Martha Beck's 5-Day Journey to a More Meaningful Life
It's time for our first three-hour "game drive." The STARlets climb into two open Land Rovers that lack sides or roofs. Most tourists chatter continuously on safari, but this group is completely silent. Instead of talking, they've been asked to feel for their own heartbeats. They've left their cameras behind, too. There'll be time for photos later, but for now our priority is establishing a deep connection with the wilderness.
If these limitations bother the STARlets, they get over it quickly. With no phones, no e-mail, no small talk allowed, we begin to drink in the fresh, cool air and what Bronwyn calls "the light that makes everyone beautiful." And we begin to see things noisy tourists never do. Shy dwarf mongooses, rather than running away, climb a termite mound to examine us quizzically. Antelope and zebras move closer, as if amazed by this unusual phenomenon: humans being quiet.
We park to watch the full moon rise, huge and red, as the nocturnal animals begin singing their evening chorus. Sharon turns to me, tears on her cheeks, and mouths one word: home. I don't know whether she means Africa, or the animals, or the silence, or the moon. Maybe all of the above.
Mon. 7:00 p.m.
After the drive, we gather for dinner and coaching in an enclosure called a boma, a circle of sand some 50 feet across, ringed by tall logs. The glitter of crystal and silver in the lantern light turns the dark space into a miniature galaxy. Beyond the wall, hyenas whoop. The chef brandishes a large spoon in case one of them ("the Gorgonzola female") decides to sprint in and raid the buffet for her favorite cheese.
Sophia, who has braved the pain of fibromyalgia to be here, seems perplexed by the peace she's feeling.
"Everything seems so benevolent," she says. "I mean, I knew we'd be protected, but I always thought nature was a sort of seething mass of violence—you know, 'red in tooth and claw' and all that."
I can relate. Until I came here myself, media images and nature documentaries had me scared of the whole African continent. In person I've found undeniable dangers outweighed by an unbelievable sense of peace.
Sophia can't make sense of this. "But the world is violent," she insists. "Think of the Middle East." I know this trick: Since she sees no trouble here, she's finding it elsewhere. (Which is one reason her body hurts so much; she's continuously tensed for flight, her system exhausted by stress hormones.) This isn't Sophia's unique problem; it's human nature. Any high school English teacher will tell you that a story needs conflict to hold our attention. If you don't believe it, consider what's on TV: conflict in relationships, business, sports, politics—even, for God's sake, cooking. Turmoil draws and holds our attention. But any Zen master will tell you that where our attention goes, so go our lives.
This constant mental trafficking in conflict leaves us vulnerable to harm. Take the bus driver who drove straight into a bridge, in broad daylight, while complaining on a cell phone, going attention-blind to real danger as he focused on the "seething mass of violence" in his own mind. This doesn't happen to animals. Animals live in the alert but quiet mind-set of a meditator. When danger appears, they notice it immediately. When peace is available, they accept it. Always.
I invite our STARlets to list every peaceful thing—and every violent thing—they observed on our drive, then compare the lists. Peace wins by a score of infinity to zero.
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