Martha Beck's 5-Day Journey to a More Meaningful Life
As we coaches await the STARlets in the gray light of dawn, I tell Boyd there were lions calling near my cottage at 4 A.M., and feel unseemly pride that he slept through it. We agree to start the morning drive by looking for the lions.
When the STARlets arrive, I ask them to pick up a pebble. "Let it represent a problem you're facing in your life," I say. "Keep it in your pocket; we'll deal with it after the drive." Then we settle into the Land Rovers and wordlessness. The women are already "dropping in" faster and deeper than they could yesterday. A day at Londolozi is like a year of yoga.
Almost immediately, we find a couple of lions, and I do mean "couple." They make boisterous, shameless love about five feet from the Land Rovers. Then two other lionesses rush in like porn stars. We're treated to an extensive ménage à quatre; lions getting it on—loudly—left, right, and center. I glance at Sophia, thinking many tourists would find this scary, but all the STARlets look deeply relaxed. From within their own silence, they sense that the lions have no interest in harming them.
Tues. 9:00 a.m.
Over a breakfast of granola, fruit, yogurt, scones, eggs, and salmon, I invite the STARlets to discuss the problem-pebbles in their pockets. I'm thrilled when most of them look annoyed.
"I don't want to waste time talking about that," says Angela, who has spent years in mental anguish over her daughter's depression. She drops her pebble on the ground and gives a small whoop of liberation. "I can't bring my daughter into peace unless I go there first," she says.
"I was trying to solve a problem at work," says Lillian, "but actually, I think I'm going to quit my job. It doesn't allow for peace, and you know what? I really like peace."
Elizabeth is still laboring over her pebble-problem: exhaustion from perpetual overwork. "But I have to work hard if I want to succeed," she says. "That's just a universal reality, isn't it?"
Bridgette jumps in. "Do you think we're working hard?" she asks, indicating me, Boyd, and Bronwyn.
Boyd starts panting, feigning exhaustion, then bursts out laughing.
Elizabeth considers us and laughs herself. "Actually, you look like you're having fun."
"Ya think?" Bronwyn grins.
"We're having a blast," I assure her. "That's why we're here and it's why you're here. To learn to have a blast 'working.'"
"And as far as universal laws go," Bridgette adds, "name one part of nature—one plant, one animal—that you see working hard. They'll rev it up for fight or flight, but mostly they are seriously chilling."
We can almost see the gears turning in Elizabeth's head. "You know," she says, "now that I think of it, every big success in my life happened when I was having fun."
I'm not surprised. Contrary to our culture's most sacred beliefs, it's when we're doing things we love—with people we love, in places we love—that good things happen. I would hesitate to voice such blasphemy in work-ethic-obsessed America. But with Londolozi coaching her, Elizabeth is going there all by herself.
When it's Lucy's turn, she chucks her pebble over the edge of the deck. "I'm a counselor," she says. "I've been analyzing other people and myself for years. I'm done. I just want to see more animals."
And...cue elephants! Two herds emerge from the thick brush in the riverbed, meeting in front of us with much twining of trunks. It's impossible to fully describe what it's like to be in the presence of wild elephants. They project an almost palpable energy—and not just the infrasonic rumbling they make when they communicate. Something closer to telepathy.
Lawrence Anthony, a South African "elephant whisperer" who once saved a herd of pachyderms from extermination, died three months ago. Shortly after he died, elephants he'd saved began arriving at his home. They stayed, filling the area with their strange magic, for about two days. Then they moved on.
Tues. 3:00 p.m.
Our STARlets are now so deeply at peace that the evening game drive almost turns into a trip to the petting zoo. Zebras, giraffes, and Cape buffalo by the hundreds mill around the Land Rovers. A mother hyena watches placidly as her pups toddle up to us, their adorable stuffed-animal faces bright with curiosity. As we leave their den, Elizabeth (a.k.a. She Who Must Work Hard to Succeed) whispers, "On the left!"
There, on a fallen tree right at eye level, a leopard is watching us. We pull up close enough to see her supernaturally beautiful eyes, circles of deep space inside circles of emerald inside circles of gold. They seem quite capable of looking into other worlds.
"Well done, Elizabeth!" whispers our tracker.
"Thanks," Elizabeth says, beaming.
"You know why that happened," Bridgette tells her. "It's because you were working so hard."
Elizabeth looks confused, until Bridgette adds, "Not."
Everyone chuckles softly, the peace of wordlessness suffused with celebration.
Next: Finally finding purpose