Drama at the waterhole


  • ‘In the end, we’ll all become stories’

    Margaret Atwood

I have been somewhere vast these past few weeks. Somewhere that is all solid earth, sand, rock, space, air, light and dust. And silence. It has not exactly been a hedonistic type of holiday, as there was a lot of endless road travel and my body feels dry and sleepy and tired. But I also feel renewed, as if I had spent days in a spa. My mind feels empty of its usual alertness, as if on reset, and I feel sustained by the soil under my feet as I walk in a slow slumber.


What I want to find out, in writing this piece, is why I have this strong sense of transience in this now while at the same time feeling stillness in my rooting in this here. The vastness of earth and what it produces is the only thing that appears solid and real to me, and it seems like animals and people are only walking here a short while, light and fragile and itinerant. We move, wake, sleep, speak, eat, dream, feel…. yet a larger, immense silence covers everything like a universal blanket. Our dramas are so important, and we play them out, and it all counts tremendously in the theatre of our lives. And yet it doesn’t really count, in terms of lasting organic matter. And every moment there is something new and something that is no longer, every moment someone survives and another does not. Every single moment.


And the dance is the dance, and there is a deep, rich beauty in just the dance, devoid of concepts around it, empty of analysis and logic. And it is tragic and awe-inspiring at the same time.


It was ten o’clock one night and I put on my jacket and wandered to the edge of the waterhole lookout. As soon as I got there I was immediately enveloped by a heavy and very palpable sense of calm. There was total silence as all of us travelers had our eyes on the floodlit scene: a white rhino and her calf, drinking. Out of the dark a leopard and a jackal coming into the scene, expectant, purposeful, ever closer. Then cautiously retreating as a herd of twelve elephants slowly approached the waterhole from the dark of the bushes, kicking up dust in their path. Black rhinos, another mother and her calf, two males which she snorted at loudly, a male rhino forcing the slow and theatrical retreat of an adolescent elephant, not knowing that three other elephants were advancing towards him defiantly from behind… More than thirty zebras apprehensively dashing to the water past the bolshy younger elephants flapping their ears and trumpeting…. A whole hour of fascinating life unfolding.


There was resistance in that scene

And allowance

There was taking turns

And muscling in

And open confrontation

And backing off

And surrender

And play

And fear

And want

And hunger

And love


Now, all of this is inside us, all the time. That is reality, all of it: the light and the dark, the interrelations and the beautiful nuances, what we despise or fear and what we would want to have more of, all the shades and colours.


This fullness of reality can overwhelm us, but the beautiful thing is that there is a key to not feel crushed by it. What allows us to see life in all its dimensions without losing our cool is – counter intuitively! – including all of life in our awareness whilst taking distance from it all: we can all sit quietly by the waterhole and look out at the drama of our lives.


So, I wanted to resolve the ‘contradiction’ of being constant change and at the same time feeling secure and grounded as I walk. This may well be the answer: there is no contradiction, it is just a matter of where I look from.


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