.
The tree’s presence is formatting the space around it. It’s shaping an infinite scape of occurrence simply by being itself. It’s essence arising out of it’s deep unmoving refusal to be anything but itself.
Let your presence invite everything to be itself around you.
Harmony is everything being uniquely itself, and in that way a part of a greater whole.
The force of life moves a leopard.
I believe presence is the ability to meet life. It is the simple way that the very intelligence of life guides us in every moment.
Leopards live in this deep union with the unified field of intelligence. They don’t move…they are moved.
What I mean is that a leopard does not have a verbal mind. There is not the mental construction “I should get moving”. But rather the moment shapes them from a feeling, from stimuli – maybe an impala crosses their path. Maybe the day cools. Maybe shade beckons. The unfolding of life asks for an action and the leopard is guided into movement by what is being asked. In this way the leopard’s movement is aligned with the entire movement of the universe.
We see this in humans, in great masters. Martial artists and dancers fall often into this place where the dance and the dancer have become one and the same.
Our goal is to remove all mental clutter, insecurity or trauma, to the point where the moment shapes us and simply informs us of what is required of us. This is the empty way of Zen.
This is the way of the leopard.
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.
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.
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…