My Christmas with the Elephants

Published December 29th, 2014

I was with the elephants last year for Christmas. In between my book launch events in South Africa and Tanzania, I traveled to the Serengeti for a site visit and then to Karatu, Tanzania for Christmas and Boxing Day. Far far away from any shopping mall, I listened to the elephants walk slowly and with intention through the bush on Christmas Eve. The sense of peace and oneness I remember feeling was profound; in fact I am pulling up that file right now as I negotiate the busy streets of Miami.

So much water has passed under the bridge since then. I've introduced my book and DVD and the teachings of the Maasai to the world -- at least a good part of it, on two continents. And, in many ways, the timing of its launch has been incredible.

We have been hearing every day about one crisis after another in all arenas of our global society - environmental, economic, political, religious, cultural - and I believe it is important to pay attention enough to understand the facts. Then, we must look at possible solutions, informed by the higher ground, a spiritual solution, in other words.

I want to share with you something that happened last month that hit me hard. It happened in my other home, Maasailand in Tanzania. And even though it is far from where most of you live, the story highlights how we are all connected on this earth, and how, more than ever, we can each play an important role in turning crisis into healing and growth.

For those new to the goings on in Tanzania, it is admittedly, a complex story. However, on one level, it is sadly another case of conflict created over a battle for resources in a changing physical and socio-economic climate. In a quest for financial riches, the losers so often seem to be those who have the biggest hearts or cannot speak for themselves: indigenous communities and wildlife.

Several weeks ago, the Tanzanian government made a move, again, to evict Maasai villages from their land in northern Tanzania, on the border with Kenya. While this plan has been off and on for over a decade, the international community has now become aware of the issue and, thanks to the Internet, can sign petitions and put pressure on the Tanzanian president to respect the lives of the indigenous people. When the announcement came last month that Maasai traditional land was going to be sold to the Dubai royal family for hunting big game, a group of Maasai reacted with understandable anger. A group of Maasai torched an upmarket tourist camp in the region. Caught in the middle of the uproar were two young female elephants, Nkarsis and Riziki. Orphaned at an early age, casualties of Tanzania's catastrophic poaching epidemic, Nkarsis and Riziki were raised for the last ten years under the professional and loving care of specialist elephant caretakers. My dear friends and colleagues, in cooperation with some Tanzanian government officials, fortunately helped walk (for over 15 hours through the bush between Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru) the orphaned elephants to safety. In the meantime, international pressure mounted on the president of Tanzania to allow the Maasai to stay on their land.

A few days later, the Tanzanian government reversed its decision. However, if I, as an 'ambassador' to the Maasai people felt attacked all the way in the United States, how must people feel on the very land in question? I thought about all the people and communities throughout history who have been torn away from their land. The flora and fauna that have been torn away from their habitat. What, as human beings, are we doing? And, in this day and age, why are we still doing it? Aren't we supposed to know better?

Many people are unaware of the very real linkages between elements in an ecosystem – the land, the wildlife, and the people who live with their ethereal umbilical cords closely connected to the earth. When these links are broken, everybody loses, the world over. The earth and its inhabitants cry out in pain. Stress levels go up and illnesses develop. Literally, the energetic field of the ecosystem loses its rhythm. While this has happened throughout history and nature eventually adapts to a new structure, we are now testing its limits.

With a world at once in crisis AND with so much awareness, why are ecosystem linkages still being broken to the point where repairing is almost impossible? Because the majority of people today are not moving from their heart-center, nor from a place of compassion. There are too many open wounds that when touched, people react in anger and fear. Like an old bull elephant with deep scars.

We all must work harder and faster to heal ourselves and help heal those around us. Time is short now. Remembering the healing power of the natural world of mountains, trees, plants and animals, we can draw on that healing energy and give and receive compassionately. As the San people of the Kalahari say “Healing Makes our Hearts Happy".

As was clear last year at my Christmas celebrations with the elephants; nourishing and being nourished by nature truly brings a profound sense of peace and well-being.