I want my life and work to be meaningful. I want to live and breathe my passion and purpose daily. I want to be a force for change – for a more loving and compassionate world.
But my character is not forceful. My leadership style is not charismatic or
persuasive. My dedication to my work, my
accomplishments and achievements often fly under the radar as I don’t seek to put
myself forward. I am also not competitive
which means I mostly defer to more extroverted characters. Perhaps this is read as weakness.
And so I have been having a little crisis of self… the
crisis of the “I’m too small” and the “I’m not enough” kind because I don’t have
a “big, out there” personality.
I’ve been here before. So time to find solitude and sit with this discomfit and then the epiphanies will come…. they always do…
As part of my journey with Dr Tererai Trent’s book – The Awakened Woman – I have been reflecting a lot about the place of ritual in daily life.
She talks of the importance of ritual in helping her on the path towards her sacred dreams. In the companion journal I am working through there is a section titled “grow your soul through ritual”. She writes about the richness of her culture in the part of rural Zimbabwe where she was born. There is such beauty in the connection of her people with natural world and the rituals that result. It is an inspiring read.
Dr Trent is not the first woman I have come across who speaks of the essential place of ritual in her life.
One of the prompts in the Awakened Woman journal was
to list any rituals you practise already.
At first it was difficult to think of any rituals in my own life. Looking to the past, my ancestry, the idea of
a rich cultural history is fraught. My
ancestors come from a group of people who’s past actions and values I would
prefer to distance myself from in many ways.
Then I started thinking closer to home, to my family and my childhood. I was lucky enough to grow up with my great grandparents and grandparents on both sides. Family tradition in abundance. As I began to list our family traditions a realisation occurred – it was me who turned many of these traditions into ritual. Especially at this time of the year as we head towards the festive season I have become the keeper of my family’s rituals. So without consciously thinking about this before, ritual has played an important place in my wellbeing – in feeling connected with the spirit of the past and in rooting deeply in the present to grow into the future.
There is another quote from the Awakened Woman journal I like,
“Rituals are the actions we can take to help us walk the path to our dreams. They connect us to a more authentic version of ourselves, allow us to pause and focus on what’s important and strengthen our beliefs”.
So what can ritual look like? I think it can be any action sacred to you, that you deliberately and thoughtfully repeat. I believe ritual becomes a very personal thing. I have rituals around prayer, meditation and a mindfulness practice… oooh and time on my Shakti mat! Finding time for stillness in the day to day busyness of life has become essential for me. Particularly as I currently live and work in a busy city – an environment that drains my energy.
The next prompt was to consider how the rituals you practise
help move you closer to your dreams. Definitely
a concept I had never considered!
One of my dreams goes around treading lightly and respectfully on the Earth. And so I got to thinking about whether ritual plays a part in my attempt at living sustainably. And upon reflection it does.
My family has a lot of ritual around food. We use food and precious family recipes as a way to commemorate family occasions, mark anniversaries and the passing of seasons. As immigrants our food rituals connect us to a spirit of place and time as well.
And what I now realise is that I have come to think of food and food preparation as a way to honour what Mother Earth provides – there is ritual in that. I still choose to eat meat – not in large quantity and only if I know where and how it was produced. I focus on what’s seasonal and grown locally. In a country like New Zealand I am extremely lucky to easily know where and how meat, eggs, milk, butter, fresh fruit and veg are produced and make my consumer choices accordingly. While cooking and preparing meals, I have now added in quirky little prayers of thanks to living things, plants and animals, that have given their energy to allow me mine. A weird ritual perhaps but one that has given me “pause and focus on what’s important and strengthening my beliefs”.
All this has made me ponder the food thing when travelling. How can you be comfortable without really knowing where the produce is coming from or how it was produced? I then remembered my time as F&B manager at an ecolodge in the Okavango Delta. The thought that went into sourcing food to provide a 4 star offering in a very remote location. We did source locally as much as possible. We did create menus based on seasonal availability. So the food side of things became as considered in the journey towards a sustainable organisation as the energy use, green building materials or waste minimisation strategies.
Above are some images from my time in Okavango…. best office in the world!
So even on safari in really out of the way places, treading lightly and living sustainably is possible. I take comfort in the knowledge that in their own way many eco-conscious tourism operations in Africa today do incorporate ritual. Ritual that makes them respectful of the wildlife and wild space in which they operate. Ritual that makes them sensitive to the communities they impact and include in their conservation intention. Ritual that ensures their guests are supported to also tread as lightly as possible in their journey of exploration.
On Friday 27 September 2019 I had the opportunity to participate in the Schools Strike 4 Climate Change in Auckland, New Zealand. As a conservation educator it was a thrilling moment to be able to march alongside my colleagues and the youth of the world as we speak up to secure our World’s future. To continue to walk my talk of many years.
Now not everyone agrees with Greta Thunberg’s or
Severn Suzuki’s type of action. But this
is just one approach that supports countless others as we each work or fight
for change in our own way. The future of
our planet really does rely on every individual, mindful action as well as
policy change at the highest levels of government.
I was sixteen years old when 12-year-old Severn Suzuki gave her moving call to action at the UN Earth Summit in Rio 1992. The South Africa I grew up in was only just emerging from the evil, tragic grip of apartheid. Rio’s Earth Summit certainly did not play out widely in my troubled environment. I didn’t even hear about Severn and the Rio Summit at the time. I only got to hear about her and the Earth Charter at university a few years later while completing a degree in Environmental Science.
There was no such thing as recycling of rubbish while I was
growing up. But I did have an inspiring
Geography teacher who talked about CFCs and the hole in the ozone layer, rising
sea levels and global warming.
An immense amount of Good Work has been done since then. Voices for action can derive hope from that,
I think. I know I do.
My personal journey with Sustainability started as a child, privileged
to be surrounded by the magic of prolific wildlife. Though back then I would not have described
my passion as ‘in aid of Sustainability’.
Wildlife conservation is my original passion. For me, the heart of my desire to make a
difference in the World has always been derived from my intense love of all
things wild in Africa – wild, pure, open spaces and all the marvellous creatures
that are so precious, deserving of their right to life and their perfect role in
a thriving ecosystem – simply because they are, like I am!
As I hit my tweens, I started to realise that the human
world I had been born into was messy. I became aware of the concept of Ubuntu. In light of this ancient truth I could see
that South Africa was in a dark place. I
am because we are – for me “we” is all aspects of Mama Africa, and by
extension, Mother Earth.
The ‘wildlife’ concept of conservation had to be expanded to
include human communities. Some decades
later I guess we would now refer to this more holistic approach as ‘Social
My degree focused on Environmental Science and Conservation
Biology. I began to understand
sustainability – the complexity of unsustainable human practices that focus on
technological advancement, convenience and to some degree simply because we
can…. pushing the human brain to its creative limits. This level of advancement and focus on
economics, profits and convenience is energy-intensive, to say the least, and
the highest cost has been to Mother Earth.
Even to people whose compassion doesn’t extend beyond their own family it must be becoming alarmingly obvious that the outcomes of unsustainable practices, particularly since the start of the Industrial Revolution, will affect their future – health, ability to generate wealth, perhaps even their whole way of life.
You would think that I would be a sustainable living Champion,
with all the information I have gleaned in my education and in the course of my
professional life as an environmental scientist and conservation educator! But it has been a journey of years to put the picture puzzle pieces together and
genuinely start living sustainably.
To be honest, my practical buy-in started really simply with the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. What’s possible in terms of recycling looks different in diverse parts of the world, depending on infrastructure and resourcing. It varies greatly between urban and rural areas in New Zealand, where I am currently living. And it will continue to change over time, hopefully rapidly and for the better. Even just getting the 3Rs right can be confusing, frustrating and certainly inconvenient, depending where you live.
So here’s what I’ve learned … being mindful of how I tread on this planet, and making environmentally conscious decisions, has to supersede convenience. I recognise that it is not my right to live conveniently at the cost of All around me.
These days I work with the 7Rs in mind – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rehome, Replant, Rot. Here is an image of what that looks like, taken from ubuntunomad.com.
I also like this image (below), with RETHINK at the centre, taken from a Google image search – Be mindful of your consumption, your relationship with “things” and your relationship with the Earth.
From a place of Rethink anything is possible. This is motivation to mindfully, actively,
continuously pursue the 7Rs strategy.
For example, we can find out about composting in our area. For me a recent delightful discovery has been
that my hair salon belongs to the Sustainable
Salons initiative – I’m very happy to support ingenious organisations like
There are so many amazing examples like this now. Yes, it does take a little extra time and
energy to do the research, but I believe it is worth it in the long run. Spending
money with local businesses that have sound sustainability initiatives is a
simple and practical contribution everyone can make. I have found social media to be an invaluable
tool in connecting with environmentally conscious groups and organisations I can
So that’s it in the daily micro-moments of my life. Turning off lights and electronics on standby, separating out the soft plastics for recycling, refusing disposable cups or straws or single use plastic bags, thinking about water use and saving where I can, being a mindful consumer as much as possible for everything from clothing to cosmetics, being aware of the palm oil predicament and only purchasing products containing certified sustainable palm oil.
The list goes on and I will make it longer as I learn to tread as lightly as I can. I have to believe that each of our small mindful actions will make the necessary difference in the end.
In my bigger picture, I try to make my mark by taking my conservation education career very seriously – and I never forget about the beleaguered African wildlife that planted this seed in me that lead to greater knowledge of the plight of life everywhere .
This year my focus has been to look at conservation and sustainability
when travelling, which is another great love of mine.
I spent a number of years working in high end ecotourism
lodges in Botswana. Such an incredible
time in my life! What particularly stands
out for me is the environmentally sensitive architecture used to construct
these lodges – the temporary footprint
they are able to create, completely off the grid and very sustainable. If this can be achieved in extremely isolated
areas of the Okavango Delta, I think there is little excuse for organisations
based in areas of the world which are better resourced!
I finally managed to get back to Mama Africa this year. Previous blog posts cover this absolutely amazing Journey with Purpose. I chose that particular trip because it ticked so many of the environmental and social sustainability boxes that I am trying to be mindful of in my travel choices.
On my bucket list, since always, is to visit East Africa,
the birthplace of safari, so I constantly search in hopes that a perfect option
and opportunity will arise. I am looking
for tourism organisations that focus on wildlife conservation, community
conservation and sustainable practices in their delivery to guests. My experience in Botswana tells me exactly
what to look out for.
I have been following Asilia
Africa on Instagram for a while now, and I find their authentic community
conservation initiatives utterly inspiring.
Of course, their tourism offering looks stunning, too! And Yellow Zebra Safaris appears
to be a good bet to organise a truly caring, conservation-conscious safari in
Kenya! Their concern
for solo travellers backs that up.
And so my journey dreams continue … next on my agenda is how to tackle the carbon footprint of air travel, especially from this part of the world? For such a vast distance, I’ll have to look further than contributing to the planting of thousands of trees.
I will finish off this rather long post with a thought-provoking
excerpt from The Infinite Game
– How to Live Well Together by Niki Harré:
“Well, changing the behaviour of other adults has always seemed to me both patronising and misguided. What we need, if we are going to promote human and ecological flourishing, is people working together on creative solutions, not experts training others like circus animals. The enormous beauty and power of our species lies in our capacity for collective innovation. It is an endless, uncertain task, improving this world of ours and trying to do so with love and joy. It takes both big, powerful players and small, discrete players each working within their sphere of influence – experimenting, adapting, and negotiating new practices; and the policies, laws and technological innovations that help hold these practices in place. We need to ignite that creative capacity in each other – not smother it with assumptions that ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ may be) know best.”
I have been pondering this question over the week. It is the first task in my Awakened Woman journal.
What breaks my heart is humanity’s disconnect with Mother
Nature. It seems to me that we could
solve so many of our social and environmental ills if we could find this
What breaks my heart is how we cannot seem to live in
harmony with wildlife in wild places as we once did. What happened to being open to learning from
Mother Nature? For She has much to share
with us about how we tread in this life.
In June we had World Giraffe Day. In August it was World Elephant and World Lion Day. September is World Rhino Month. And so it goes, on and on, each new day dedicated to another species in peril.
CoP18 meeting took place in Geneva recently. The results of this conference
of the parties was mixed. While we
can take some hopeful moments away for some species after this year’s
conference, there is definitely still too much of a focus on wildlife as a
commodity for my liking.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater” JRR Tolkien
The climate crisis continues. The Amazon is burning. In a world where we are bombarded with what
seem utterly hopeless and insurmountable odds, I want to share some examples
that I know of – examples of what is still fair and where there is still love.
The following are links to messages of hope that fill my
inbox, make up the social media threads I follow and come from personal
experience having met some of the individuals at the heart of these
organisations and collectives.
And many more… so I need to amend the statement I started
with… not all humanity has lost that vital connection we have with Mother Earth. There are still many of us who will continue
to use our voices for the voiceless.
And even more than the above examples we need to be
encouraged that every single individual action we take counts… we can make a
difference for good at an individual level.
It is about the second
thought you spare in your daily journey through life, being mindful of how
your tread, what and how much you consume, how you dispose of waste.
It’s about how we need to rethink education and empower the next generations to make better choices than we have.
And please understand even if you don’t care about animals and wild places, the changes all these people of are working for are in our own best interests too – the survival of humanity!
And so what breaks my heart is what we’ve lost but in the
same breath what shores up my heart and gives me hope is the countless daily actions
of compassionate individuals. It is this
conservation collective that will keep the worst case scenarios at bay. Or so I
choose to believe…
I am so excited to work through Dr Tererai Trent’s wonderful book, The Awakened Woman, a second time.
I first heard Dr Tererai speak on a podcast
with Kikki K founder, Kristina Karlsson.
I loved listening to her delightful accent and the rhythm of her voice
sent me right back to childhood and growing up in Southern Africa. Listening to her read her story as an
audiobook was a revelation. Dr Tererai
is a poet and wordsmith, the way she uses the English language is beautifully
In The Awakened Women she shares her incredible story of dreams come true. Using her experiences and insight to provide a guide for others which is so profound and yet so accessible.
So I now have the print version of the book along with the gorgeous journal that goes with it from Kikki K. I have reread Chapter 1 and am now putting pen to paper in the matching chapter in the The Awakened Woman Journal… what dreams may come…
Hey World! How lucky
are we to have these strong, empowered, beautiful women’s voices who grace us
with their hard won wisdom! They are so
open and honest with their ordinary struggles, just like you and just like me. They give me hope and I take comfort in that
as I walk my own path.
So I haven’t posted in a month. It has been a difficult month filled with
disappointed hopes, winter illness, a family health scare and a somewhat
overwhelming feeling of disillusionment.
For me, I often have these feelings of overwhelm at this
time of the year. I am beginning to
believe it is the universe’s way of telling me to slow down, pause and take
stock – what is urgent and essential and what can simply wait a little while
until it is addressed. This is seasonal,
cyclical…. And perhaps something I should be able to plan for by now…
It also seems to me at times like these that the only
solution is to reconnect with nature.
Not something I can always act on easily with living in the city but
this year the opportunity to retreat presented and I took it…
Disclaimer: I am about to reveal just how much of a
Professor JRR Tolkien geek I am!
I retreated all the way to the end of the second age of Middle Earth…. It is truly wonderful how much of Middle Earth is easily accessed right here in beautiful Aotearoa/New Zealand. In a little corner of Northland not far from Whangarei I found another little piece of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. To me it felt like the forests at the very end of the Second Age or the very beginning of the Third Age when the Dunedain first establish the Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor and High Elves still linger in Greenwood the Great. There is a peaceful watching of the Sacred Kingfisher and magic on every path up ahead and around every bend. Magic also sparkles in the song of the waterfall and the trill of the Grey Warbler.
It was cold – the fog rolling in of an evening and a light frost in the morning. Just as it should be this time of year. The perfect space to get back in the natural rhythm of things. A better perspective on the first world problems that brought me to retreat in the first place. A moment to refocus in gratitude at the grace afforded me and mine.
Today is Nelson Mandela’s birthday – 18 July. I chose today to share the story of this incredible woman, Di Wilkinson, because she has chosen to commemorate his birthday in her own amazing way.
I stumbled upon Di Wilkinson’s story on social media.
Hoedspruit, South Africa holds a special place in my heart. I spent many happy school holidays in that
area as a kid. The Drakensberg
Escarpment provides a dramatic backdrop to the mixed bushveld plains that
stretch eastwards. The scenic Blyde
River winds its way through the area bringing the waters from the escarpment
down to these lowlands. Interesting rock
formations abound. This unique mix of
habitats supports a wide variety of flora and fauna. It is a place of orchards – citrus, mango and
macadamia. It is also a place of game
reserves and over the years has become a hub for conservation research and wildlife
rehabilitation. There are a number of
wildlife rehabilitation centres and orphanages in this area. I follow one of them, the Hoedspruit
Endangered Species Centre, on social media.
And this brings me back to Di Wilkinson of The Platter Project.
She is a wonderfully talented artist who produces these
beautiful drawings. Most are inspired by
the wildlife of Southern Africa but as I mentioned at the start, she is
currently sharing a special print with a portrait of the great Madiba.
She “sells” these beautiful pieces – started on platters and is now mostly A3 prints. All the money you pay for her art goes to charity. Specifically charities focused on wildlife conservation, like the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, and organ donation. A strange combination of causes to support, perhaps, but there is more to her story.
In June 2013 Di was diagnosed with kidney disease. Serious kidney disease requiring dialysis
five hours a day, three days a week.
Miraculously, in May 2018 she found a compatible donor and underwent a
life-saving kidney transplant.
To think of all she has gone through during this time but not she has not given up on life, on her family, on her creativity, on her passion, on community. In fact to still have that generosity of spirit that shares her talent with the world and using it to support lives outside of her own…. Di is a truly an extraordinary woman!
And there will be more to her story too. She will be a partner, a mother, a daughter,
maybe a sister, a friend – all those things that make us who we are. But I suspect if we asked her she would
simply say she was an ordinary woman just trying her ordinary best in space she
I find her creativity spectacular. I find her resilience inspiring. I find her care and generosity moving. I find her “voice” extraordinary.
Be well, Di Wilkinson 💚
Check out her beautiful work on Facebook – The Platter Project or
on Instagram @theplatterproject.
In 2007 I spent a year in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
as a SANParks People and Conservation volunteer intern based at Twee Riveiren.
It’s difficult to put the isolation of this spectacular place in words but the experience of living in the Kalahari has been one of the most profound of my life. My time in the Kalahari inspired the name of this blog – Pure Spaces. Spaces/places have such significance for me. The way they make me feel, the energy they give affects me emotionally and often spiritually. The space that is the Kalahari would definitely fall in the spiritual category. And my name means “pure”. So there you go…
What you quickly learn in a place like this is how important
your small community is, you rely on each other for support, for
companionship. You have to get along
because you don’t have a choice. In my
case the small community within the slightly bigger Park community were the
residents of Blikkiesdorp (Tin Can Town).
Our lodgings being converted shipping containers. Let’s pause for a moment to let that fact
settle – a shipping container room in the Kalahari Desert!
So Blikkiesdorp, our little area of the staff accommodation of Twee Rivieren rest camp, was home to me, the intern, and two students studying Nature Conservation from Tshwane University. Occasionally the field guides would visit for a braai. But mostly it was just the three of us. A resident cheetah researcher and his wife adopted me as did the border policeman and his wife which meant a welcome break from Blikkies for a yummy meal or even the luxury of watching a little television.
Don’t get me wrong though, I grew very fond of Blikkies as the year progressed and it brought out some very creative “decorating” in me.
Here is where I need to introduce Kerryn, one of those students I mentioned earlier. A petite, feisty girl absolutely passionate about wildlife conservation. Kerryn and I clicked almost immediately. I say almost because she admits based on meeting my predecessor, she was determined NOT to like me. But it seems our common love of the band Smashing Pumpkins broke the ice! There is a good 10 year age gap between us, but I quickly began to admire her, particularly her determination to succeed in a (still to this day sadly) male dominated field of work. I am thrilled to say that we remain very close friends today even with the many miles that separate us.
It started with Kerryn, this kernel of an idea. By the time I had spent time getting to know
Margie, the researcher’s wife, and Isabel, the policeman’s wife, as well women of
the Khomani San community, I was overwhelmed by these extraordinary women I was
meeting and the stories I was hearing.
None of them would describe themselves as extraordinary. Most of their “voices” weren’t the voices of
activists or feminists. They were just
ordinary women blooming where they were planted – creating, nurturing,
learning, growing, caring, loving in that very unique way women do.
I have to share these “voices”, I thought. Their stories deserve a place in the sun. So here I am all these years later beginning
this journey… I finally seem to have found my courage, to have found my
voice. This is the introduction to what
I hope will be a series of posts over the coming months – the extraordinary
voices of ordinary women.