“To hold hope these days is to be a rebel.”
With all the political, economic and social mayhem happening around the globe and more specifically with the difficulty of the drought we’re experiencing at Londolozi at the moment, this message to live rebelliously is incredibly pertinent.
I recently heard the fabulous Parker Palmer, Founder and Senior Partner of the Centre for Courage & Renewal, a world-renowned writer, speaker and activist say these words above, followed by a poem by Victoria Safford. Once you’ve read the poem below, I’ll explain how I believe this need for hope relates to all of our lives in these trying times.
The Gates of Hope:
“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges.
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a very different, sometimes very lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it might be, As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But joy in the struggle.
And we stand there, all of us, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.”
If you follow the Londolozi blog, you’ll know that we are experiencing a period of drought and that the land and animals are under duress in these stressful times. Some are weakening, suffering and passing away or temporarily vacating the area. Vegetation is being stripped back and the land lies bare of grass.
But surprisingly what I see when I draw parallels between what is happening here and how it relates to the human experience of life, I notice that in some strange way the droughts we experience in life, can despite appearances, actually sometimes bring about the change we most need.
What droughts do is they cut back that which is not completely necessary. Quite literally as resources diminish, animals and plants are put under pressure and have to strip away that which is not crucial to their survival. The result is a much truer reflection of their essence.
Peter Matthiessen alludes to this in the lives of humans: “The journey is hard, for the secret place where we have always been is overgrown with thorns and thickets of ideas, of fears and defences, prejudices and repressions.” With drought these ‘thickets’ are forced to die back and what is revealed is that which is most crucial to you. That which is most you.
Our droughts may involve friends and family leaving our lives, a loss of a job or a big challenge to your sense of identity. It may be the loss of material things, which when removed make you realise that they are things you have as opposed to things that make you who you are. Despite the difficulty of the event, it may in fact be ridding you of that which is no longer serving you or holding you back from living a freer and more authentic life.
As Sonia Choquette so eloquently says, “The greatest crises result in the greatest transformations because the strategies you’ve been taught to use your whole life no longer work and you’re forced to come up with something far more authentic.”
In fact when I look around what I see are some species suffering but also many species now truly thriving. This time of drought in the seemingly craziest ways actually helps some of the endangered species to bounce back. Wild dogs and cheetah that are at risk from bigger predators have far greater visibility and weakened prey at their disposal and the vast majority of wild dog pups born in June this year are surviving. For the rarest predator in Southern Africa, this is a big win. The ostrich is another example of a species that we believe is successfully raising their young due to the transformation of the landscape because predators cannot sneak up on them in the long grass. There is a very real chance that the male was forced into this area due to a lack of food in other parts of the Kruger National Park, which has led to the first family of ostriches in Londolozi’s history.
The impala still seem to be carrying their young, flowers continue to bloom on Apple Leaf and Mopane Pomegranate trees, Marulas and Cassias are sprouting fresh green leaves and tortoises are emerging after even the slightest drizzle proving that they’ve made it through the dry season. Although maybe not on a superficial level, there is still so much beauty in the bush to appreciate as migratory birds return and leopard cubs continue to be born and grow. In this way maybe the drought is allowing those parts of ourselves that have struggled for survival, the parts that have been repressed, the parts truest to ourselves to finally thrive and be seen.
And when I say this I’m not refuting how truly terrifying the process can be and how much compassion we need to show ourselves and others. What I am saying though is that it’s necessary to return to a place of hope and trust. As humans we tend to feel the need to fix and believe that we can save but so often there really is nothing that can be done and the mere forcing is a waste of valuable energy. At Londolozi we’re all questioning what might happen should the big rains not come but if you can make peace with the natural order of things, then on a much deeper level you will be free.
Remember that this land has an ancient wisdom and nature has a rhythmic cycle of dying back followed by abundance. Just as the land has been through these cycles before so too has human resilience. So too has your own resilience. And who knows, maybe you’re shifting the landscape of your life to look like something beyond your wildest dreams… Be rebellious enough to be someone who has hope.