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.
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 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.