From the surgeon general’s approach to smoking in the 1950s, to the poetry of Mary Oliver, to what we can learn from the way that a lion spends its day, what follows is an exploratory conversation with Boyd Varty on “living in the bush.”
Ryan: The “healing power of nature” is a theme that is becoming more and more popular. You have lived in the bush for most of your life. What can “city slickers” learn from “bush dwellers”?
Boyd: Three things come to mind immediately.
First, nature is a wordless environment, and wordlessness helps us to access what Eckhart Tolle refers to as “the power of now” or the present. Too often, through words, we are reliving the past (regret) or anticipating the future (anxiety). The more time we spend in the present, the more likely we are to access harmony, balance and peace.
The Bush Dwellers: Boyd and the “Londolozi family”
Second, if you observe animals, you’ll notice that they are never frantic. Energy is preserved and activated carefully depending on the activity. Lions are a good example.
Rest is proper rest (under a tree with legs in the air). But when necessary, lions tap into a huge amount of fierce energy. There is rarely much “in-between” energy expended, and there is certainly no “drama” to waste energy on.
As humans we mismanage energy all the time. One of my greatest ongoing lessons is mastering the art of strategically conserving and directing my energy.
The third lesson, the power of rest, relates to the second.
In the bush, when the sun goes down, we go to sleep shortly after. There is a harmony between the body and its environment – it’s dark, it’s dangerous to be outside, melatonin is released, etc. There is no doubt that humans need to be more aware of what the body wants and not what the mind (or culture) thinks it wants. I am reminded of a poem by Mary Oliver, who said “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
It’s sounds so simple, but it’s not: be present, be efficient with your energy, and, be aware of what your body needs and wants.
One of the Sparta lionesses takes a time out from the pride’s antics to relax on a marula trunk.
Ryan: I suspect that – in general – you are against the short-term connotations of the word “detox”, but considering the pace of the world we live in, I am interested in your approach to the term “digital detox”.
Boyd: You know, in the 1950’s people smoked tobacco intensively, and the surgeon general encouraged it. Today it’s difficult to believe that a doctor would recommend smoking.
I believe we’ll be in the same place with technology twenty years from now.
A place where people are shocked at the previous generation’s digital addiction and the subsequent overdose and long-term damage.
The digital overdose is shortening our attention spans, rewiring our brains, and affecting our short-term memory. While it facilitates “range” of information processing and engagement, it prevents “depth”.
And what about what technology is doing to our relationships with others?
Today, in the glow of a neon culture, we have less opportunity to interact with a person’s essence.
We cannot be without technology, but we should certainly have times of the day when phones and other digital devices are off our person. Families need to manage the digital culture at home and they need to value intimacy again.
We need more firelight and candlelight – more occasions and environments that facilitate the gentle transmission of intimacy.
Early evening on Pioneer terrace. While it’s beautiful in the bush, Boyd says that an environment of intimacy can be created anywhere.
Ryan: Would you say that the “wild” is more attractive to introverts who often crave a quiet sanctuary? Or is it as important for extroverts to seek out sanctuary in the wild as well?
Boyd: There is a group of people who believe that depression (and conditions similar to depression) can be defined as homesickness for the Earth.
Even the most die-hard city slickers will agree that it simply is not natural for humans to have no interaction with the wilderness. We are nature. It is our home.
Regardless of whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert, if they don’t want to seek out the sanctuary of the wilderness, then they have become disconnected from what is good for them. For me, it is as simple as that.
Many of us need to relearn what it is that we really want and need.
Time with ourselves, time with family, stillness.
And all of those things are found best when we come home to nature.
Early morning in the Sand River.
Ryan: On any vacation, especially one to a natural area of beauty like Londolozi, it is easier to slow down, relax and put your life into perspective. We might even pledge to change our behavior once we get home. But how do we stay connected to that relaxed, more at ease person once we are back into the city and routine?
Boyd: Great question and one that I am glad you asked because we often think, “man I loved that holiday – I can’t wait for the next one” and then we forget to ask ourselves why. Why did I love that holiday? Why do I feel better now than I ever have? Why am I already looking forward to my next trip and dreading the time in between?
So take a second and ask yourself what it was about being in nature that you loved.
Be specific and isolate exactly what it is that you felt nourished your soul.
Possibly it was the stillness. The time to yourself. The long moments of silence and thought. Feeling the sun on your skin, or the coolness of the morning air. What about the lack of pressure and demands?
Now ask yourself, how do I create more of what I loved about my holiday at home? How do I create more time for myself or more stillness?
It’s possible, you just have to implement the change.
I believe that a journey into the wilderness is like going on a vision quest. You will see the medicine that you need and the opportunity will be there for you to take that medicine (and wisdom) home with you. What you’ll notice is that when you take responsibility for your own healing, the people around you will start healing too.
When we change, the world changes.
Ryan: What was a memorable experience for you from the recent STAR (Self Transformation Adventure Retreat) at Londolozi?
Boyd: The return to ceremony.
All ancient cultures knew that, for our wellbeing, we needed to gather as a community of beings to share what is important to us.
We very seldom do that in today’s culture. In fact, we allow culture to dictate how we live instead of listening to our own guidance system.
To see and be part of a ceremony like the STAR, where a group of people gather in the wilderness to learn from each other, be heard, and listen to their internal compass, is incredibly special and rewarding.
STAR retreat coaches, clockwise from left: Koelle, Bronwyn, Boyd and Martha
About Boyd Varty
Boyd Varty was born to a family of conservationists in the African bush, and grew up surrounded by the people and animals who were part of the family’s dream to “restore Eden.” As a university student Boyd studied psychology and ecology, supplementing his education by learning martial arts in Thailand, hiking through the jungles of the Amazon, and apprenticing himself to a renowned tracker from the Shangaan tribe to deepen his intimate knowledge of the natural world. As he continues his path of linking the growth of the human mind and spirit with the restoration of ecosystems, Boyd has published his first memoir, Cathedral of the Wild, launched a career as a coach who introduces first-world seekers to an intimate relationship with the wild, and devoted himself to healing not only landscapes and animals, but the people and human systems that must coexist with nature to create a healthy and sustainable future for life.
So many visitors have been inspired to find more quietness in their lives after journeying to the wilderness – what do you do at home to reconnect with the magic of nature?