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Are you using your senses?

Today I was cleaning out our guest bedroom that has really just become a dumping spot for all of my “stuff” since I moved in with Tyler. Blending two full homes of furniture and stuff has been interesting and I am so ready to just purge it all. I have lost interest in “stuff.”

I always like to pick through my boxed of books though, reading a page here and there and picking out a few that I want to re-read again soon. I stumbled upon the journal I kept while I was studying in South Africa.

I lived there for an entire summer and was studying and training to be a level 1 Field Guide – a.k.a. Safari Guide.

I have an undergrad degree in Wildlife Conservation and Management and it was my life long dream to be on safari in Africa. I made that dream come true in 2008 when I spent the summer living and training in the African Bush.

sensory perception

I sat today and re-read my entire journal. I made a point to write at least once a day, and I thank God that I did. My memories flooded back and they always bring up so much emotion and gratitude for my experience there.

Laughing, crying, longing for Africa.

I read this one entry that really hit me hard today. To understand the context I just need to preface it by saying I trained to be a WALKING safari guide. Most safari’s are done by vehicle in Africa (much safer this way).

Walking safari’s are very rare and expensive and very dangerous. Each day we went out on 5-10km safari walks twice a day where we would do tracking, species identification, and orienteering (pretty easy to get lost out there).

Two of us would have to carry elephant rifles – the front leader and guide in the back (we had to walk in single file lines).  We were out in the bush, anything was possible and we always had to be prepared.

Our walks were silent and when we knew we were in safe space we would stop to discuss different things. The front guide would use hand signals that we had to respond to because the animals’ hearing is much better than ours…and we needed to be safe as well as respectful while we were out in their space.

As I read the following passage that I wrote years ago that night after a long day of walking, I was reminded of how “out of it” we all really are on a daily basis.

For your reference, Bruce was our lead guide and instructor over the summer. He is an incredible mentor to me and even spent two years walking from tip to tip of Africa. He is also the most brilliant man I’ve ever met, with humor sprinkled in nicely.

Journal Entry - 5/29/2008

It was hard to get up this morning because it was so cold. I think I just have thin skin though because I was wearing pants, a long sleeve shirt, my northface jacket, my sleeping bag, and the comforter.

Today my walking group went out with Bruce and Ami and we only had 4 with us because  Marylou and Dr. Carroll went with the other group to take the camera. It was really nice to have a smaller group on our walk though.

We walked to the East and Bruce is so interesting to listen to, I love him. He exudes intelligence and he is comical as well. At first, I was slightly intimidated by him, but now I just really enjoy and admire him.

Our walk was filled with bird identification because Bruce (avid birder) knows what seems to be every bird on planet earth.

While walking through the floodplain, we heard bull elephants in musth* (this is like rutting for deer, or heat for female dogs – they get VERY aggressive during musth) and Bruce was hesitant to keep walking our intended path for the day. After walking on the edge of the forest and floodplain for a while, probably 30 minutes or so, we came across that bull elephant…

We had actually passed right by him without even noticing him until he made a noise at us. It’s hard to imagine not noticing an enormous bull elephant, but they are masters of their environment. He had spotted us first, not good.

Bruce quickly told us to get behind him in a straight line as he faced the bull elephant head on. We were behind Bruce and between Bruce and the bull elephant was a tree. The bull ele kept getting closer and closer to us and Bruce had to begin yelling at him.

Bruce yelled, “You’re scaring the people, boy! You’re scaring the people!”

This was the scariest and most exhilarating experience of my life. My heart was pumping a million miles an hour just knowing that elephant could have killed us at any moment he wanted.

After Bruce told the elephant over and over again to stand down, surprisingly he began to walk away.  Bruce had to put his fear aside for that moment and show total control and the elephant felt it, he felt like Bruce had the power.

As soon as the elephant walked away back into the forest, we booked it out of there quickly (speed walking - not running, there is not running in the bush!). We were a good distance away when we noticed the elephant had come back out of the forest to pick another fight with us.

Thankfully he didn’t chase us and Bruce stood his ground (and no one in the group freaked), so we continued walking for about another hour and finally made it safely back to the vehicle.

To me the thing that amazed me more than anything was not how brave Bruce was, but more about how he used all of his senses so intimately the entire time.

>> Before we even saw the elephant that morning Bruce was able to SMELL the musth (yes this does smell, it actually secretes from their temples).

>> He also HEARD him about 30 minutes before we ever even laid eyes on him.

>> He could FEEL him in the ground as he got closer with every earth-shaking step.

Later that afternoon Bruce told us to put on long sleeves and pants, and grab blindfolds, ear plugs, and even toilet paper as nose plugs, and he took us down to the watering hole.

He led us each to a separate spot and sat us down on the ground. One by one we took each item off until all we had left was the blindfold, and each time we were taking mental note of the new awareness we had as each sense became available for use.

Little did I know that there was an elephant lurking close by and as I started to take off my ear plugs, and nose plugs I noticed something felt very uneasy and off. Then I heard Bruce yell and shooing the elephant away from me, he then ripped off my blindfold and scooped me up back towards a safer area.

We walked up to the top of a small nearby cliff so we could get a view of the elephant at the watering hole.

It was the most incredible sensory exercise that went slightly wrong, but I actually think we learned a lot more the way it worked out!

How often do we pay attention to all of our senses and actually USE them the way they are designed?

How powerful to be so tapped into your senses that you can hear, see, smell and feel things that others are completely unaware of?

Strengthening your senses and awareness allows you to be so much more present in any given moment. I have such gratitude for this day of my life, the day I learned the true power of our human senses, and how we’re all blind to our own abilities.

Most of us are remarkably unaware of the abilities of our five senses.  We’re actually operating at a lower level of conciousness because of our lack of sensory awareness.

And who wants to continue doing that?!

Let’s use more of our senses to create a conscious awareness of our life and experiences. I imagine that many of us (self-included) aren’t using our superpowers the way Bruce did that day.

And while Bruce’s job requires him to use these heightened senses to determine life or death, why are we not viewing them the same way? Every experience and interaction you have is a contribution to your life’s work, and you should be so grateful for the opportunity to be conscious and aware, and sense every bit of it.

Each of these senses contributes to your ability to create a memory, and that’s the most precious gift of all!

Share with me below – when’s the last time you remember using more than one of your senses at the same time to be mindful and create awareness? 


*An elephant in musth / masth is a dangerous being, and can act without warning, notice or reasoning. It can turn over cars, attack and kill human beings and generally be a misguided missile... That black liquid you see pouring out of its temple signifies that it is in musth. Generally, large males get into musth.

Musth or must is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones -- testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times.