Category Archives: Creativity

Joyful June

A new month, a new Action For Happiness calendar.

I am starting with Day 10 – take a photo of something that brings you joy and share it🧡 New books to read spark so much joy for me And I have so enjoyed rediscovering my love of sketching in recent weeks.

Dream. Plan. Do.

A day will come at last when I shall take the hidden paths that run West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

J R R Tolkien

Meaningful May is nearly done. So much has changed.

There are the obvious changes around the world as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But for me personally I have found this May a particularly interesting pivot point.

It seems the dream life work I did in the latter part of last year is taking shape…. albeit in forms I wasn’t quite expecting.

So changes are afoot… even here in my blog space…. as things begin to take shape, I will keep you posted 🖤

Wanderings Day 3

Day 3 and we are still in the Kgalagadi. This time highlighting landscape, light and colour. 

Light and colour would change constantly during a day and with the seasons or the mood of the weather.  I was profoundly captured with each change – a spiritual experience.  More a feeling than just using my sense of sight.

And the stillness, the quiet was incredible too.  Standing atop a red sand dune staring at the infinite horizon – serenity… You need to be comfortable with silence in the Kalahari, in my experience. 

There is a purity here I have never felt anywhere else – it is a soul journey. 

My Kgalagadi time actually inspired the name of this blog. 

But it wasn’t always serene.  There is a harshness here too.  It is a place of extremes and paradox… as so much of the human experience is.

The Space Between

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl

COVID-19 lockdown day four here in Aotearoa/New Zealand.  Time at home to really consider the space between stimulus and response.

I wanted to share with you some of what I’ve been reading and watching. Trying to make sense of all of this – where is our opportunity to grow.

However, I should say first that not all of us are in a position to reflect on this current situation in the way that I am able to.  Self-care and self-compassion will look different for each of us at the moment.  Some of us out there will be dealing first hand with the tragedy that is this pandemic.

So, it is to those of us who are simply doing our bit by staying home, physical distancing and encouraging being together apart, that I address these reflections to.  And reflecting is important right now as Nature has given us this space between.

I really appreciate what Niki Harré says about reflecting in her book The Infinite Game: how to live well together.

“Reflecting is not a lazy way to avoid moving forward; it is a crucial part of untangling ourselves from the dominant cultural patterns that are so easy to replicate when we ‘just do it’. Reflecting takes skill”

Niki Harré

Let’s start with what seems to be the unravelling picture of the causes of the unprecedented time we now find ourselves in.

Bill Gates’ TED talk 2015 – this is a link to Bill Gates’ eerily accurate prediction about epidemics and what we would need to prepare.  His suggestions mostly focus on building capacity for epidemiologists, innovation, health ministry preparedness and government collaboration.  Much of this seems to have fallen on deaf ears and the work hasn’t been done.

Bill Gates’ TED Connects March 2020How we must respond to the coronavirus pandemic.  In this 50 minute conversation with Bill Gates a lot of ground is covered with regard to testing, therapeutics, vaccines and other logistics around managing the pandemic.

What I love is his pragmatic optimism, his belief in humanity and his unswerving belief in our creativity in terms of science and innovation.  But I do wonder, if we are not in that particular creative sphere, on that sort of scientific front line, where do our responsibilities lie?  As just average global citizens, what difference can we make, if any?

The next piece of the puzzle for me is why would a pandemic of this nature be an inevitability as Gates suggested in 2015?  Well, from my research it seems we have brought this on ourselves – the sheer numbers that make up the human population, the amount and the way we consume, the biodiversity loss and ecosystem service disruption we have caused, the accelerated climate change we have induced.

Here are some links worth reading/watching:

John Scanlon, African Parks Network has written an eloquent article on wildlife crime and the link between wet markets and disease spread.

A short video titled How wildlife trade is linked to coronavirusPlease note this is from early March so the statistics quoted are out of date.

This from the World Health Organisation.

And this from the Wildlife Conservation Society.  Now including a policy document.

If ever there was a time when Mother Nature herself was speaking up and giving credence to what scientists, researchers and conservationists have been saying for years, it is now.

But what can we do?  What hope is there?  Are there individual actions we can each take that will make a difference?

Yes, I believe so!  What follows are a few ideas that range from the deep and reflective to the more light-hearted, surviving lockdown ones.  All ways to consider the space between.

At times like these it is useful to pause and consider our values.  Values are our guiding forces.  They are quite individual to each of us, although will be influenced by our culture and upbringing.  My values are very much based on the environment and how I see my relationship with other living things and the planet in general.  Many people have values based on how they value their social relationships and still others may focus on themselves and their individual well-being.  Or a combination of these values.  None are right or wrong. But what I think is interesting is that no matter where your core values lie, we can no longer deny the need for change as the human species – behaviours and actions.  Setting a new norm that will impact on individual health and wellbeing, the good of humanity and future generations, as well as the planet we are so intimately connected to, is imperative.

If you want to read more about values and how values influence our decision-making, I highly recommend checking out the Barratt Academy for the Advancement of Human Values.  There is also a really useful values assessment tool on this website.

That was the deep stuff.  On to something more practical.  If we are mindful of how we are living on the planet and the impact we are having, we can take practical steps to mitigate and reduce negative impact.  For a super interesting read on a scale of solution focused ideas to address climate change, check out Drawdown.  I think there is something for everyone here, no matter your circumstance or where you find yourself in the world.  I found this information incredibly empowering!

Then, I really think we should be thinking about what we eat and how it is produced.  Regenerative agriculture makes the Drawdown list at number 11.  Here is a one farmer’s perspective – Angus McIntosh talks about the case for regenerative agriculture.  As I mentioned above, living mindfully is key and knowledge is power.  Food for thought 😉

I have another quote from Niki Harré’s Infinite Game that I think fits here:

But the idea kept popping into my head that life is based on radical cooperation. Cooperation fitted because the actions of each life form supported the growth of other forms; and it was radical because these actions were at the root of both individual survival and the functioning of the entire ecosystem.

Niki Harré

And what about surviving right now?

How about a coping calendar from Action for Happiness

Or travel virtually… my friend Carla from the Blue Sky Society Trust is currently taking us on an epic African Safari experience… get involved!

As for me…. Painting calms me down… here’s some new ones…

And that about wraps up a very long post.  I will be back in April hoping to post most days with photos and short stories from my travels over the years.  Join me for some virtual wanderings.

Take heart, dear ones.  All will be well.  Our collective courage, compassion and kindness in this space between will make it so.

Leaving you with a couple more quotes from the hugely inspiring Infinite Game which seem written for a time such as now….  Thank you, Niki Harré, for sharing your wisdom 💙

“This is what being an infinite player or a community that cares about our lives together means. Getting up each day, remembering what matters, and trying like hell to live that in the confusion of real life. It does not mean knowing what is right. Sometimes it might just mean rejecting that which is clearly wrong (as far as you can tell). And, I humbly suggest, this process may be aided by imagining life as an infinite game. Not because it is, exactly, but because imagining it so might help to focus us on what truly matters.”

“Love is at the heart of the infinite values. Radical cooperation is a way of translating this into the mind-set of an infinite player. It involves trying your best to let go of the belief, trained into us by our society’s emphasis on self-promotion and self-acquisition, that security lies in what you have cordoned off for you and your descendants. Insofar as security exists at all, it is better understood as lying in how well we cooperate with each other and the natural world in which we are embedded.”

Dream then Do

A year ago I gifted myself Kristina Karlsson’s intriguing book – Your Dream Life Starts Here. I got the Dream Life Journal at the same time and got stuck into the business of dreaming.

I decided to take my time with this process unsure of where it would take me.

Chapter 2 is titled “Be inspired by the dreams of others”. At the end of this chapter is such an inspiring story, that of Dr Tererai Trent. Discovering her story sidetracked me from the Dream Life Journal for a number of months as I explored Dr Tererai’s magical idea of sacred dreams and tapping into your Great Hunger.

By August I had 3 delicious dreams safely encased in my Dream Tin! I don’t have a suitable place to bury my dreams, like Dr Tererai did, so the tin travels with me wherever I go.

This part of the process was so uplifting and hope-inducing, particularly on the back of a previous few months of difficult times to push through.

But there’s dreaming and then there’s doing, right!

Back to the Dream Life Journal which I have now completed. Dr Tererai’s inspiration of the sacred and Kristina’s insights into the practicalities of dreaming have dove-tailed beautifully. Those 3 dreams buried in the Dream Tin now have very specific dates assigned and a master action list for each…. a couple of actions have even been ticked off already in the last couple of days!

I have always been a bit of dreamer… a day dreamer wandering wistfully through memories or drifting into future hopes.

As Master Yoda says of Luke ” Never his mind on where he was… what he was doing!”

This is dreaming of a different kind…. a dream life that is tangible and oh so possible… if I keep my end of the deal, stick to my action list and the Universe meets me half way… this time next year will look really different. Let’s see, shall we?

Advent

One way to define advent is the anticipation of a coming event. Historically Advent has been associated with the lead up to Christmas and involves particular rituals and traditions in the Christian faith.

These days advent has taken on a number of different meanings. I think for many people today the “anticipation” is simply the stress of being caught up in the consumerism juggernaut that is the lead up to the festive season, worries over finances and being able to afford the “expected” way to celebrate or sadness at what can be the loneliest time of year for some.

For me, it has always been “the most wonderful time of the year”. And what I have come to realise is just how much this season means to me and my mental and emotional well-being, of all things!

Anticipation of a coming event. To me this anticipation is the expectation of a positive experience, a child-like excitement. At my age I certainly can’t put this down to getting up at the crack of dawn to open Christmas presents…. those days are long gone!

Now advent is steeped in ritual.

Some advent rituals are around preparation for the coming celebration that is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the family time we are so privileged to share. Advent in my world is a way of keeping those loved ones who have passed or that live far away close by…. part of our reflection and celebration, always in our hearts.

Other rituals centre around my need to reflect – on the year that has been as it winds to a close, checking in with my dream life goals, a gratitude practice…. and gradually beginning to set the intent for the coming year.

A reflection this advent is just how lucky I am to have these positive, uplifting memories of childhood Christmases to draw on. As well as a rich source of family ritual and tradition to continue observing. And how lucky I am, being so wired to the idea of seasons and cycles, that my work allows me to take the time at this time of year to acknowledge advent in my own quirky way.

Here are some wise words to ponder…. a Celtic blessing by the poet John O’Donohue from his book “To Bless the Space Between Us”:

For Beauty:

As stillness in stone to silence is wed,

May solitude foster your truth in word.

As a river flows in ideal sequence,

May your soul reveal where time is presence.

As the moon absolves the dark of distance,

May your style of thought bridge the difference.

As the breath of light awakens colour,

May the dawn anoint your eyes with wonder.

As spring rains soften the earth with surprise,

May your winter places be kissed by light.

As the ocean dreams to the joy of dance,

May the grace of change bring you elegance.

As clay anchors a tree in light and wind,

May your outer life grow from peace within.

As twilight pervades the belief of night,

May beauty sleep lightly within your heart.

John O’Donohue

And if that is all just a bit too deep…. here is a pic of my rhino-shaped peppakakor !

This year’s peppakakor to give away….

Happy Advent!

To Sustainability and Beyond!

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.

Image from Bitmoji App

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 Sustainability’.

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 3RsReduce, 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.

Image from Bitmoji App

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.

The 7Rs of waste-free living – 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.

Google image search – difficult to trace the source of this image.

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 this. 

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 support.

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.”

Image by Bitmoji App

 

Dreaming

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 lyrical.

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…

While I’m here I thought I would mention how very inspiring I found Kristina Karlsson’s book – Your Dream Life Starts Here

Ooh, also Melinda Gate’s book – The Moment of Lift – this is definitely worth a read!

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.

A Middle Earth Retreat

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.

Extraordinary Voices: The Platter Project

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.

Image from The Platter Project Facebook page

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.

I absolutely love her depictions of these three gorgeous southern African bird species – the Lilac-breasted Roller, the Carmine Beeater and the Masked Weaver … these hang in my home and bring my joy.

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 finds herself.

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.