From the first time I set foot on the African continent a decade ago, I knew I would return time and again. There is something about being there, especially in the wilderness, that always left me simultaneously feeling more alive and profoundly at peace. Science is now providing answers as to why this response occurs and why time in nature is imperative to our well-being. An American Scientist study showed how time in nature triggers an increase in the opioid receptors in the brain’s visual cortex and a study by Roger S. Ulrich, PhD, found that nature can even help heal the body from surgery and serious disease. Driven to learn more about the remarkable effects of time spent in the natural world I visited a place in South Africa that many say is a mecca for ancient wisdom, wilderness connection and is widely becoming known as one of the ultimate healing and wellness destinations on the continent. It’s a place that merges the profound energy and wisdom of the African wilderness with ancient treatments, spiritual philosophies and transformational retreats and has so much to teach us. The property is called Londolozi and they have reimagined the very notion of safari itself, reminding us that the word “safari” actually means “journey”. I learned so much at Londolozi but here are three things I think are critical for all of us to incorporate into our lives.
As Londolozi Co-Owner Bronwyn Varty-Laburn says, “Before we can heal the planet, we need to heal ourselves and only once we as individuals make the choice to alter our relationship with Planet Earth, can we begin to reverse much of the environmental destruction we see before us.” Bronwyn is right, and in order to really heal ourselves we have to actually focus on what’s happening inside us and spend less time attached to our devices and the things that bring us “out of touch”. Disconnecting can be as simple as limiting screen time and making sure you are outside at least 30 minutes a day. Boyd Varty, Bronwyn’s brother, who also helps run Londolozi, says, “There is a place inside you that is as healthy as the day,” and once we cut away all the distractions of daily life – the stresses, anxieties and negative presences which distort our priorities and distract us from what truly matters – we can restore our inner sense of tranquility, mindfulness, and peace. On many of the Londolozi retreats, meditating outside is a key activity to re-set the body and remind us that there is a stillness we can access within us at any time. Best of all, meditation can be done anytime and anywhere you are in the world.
Nature has so much to teach us, we just spend too little time learning from it. One of the most incredible things I’ve learned from nature was by tracking wild animals through the African wilderness at Londolozi. Tracking is one of the oldest art forms in the world. Boyd Varty leads the annual Track Your Life Retreats he created where he’s turned this ancient experience into a tool to help hundreds of people embrace a new way of seeing the world and approaching life. Through tracking excursions, Varty teaches moving life lessons such as, it’s okay to lose your way when tracking what you want in life and it’s actually through “loss” that we find things like resilience, bravery, and tenacity. He also teaches that one should never track alone – meaning we need meaningful relationships and a sense of community to really thrive and too much isolation can be destructive. Research shows that loneliness raises stress levels and inflammation – in turn increasing our risk for heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and even suicide attempts. For creatives, entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders in the modern business world, these risks can be even more acute. Tracking – which involves being immersed in nature for hours or even days – gives us a multi-sensory and physically engaging experience that release chemicals in our brains that combat these adverse health impacts, specifically by fighting things like anxiety and depression.
We all experience trauma throughout our lives and healing is a process we need to make time for. I learned from Londolozi’s leaders who traveled the world, meeting with Navaho medicine men, Peruvian shamans, and local wise elders, that processing trauma in a safe and immersive way using the wilderness can be life-changing. They even founded the Healing House center that draws on sacred traditions that quiet the mind and reset the imbalances caused by our disconnected modern lives. They teach through their Healing House and through their 5 day retreats that our own personal healing journey can start wherever we are by carving out more time for ourselves to process what we have gone through in life, practicing forgiveness, practicing gratitude and writing each morning or evening as a cathartic experience. These are absolutely critical for self-reflection and our personal journey. Forgiveness, for example, which is a key concept of positive psychology, teaches us empathy, compassion, and understanding and is linked with important mental health benefits including reduced rates of anxiety, depression and major psychiatric disorders, as well as health benefits. Similarly, gratitude offers perspective, improves self-esteem and fosters our relationship-building skills – all critical foundations of healing and positive mental health – while writing gives us the opportunity to experience both forgiveness and gratitude. Simple steps, including carving out time to meditate, write, or take a reflective walk, can go so far for our healing and wellness.
No matter where we find ourselves in the world we can make more time for nature and more time for our own healing. As Boyd Varty says, “Nature takes us back into a wordless state. It takes us out of the verbal mind and it is from that place of wordlessness that we are able to experience oneness or a sense of our place in the great unfolding of life. Nature reconnects us with presence and this is a place where healing naturally begins to occur.”
We all seek more wellness in our own lives whether personally, professionally, in relationships or with family. Trackers do this and the tools of the tracker can be applied to your own life. Boyd’s new book reveals how the wisdom from the ancient art of tracking can teach you how to recognize these essential ingredients in a meaningful life. You can pre-order Boyd Varty’s new book – The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life. Available on Amazon HERE