The Peace-of-Eden:  A return to Paradise

“God saw all that He had made and it was very good”

The intellect of most men is barren.  They neither fertilize or are fertilized.  It is the marriage of the soul with nature that makes the intellectual fruitful, that gives birth to imagination…without nature-awakened imagination,  most persons do not really live in the world.  They pass through it and live dull lives of quiet desperation.  Thoreau – 18th Century Theologian.

Mandy Young

The bush has always been a place of healing for me.  I knew that when I was little and used to run away from home, down our long mud-red driveway from the little cluster of houses that was us and our neighbours, into the waiting arms of the treed forest that hugged the shores of the Kafue river in Zanbia.  I remembered the yearning for wilderness wisdom and nature nurturing when the hammer of the judge declared I was now divorced.  My heart ached and I needed to hide out for a while.  This was where my journey with the wild dogs began.

Wild dogs They showed me what was missing when they greeted each other and hunted together -  good family connections.  I left home when I was 10 years old and lived inwardly disconnected from myself, my family and my bush home. I began a journey that helped me to reconnect and remember that genetically, soulfully and spiritually we have evolved in adaptation to nature.

The human species has had some 3 million years of survival-programming in how to interact constructively with nature…love and connectedness with the natural world is rooted in our genes - as much a part of our history as love and bonding and having children.  We know at a deep body-mind level, however dimly, that if we continue to reject this programming and do not establish a respectful interaction with nature, we will lose not only a vital dimension of our humanness, but eventually our planet home as a self-renewing, life-nurturing organism.  Biologist, Edward Wilson, 1992.

This journey of healing and self-discovery was not just for me. 

Charlotte slumped down the small gravel pathway dragging the wheels of her bulging mobile suitcase behind her. 

Not a very cheerful participant”, I thought, “She’s supposed to be on holidayHoliday equals happy, doesn’t itHoliday equals freedom from responsibilities and routines, doesn’t it?” My grumping continued,.“I think I’m going to have a tough time with this one.”  Then softening a little I wandered why she was so sad.

Pongola River

The participants for the Wisdom of Elephants experience settled into their new home for 5 days: free-standing wooden chalets perched along the gorge of the Pongola River.  The next 5 days after this would be spent on the Mozambican shoreline swimming with wild dolphins.  Looking down from the verandah into the snaking river below we could see hippos yawning their mouth-gaping greeting, impala skidding through the reeds and a gentle-eyed kudu bull bend his stately crown of twisted horns waterward to satiate his thirst.  As a fish eagle seered her call through the setting sun, our hearts stood still watching the grandeur above reflected in the mammoth movements below of several families of eager, grey-faced, wrinkly elephants lumbering gracefully, if that is possible, along the banks of the river.  Silently emerging from the reeds where they showed no sign of appearance just seconds before, as peaceful as the cloud-encroaching shadows.

Supper was a little strained as Charlotte, Melanie, Bill and Annie, Ralph and David settled in.  “Weren’t those elephants amazing”, sparkled Melanie.  Her dancing blue eyes were set in a tanned face with high cheekbones and a generous mouth.  As the days of our adventure rolled forward she was the enthusiastic one in the group, sometimes too positive.  Annie responded, “I liked the little ones’ they were so cute, they hardly knew how to use their tiny trunks.  Sometimes I worried they would get trampled amongst all those giant feet moving around in the mud.”  Something I grew to understand about Annie was that she was often anxious on our game drives.  It irritated Bill a lot of the time, sometimes made him feel tied down, unable to move freely and independently, but at other times it also made him feel manly and protective when Annie was most vulnerable.

Elephants

Our first meal begun with an avo and pear starter, followed by kudu steaks with a smothering of chilli-chocolate source.  “Not sure I want to eat something we have just seen alive”, David baulked.  “You have eaten steak before”, Ralph teased.  “Yes, but I don’t generally see live cows before I eat them”, David defended.  “Come on where’s your hunter spirit”, Ralph continued.  Ralph had booked for David on this WildLife EcoTour.  They were long time friends and musicians in the Worship team of a church called Connections in the Cape Town sea-side suburb of Fishoek  Ralph was a post-graduate student doing his Social Anthropology thesis on The Role of the Church in Alleviating Poverty and David was an IT specialist.  Pudding was a light, bouncy coffee mouse, framed with a dark chocolate feathered pattern and a cherry ‘rose’ with angelica ‘leaves.

Slightly woozy with travel, and heady with new sights and sounds the six guests sank into soft couches.  Indulgent tummies sank into relaxed laps and well we begun our first group discussion: the Introduction.  The quiet of the starry skies that canopied overhead were the dome against which my words boomeranged, the backdrop for the story about how the elephants returned to Pongola Game Reserve.  “This is a place where elephants used to walk their natural pathways, but they have not existed here for over a hundred years until 1997,”  I explained.  “What happened to them?” Bill enquired, his wrinkled weathered hand pondering on his bearded chin: a true scientist always wanting to know the facts..  “They were hunted out, shot and killed during frantic land-grabbing Anglo-Zulu wars and their habitat shrank and became almost non existent with the building of the Jozini Dam and the development of agriculture, all those sugar cane fields you saw just before turning in at the gate”.  “How did they get back here, we saw quite a lot of them this evening?”  This was the first time Charlotte had spoken all evening.  “Quite a story actually”, and I began to share about the arrival of the two elephant herds from Kruger, the Bulls who came a year later and how the Orphans arrived 15 months after that. 

Why are they called Orphans?” Annie asked concerned.  “In the late 1980’s elephants were culled in the Kruger National Park, in the light of much the same controvery that is raising its head currently.  Many people don’t like the changes that happen in the habitat when elephants feed and woodlands become grasslands, trees are pushed over and the habitat changes.  They say other species of animals and plants will die because the elephants are taking over.  So some people believe good conservation management necessitates the elephants being culled as a way of ensuring species survival and diversity.  Others say that culling elephants is counter-productive.  As they have such good ability to communicate over great distances, up to 60kms in the right weather conditions, they let each other know that their numbers are dwindling and they procreate more actively – a calf every 18 months to 2 years, as opposed to slowing down their reproductory rate as low as a calf being born every 5-7 years when environmental conditions are not very sustenance sustaining, for example in times of drought and consequent famine.”

Elephants

Each day was filled with game drives to the elephants I knew so well, Beuga the Matriarch, so protective of her herd, Ngani the dominant bull who stood 4 meters tall at his shoulder.  The little calves, Charlie, daughter of Charm, the first Orhpan mother to give birth, Constance her aunt, another Orphan cow, who gives Charlie much affection after the stillbirth of her own calf 3 months after Charlie was born; Asterix the daughter of Aquilla a Breeding herd mother from one of the Kruger families of elephants, and the many other elephants who taught me so many life insights every time I am in their presence.  Initially the Breeding herd – the two Kruger elephant families, did not want anything to do with the Orphans.  They looked down at them as having inadequate upbringings and poor manners in social situations.  Sound familiar?  But as Charlie and Asterix were born within weeks of each other, and as Charlie grew, she wanted a playmate, the two herds were drawn into closer proximity and have resolved their differences as the wise old Breeding herd mothers teach the Orphans something about parenting and social etiquette.

Being in wilderness places offers us the mind-space to reflect, to find a different kind of connection with ourselves, God and with those we love.  A time from busy, stressed, city lifestyles to experience physical and emotional restoration.  A place to know ourselves better as we rest in the balancing rhythms Mother Nature provides: God-created processes tried and tested over time, cycles of life and death, of parenting, of being young and old.  In these wilderness places we experience God’s unconditional love: nature is a great leveller and it does not matter if we are fat or thin, whether we have white, red pink or black coloured skin, whether we can sprint like a hare or plod like a tortoise, whether we are intelligent or have a great gift for hospitality, whether we paint or create computer programs – we are accepted for who we are.

Dolphins

When we swim with the dolphins and they chose to move, swirl and look at us eye-to-curious eye in their watery underworld, we feel acceptance.  When they play, squeal, mimic us and show us the piece of seaweed that has become their transitionary toy, we feel joyful, lighthearted and want to play.

Animals are honest, so when we are with them in reflection we know more truly who we are and what we want to become.  They do not encourage us to be like them, but to remember who God designed us humans to be.  When we look at the greeting behaviour of dolphins, wild dogs, elephants and meerkats we are encouraged to nurture kinship bonds amongst ourselves.  When the Alpha male is very nurturing of his Alpha female when she is giving birth to pups, a couple that bond for life and head up their Painted Hunting Dog clan, we learn that God graced women with the physical and psychological capabilities to rear their young, and they are best able to do so when a husband is providing, emotionally supportive and protective.  When a whole herd of elephant stop so that a calf can feed we remember that we, as parents need to sometimes stop, give time, make appropriate sacrifices, so that our young can survive and know they are worthwhile, not the other way round – our children must not exist to take care of us, make us feel like good parents because they achieve well or behave well.  Children should not keep quiet and suppress normal needs to sleep, to eat, to play, to learn because we might get angry, walk away, or withdraw our love because we are too busy or too stressed.

In our group times together after each elephant encounter Charlotte, Melanie, Bill, Annie, Ralph and David operated as a clan together, laughing, teasing, silently supporting tearful expressions and feeling close connections through their shared experiences.  My understanding of them as a result of many years of professional work as a Psychotherapist are intertwined with animal understandings from the species I have researched, resulting in take home personal life insights.  Charlotte was sad because her husband had left and her life had changed.  She felt abandoned like the Orphan elephants when their culled mothers, brothers, fathers and sisters were taken from them.  She felt new hope when she saw Charm had given birth to Charlie and the Orphans had found a new home at Pongola Game Reserve.  Through spending time with the elephants, supportive new friends, mother nature and within the safe place I created so that she could be vulnerable and face her sadness, Charlotte realised she was not a victim, life had been painful but she had new hope for the future.  In this wilderness place with time to de-stress, to re-discovcer herself in a new way, to re-find her faith by experiencing God’s unconditional love, she could have new vision and re-define her future.  Charlotte chose to downscale from the house her divorcing husband had left her, to a flat and use the money she gained to take a new lifetime opportunity and fulfil a dream, to learn to fly a light aircraft.  She followed her new vision and now flies for the Bataleurs, a conservationary group.

When Annie saw the little elephant calves playing safely because their mothers laagered around them she realized her constant anxiety and worry came from fear.  Annie’s mother died when she was very young, she did not know the safe place of her mother’s arms for very much of her life.  With this understanding Annie moved more closely to God’s desire for her – to live with love, not fear; with greater trust and less anxiety.  Her husband, scientist Bill softened and found new personal freedom not only when Annie started to worry less, but when he saw the adolescent bull elephants leave their natal herd.  He realized that it was appropriate to grow up and leave home, to go on one’s own adventures.  As a young man he felt curtailed by needing to take care of a disabled mother when his world-renown father was travelling the world.  He realized even pursuing a scientific career was to gain his father’s admiration and attention, what he really wanted to do was work with horses.

Biography

Mandy Young is a Psychotherapist & Ecotherpaist.

As a Psychotherapist she enjoys taking journeys with her clients that lead them to better self-understanding, emotional healing and maturity, that way people become passionate, purposeful and fulfilled.  She has worked with people of all ages in the areas of couples counseling, relationship healing and understanding, depression, divorce, bereavement and addiction.  Her work with children has involved Play Therapy and Group Work, especially with children adjusting to Parental Separation & Divorce through her well-researched Hurt to Hope 13-week workshop, the subject of her Masters thesis from a comprehensive Ecosystemic perspective.  Mandy has also facilitated group work and ecotherapy excursions with teenagers dealing with drug addiction.  She enjoys teamwork and believes in a community of different professionals using their expertise synergistically to help amputees rehabilitate back into life after losing a limb, or cancer patients dealing with advanced radiotherapy and the potentially life-threatening illness of their disease.

Mandy is passionate about her Ecotherapy work which has evolved over 18 years of observing animals with social behavior – wild dogs, elephants, dolphins & meerkats, and more recently also tribal people – the Naro Bushmen of the Kalahari and Ilingwisi Clan of the Maasai in Kenya.  She believes that we evolved in adaptation to nature – genetically, soulfully and spiritually and we are not best adapted to the stresses and strains of city life and many aspects of our westernized lifestyles.  She believes that we have become Ecoalienated and less Emotionally Intelligent as we have become dependent on left-brain functioning – technology, science and facts.  She takes people and teams into wilderness spaces to spend time with tribal people and wild animals to re-discover our humanity and re-connect with others and live in an interconnected way with the earth and our Creator.

Mandy says much of her own healing, faith and journey towards self-understanding as a mother, new wife, ex-divorcee, friend and colleague was enhanced by spending time in nature.  Mandy is the owner and facilitator of the Peace-of-Eden Self-Discovery Wildlife EcoTours & Corporate WildLife Team Building Adventures.  She encourages you to join her on these adventures and find your own emotional healing, spiritual understandings, how to be a Team and facilitate cutting-edge Corporate Re-Structuring.  Contact Mandy via mandy@peace-of-eden.co.za.