Lions out of Focus

Focus is the central point of attention or activity. Of course there are other meanings for specific areas such as optics, geometry and geology. But in a general sence, we may agree that it’s important to focus on whatever you want to get done. My tiny lesson is on the how we focus on something we want to accomplish.

I learned this lesson many years ago in the early evening hours of a beautiful day in Zambia (there are many lessons I learned in that country, will come back to some of those in future posts). We had embarked on our first safari ever. Not driving ourselves like we used to do later, but actually buying a “package”. That meant flying from Lusaka to Chipata, a small town in eastern Zambia close to the Malawi border, in a small plane with huge windows reaching almost to the floor. And then taking a four-seater to the smallest grassy air strip you can imagine (seen “Out of Africa”, that kind) in Mwufe National Park.

We had arrived at the lodge and gotten settled in our room by five in the afternoon. Having two hours to spear before the camp dinner, we opted for a “sunset drive” in the park. Maybe we would spot some animals, with a bit of good luck even one of the “big five” on our first ever safari night? So we settled in a typical “safari jeep”, you know one that’s completely open and has a couple of seat rows behind the driver, each set a bit higher up than the one in front of it. My husband sat in the front passenger seat on the left with his RCA camcorder (they were huge then!) ready to capture the sights and any wild animals we might encounter. I sat in the next row with our son, who was about three at the time. Our guide drove us around in the park and we saw many different types of antelopes, zebras and water buffaloes. It was very exciting!

About an hour into the drive, our guide told us that before we’d return to the lodge for dinner, he would drive us down to the river to see the sunset. It was spectacular, he said, and there was a good chance we would spot animals who came there to drink in the early evening hours.   A few minutes later we approached the river banks. Already from afar, we could see a huge herd of elephants crossing the river.  My husband rigged his camcorder. Can you picture the long line of elephants against the orange-red sky, moving rhythmically in the shallow water?  The sight was almost magical. They were of all sizes: large adults, youngsters, teens and babies. The babies were hanging onto their mothers while trying to hold their heads over the water. They were adorable. My husband was filming them against the gorgeous sunset. We stopped on the high river bank and the driver left the engine running (we were in the wild).

Just at that moment we spotted 22 (I counted) lionesses! They were laying on the driver’s side of the vehicle, basking themselves in the last rays of the setting sun and strategizing, I imagined, about the upcoming hunt. They were close and very calm.  We watched them breathlessly from the relative safety of our vehicle (and the driver of course had a rifle, just in case). Suddenly my hubby moved. He stepped down onto the ground from the open jeep – to get a better shot of the sunset over the river! He was so focused on filming the herd crossing the river and the huge red ball going down that he had not seen what we saw, the lions. He had also not heard the driver’s whisper warning us about the lions (quiet, don’t move!). His focus was solely on what he wanted to capture. In an instant, he was the easy catch, a free meal, so to speak. I was about to scream, but the driver was faster. In a fraction of a second, or so it felt, and without a word he grabbed my husband’s shoulder and pulled him back into the vehicle. Then he backed out of there, slowly and calmly.

That was a close call. My tiny (my hubby’s big) lesson was on the how we focus on something. It actually matters. We should focus on what needs to get done, but not so narrowly that we lose sight of what is going on around us. Things can change fast.

Lycaon Pictus – The Hunt

I recently prepared some talking points for a seminar on effective teams and while searching my archives for illustrations,  came across notes I had made almost 20 years ago about a remarkable hunt I witnessed in Ethiopia. In all its cruelty (I always feel for the prey), I think this true story offers a few tiny lessons.

It was a really hot afternoon in the Awash National Park, one could feel and see the air vibrating in the heat.  We decided to take a trip down to the Awash river, more to escape the heat at the camp site in the air-conditioned comfort of our truck than expecting to see any animals in the mid afternoon blaze. So much for knowing what the future will bring.

Even before reaching the river, we saw a large herd of impalas grazing peacefully on the dry savannah, not far from the tracks we were traveling. The next thing we observed was a pack of African wild dogs, probably more than 10, in the distance. They stood completely quiet, watching the antelopes, big ears pointing up, listening intently. No one moved. We didn’t either.

The next few minutes were tense, the hunters observing the prey and (I’m sure) making plans, while the impalas yet had to pick up the scent of danger. Then suddenly the hunt started. Watch that speed of the two leading alpha dogs! And the resulting confusion in the impalas herd when all of them instantaneously realized the present danger. They darted away, seemingly in many different directions. The dogs were communicating loudly to coordinate their movements and the dust filled the air. The wild chaos lasted only a few minutes until two adult antelopes were separated from the herd, running far out in the opposite direction. The hunting strategy seemed to work so far.

We drove into the terrain to follow the wild hunt a bit closer. I remember secretly hoping that this would be one of the rare 10-15% of hunts that fail for these wild dogs. For a while it seemed that the two impalas might have a slim chance, but soon it was evident that only one of them would.  The chase was intense and high-speed.  The dogs vocalized their messages to each other all the time, and the coordination of their circling and zigzagging was absolutely fascinating. When the leading dog got tired out, another dog took over. And so it went on for close to an hour, until they got their prey.

I have to say I was very impressed by the collaboration exhibited by these wild dogs, Africa’s best hunters without comparison. In the course of this chase, they communicated continuously, coordinated their actions, helped each other out, and showed extraordinary understanding, commitment and endurance to reach their goal. Maybe something there to learn from.

Foot Prints (a poem)

At the edge of water somewhere, observing.

Ocean waves, just like days, come from the past

and fade into the future. Searching for the now.

And time doesn’t exist.

At the shores of silence, anywhere, reflecting

images on the water, like illustrations. Past

measures of success, still waiting for impact,

which the truth already knows.

At the dawn of tomorrow, here, expecting

life, like the bird’s song, thrive.

Beginnings of self-realization, insisting for birth.

And the contentment is alive.

Lasting foot prints in the sand

at the edge of water. Tiny lessons.

Now

When I think about a topic worth discussing in my first real blog post ever, too many tiny lessons come to mind at once …and some bigger things too. It feels important to select the right topic even if no one would ever read it. While wondering about the worthiness of sharing this or the other, my little old poodle (who is almost blind) manages to jump into my lap. It’s a pleasant surprise because he has not managed to jump this high for a while now. He is happy to sit with me at the computer and…well, just be. He lives in the moment, doesn’t fret over things that happened in the past or worry about things to come. He plainly relaxes and enjoys the now.

I have often reflected on how easy it is to spend time on “redoing” or “improving” what has been, things that are already facts of life, choices I made or  things that just came along.   I know I can not change the past, it’s gone, but I can learn from it for the future. So I jump to think about the future. And it’s not always about how I’d apply the lessons I’ve learned. More often it’s worrying about things that might happen tomorrow, next week or later, particularly when I get old…I mean really old. I also know that worry never helps, on the contrary, too much of it can actually make me sick. But somehow it seems easy to spend time in the past or in the future while life passes by right now.  But one can only participate in life now, because that’s all we really have.

It is quite puzzling to me that I still catch myself doing those things, having realized the wastefulness of it quite a while ago. And to tell the truth,  the right now for me is fairly pleasant, considering everything. Looking out of my window I see it: the blue ocean is calm today, boats passing by, light winds, sunny. Will this continue or will there be heavy thunder storms later in the evening? High winds, no power? Maybe a tiny lesson there, something to ponder.

Hello there!

I thought I would share with you some of the tiny lessons I have learned and still keep learning on a daily basis. I hope you find them useful, or even just “interesting”. Many of them will be observations (sometimes in the form of poetry) about life as it goes and others will focus on more specific topics on which  I feel (and sometimes been told by others, not all friends) I have accumulated some knowledge and experience that could be potentially valuable to someone, in some situations, sometimes.

In any case, thanks for visiting. And thanks for providing comments and thoughts, if you are so inclined.

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