It all begins with sketchy reports of a very rare black rhino that was seen in the far north of the reserve. I drive out with my gear motivated by some deep tracking lore…. If there is a rare animal out there I must go and look for it.
The inclination to seek out and find what is rare is fundamental to the tracker.
In this case this results in an entire afternoon alone in heat and burning midday light scouting. It’s not romantic…..it's solo trudging…..self motivated. No one to make a show for. It comes out of a place in me.
I walk through dry winter terrain in search of the track. I sweat and stare at the earth for any scuff or mark. Any sign of the beautiful creature
Attuning to the way the ground speaks in some fundamental way. Nothing
I'm tracking but I'm not tracking….
At certain levels of any practice or artform …..what you are doing gives way to who you are being.
In martial arts fighting is a door to presence and discipline and devotion.
In yoga the stretching is the front side for a life of compassion and service.
I feel this now as I trudge around with no sign of a rhino.
The tracking…..is becoming about a certain tenacity I am developing.
It's about living the kind of life where lessons can find me.
It's about practicing.
Martha Beck, my mentor, used to say to me “how you do one thing you do everything.”
With this in mind tracking shows me where I can be lackadaisical, where I give up too easily, it has shown me how I can lack concentration.
My practice has handed me my shortfalls so that I may face them with tenacity.
And I know what I develop in my practice becomes who I am in my life.
I am developing my capacity for symphony……
My ability to allow seemingly unrelated parts of life come together.
This quest for the sacred is of course more than that….. It's about living towards the track of my life.
Today It's about hours alone in the heat on bad information. And who that makes you.
It's about being willing to be inside of what calls me with the understanding that that’s how you become authentic.
As you know my life has been defined by guiding.
I worked first as a safari guide and then when my path pivoted I became a guide in ceremonial spaces.
In both cases taking people into the wild or their own psyche the key was to know the terrain. You needed to have been there to those unknown places yourself.
You needed to have been lost and found your way out.
You needed to have scared yourself and become humble.
You needed to make edges your new normals
That’s how you became a guide.
This understanding is what motivates me when after four hours I have not seen one fresh track.
I walk past a beautiful impala lilly flowing in Miami pink against the dark bushveld.
The koppie where I planned to sleep is off limits as someone has just sighted a leopard with a cub on it.
I change my plan and drive south to another old platform in a tree called tingwe camp.
The camp is set in a beautiful dry river bed…….dense with tamboti trees.
As I arrive at dusk a family of bushbabies is leaping through the trees around the camp.
Stop now and google bushbaby to meet a truly cool creature.
Night is falling fast and the sky turns pink while the second the sun drops behind the horizon it gets cold.
Up the river from me a pack of wild dogs has made a den in an old termite mound. Occasionally I hear the young pups squealing at their parents for meat.
The night rushes in and with it cold.
As I make the fire I feel terribly lonely.
Solitude is both a gift and a trial.
alone in the bush it can rattle your bones with its relentless presence.
Before you ask yourself questions of spirit like.
“am I on my mission” “am I living my purpose”
you might ask how long you can be truly alone for with nothing to distract you.i don’t mean the thirty mins you schedule for your meditation. I mean hours and hours, no books, no journal, no podcast, nothing.
The answer to that question may be an indication of if you are really ready for the other two.
Around me the birds roost it clicks and tsks
The fire starts and the night crashes onto me. Black.
In the shadows of the fire there are ghosts of other nights I spent here.
A July winter when I was 15 with my best friend.
We had heard that beer was a taste you grew to like so we choked down beers every day in the hopes of becoming cool beer drinkers rather than the fruit cooler losers we were.
Then We spent a lot of time trying to talk my older sisters friends into coming to sleep in our tree house so we could drink beers in front of them.
In my twenties as safari guides on nights off we would come and sleep attingwe camp. by now we were beer drinking pros and I remember a night when a kind of wild fire dance culminated in about 20 of us covering ourselves in mud stealing back to the main lodge camp like special forces and abducting all other staff out their rooms to come and party with us. To be fair they didn’t resist much. In fact I recall a Land Rover full of muddy rangers, beautiful hostesses and other hostages packed to the brim. In the confusion of the raid someone had put a standing exercise bike on the bonnet of the land rover and now a ranger was pedaling it as it drove everyone back to the tree house
The camp had been a place where many young guides in training had slept out in the wild for the first time. It was the place many young men and women under the stars for the first time had heard a lion roar at midnight.
I tell you all of this because as I sat around that small fire last night…. I understood that part of why this spot is sacred to me is that it was dense with memory.
It has held me through so many phases.
In my immaturity it had held me and it had seen me grow from wayward to disciplined.
And as I look back on it I don’t want to exclude that skullduggery from the sacred.
I had been engaged to be married once….and after that fell apart I had come back to this spot fundamentally confused by the dilemmas of love and compatibility.
If the arrow of time is not linear. If time is in fact a flat circle where everything is actually occurring simultaneously then as I sat by that fire I sat with versions of myself in time just a veil of perception away.
And of course the insight that that produced was that the place had always been sacred…but only now from an inner awareness of what that may even begin to mean could I begin to perceive it.
I tell you a silence fell as I felt the truth of this that was so intense it was like a force.
The night held its breath.
I sat in that intensity.
Aware of a new quality in my own presence. I was aware that I was aware.
The past gave way. the future froze.
Was the sacred coming into me from the place or finally coming out me to make the place.
All through the night that almost oppressive stillness remained. The star's crystal with cold above me. oppressive is the wrong word…..but never have i felt a calm of that intensity.
Only once was the silence broken when a white faced owl called out.
At times in the night I lay awake but without a single thought in my mind. the branches of the tree above me against the dark dimension of the sky looked like fronds of flat fan corral.
At dawn a three legged hyena slunk eerily through the camp.
I share this.
And these recollections are a true part of the journey.
And there is magic to being alone in the wild.
But understand also that there is so much space between the magic.. where I am operating alone and self reliant. There is always the potential for danger and it is not so much romantic as it requires attention and the discomfort that comes with growth.
I am pushing myself to seek the natural insights that come with time in unusual terrain.
This is the work of making a symphony of wildness and solitude into growth and wisdom. I understand my own routines can also be ruts. I have to get outside of the bounds of normal life and see what I learn there if I ever want to comment on what it means to live.
Wow i'm really not sure how to say this.
Let me try this.
When I was facilitating a lot of ceremony work……the schedule would be intense. A different group every night in a different city.
Deep emotional process. Ptsd, abuse, visioning, rebirthing, deconstruction. Every night we sat for people and we held that space for healing and human making.
I used to notice before the group I could be a total wreck. My girlfriend could have left me.
I could have lost my bag.
My own issues could be paramount but when I walked in that group the presence would come and no matter what was going on in my life a steady clear godforce was holding space.
Man, that kind of experience leaves you wondering about the validity of your own problems.
That they could plaque you all day and be gone instantly in the face of another's suffering or process.
Like this work calls me forth in a way that makes me bigger than the smallest parts of myself.
So yes I am searching for the sacred in wild places.
But more than that I am trying to find what calls me forth. Because I feel like living towards that with motivation and discipline might be the sacred that is not a place.
Boyd Varty Sacred Sites
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