Photo: Elsa Young
Mon. 1:00 p.m.
Bridgette, Bronwyn, and I pace nervously on another deck, a huge wooden platform built around a massive mahogany tree. This is the center of Tree Camp, which also includes the private cottages where our guests will sleep. We'll do much of our coaching over meals on this deck, as herds of antelope graze below us and monkeys try to help themselves to fresh fruit from our plates. Beyond the deck lies a landscape from the Garden of Eden: a riverbed flush with palms and rushes, golden savanna stretching to the horizon.
Boyd has gone to Londolozi's tiny airstrip to collect the STARlets. A small plane is bringing them from Johannesburg, on the last leg of ten separate journeys that began all over North America and Europe. Bronwyn scrutinizes the lunch setup while I curse myself for trusting giraffes and warthogs to show up and help these guests transform themselves. It always sounds great during long-term planning, but right now it seems insane.
"Drop in! Drop in!" whispers Bridgette as we hear the Land Rovers approach. This is life coach shorthand; she's telling us to shift our nervous systems from "fight or flight" mode into "rest and relax," using deep breathing and meditation techniques. (Take three long breaths, exhaling totally on each, and you'll get a taste.) This may be the most important skill we'll teach the STARlets. Just in time for their arrival, we drop in.
It's our first all-female STAR—ten guests ranging in age from early 30s to mid-60s—and the ladies are obviously impressed. They gasp at the beauty of the high-ceilinged deck and the landscape beyond. Their eyes, though hollow from jet lag and fatigue, are shining with excitement.
Over lunch we introduce ourselves and the coaching process that begins now. I ask each woman to tell us what she hopes to get from the five-day retreat. Lillian is frustrated by her lack of career direction. Sophia is hoping to find new ways of dealing with fibromyalgia. Lucy needs help switching from high school counseling to private practice. But any seminar could address these issues. All these women share another goal, one that in our culture might seem odd: They want to regain a sense of connection with nature, with animals, with the ancient magic of the Earth.
And in fact that magic is already working. As the STARlets describe the complex lives they've left back home, the other coaches and I gently point out that nothing they're worried about is present here at Londolozi except as a story, a mental narrative that causes suffering. The only step necessary to achieve the STAR's first goal—peace—is to release all such stories from their minds.
Now, back home I'll spend years coaxing a client to drop even one mental story. Here I can be much more aggressive, because Londolozi is the real coach. To slow their overactive minds, the STARlets need simply open their senses to the soft symphony of the African bush: the smell of fresh grass and running water; the whisper of wind and insects; the interwoven songs of mousebirds, bush shrikes, and drongos. As the immense peace saturates them, the women visibly relax. By the time lunch ends, they look years younger than when they arrived.
Next: Experiencing their first game drive
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