John Kasaona was a child when his father took him into the bush and taught him to hunt. His father understood and respected the wildlife. He regarded the land and its inhabitants as an extension of himself.
War broke out in John’s home country of Namibia between 1966 and 1990. People fought for control. Poaching was rampant. Drought killed the livestock. Leopards were so hungry they took a sleeping child out of a house to feed their cubs. The community was in despair. John’s father, a man who revered wildlife, became a poacher.
In the 1980s John’s father joined an organization called the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, IRDNC. This small group of community leaders decided to end the massive commercial poaching of the black rhino and elephant population of Namibia.
The men realized that if they continued destroying the wildlife, eventually they would destroy themselves. So, instead of punishing the poachers, they helped them reclaim their land and their lives. They reasoned that no one knew the animals and the bush better than the very people who were eradicating it: the poachers.
They focused on the solution, not the problem, and took ownership over their land and the wildlife. It became the foundation for independence.
John attributes the project’s success to the people’s decision to honor their old traditions while remaining open to the new.
The Namibians practice a ritual known as sacred fire. They believe that the spirit of the ancestors speaks through the leader and guides them to water, food and grazing lands.
The Namibians created their future by listening to this inner voice.
But they also realized they needed to learn from outsiders. By understanding and incorporating global positioning devices and helicopters, they worked with the World Wildlife Fund to bring animals back to their lands and protected them.
In 1995 there were only 20 lions in the entire Northwest. Today, there are more than 500. The black rhino were almost extinct in 1982; now there is the largest concentration in the world there. Zebras once numbered only 1,000. Now, they form a constant, changing, black and white labyrinth across the world’s oldest desert.
What started as a small group of self appointed rangers grew into conservancies that protect over 13 million hectors of land, and generates millions of dollars for education, infrastructure and aids awareness.
“We were successful in Namibia because we dreamed of a future that was much more than just a healthy wildlife. We knew conservation would fail if it doesn’t work to improve the life of the local communities.”
They grounded themselves in their cultural center and from that place of balance were able to reach out.
When balance is sought at the individual level it impacts the national and global level.
“Yoga exists in the world because everything is linked.” ~ Desikashar
There is a principle in yoga known as hugging to the midline. If we overreach, force, or lose our inward focus, we cannot safely achieve the asana. The subtlest of movements, like clenching the toes, will lift the arch of the foot and knock us off balance. It doesn’t take much to pull us away from center.
Social media pages are filled with images of the near extinct elephant population and other suffering wildlife. It is clear that humans are the most destructive of all the planet’s inhabitants.
I look at those images and feel pain. I sense the connectedness of my spirit to the senseless suffering of that animal. I feel helpless and angry. But if I feed these emotions, they will grow.
So, instead I try to come to center. I seek compassion for not only the animal, but for the poacher. I imagine he has a child at home that needs to eat and the desperation he must feel in order to kill.
If we fuel compassion, perhaps this is what will resonate.
This is a season of renewal. We can bring our focus inward and from that grounded place, rebuild what we have destroyed; the same way the Namibians regenerated their country.
Every spring, on April 1, I practice The 24 Things. This exercise guides me to my center in the same way my yoga practice does. I tend to my home, let go of attachment, foster space and freedom, and bring scattered energy back to center.
It doesn’t matter what your tradition is—painting Easter eggs, seeking guidance around an ancestral fire or fostering a healthy home. If we endeavor to find the center and honor the past, we can create an inspired future.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel