Carol’s Story

When cultures, which are alternative ways of being human, are destroyed, the understanding of what it is to be human is reduced for all human beings.

Mary Catherine Bateson.

In 2014, after 20 years inside of a large corporation and 4 years into my journey of going within, I set out on a pilgrimage inward, to the depths of my soul, to discover who I truly am. Over the course of the previous decade I had watched my father get a fluke cancer and die, then my mother, and now my husband. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself, when will it be my turn?

On my journey I came to the realization of how sick I already was. As I stared at the bottom of my empty wine bottle, I began to realize that rather than fearing cancer, I needed to acknowledge I have it. I have life cancer, I have a dis-ease of external definition and fear – fear of not being good enough or fitting in, fear of feeling my separateness from life outside these four walls, most of all the fear of dying without ever truly living.

Sitting in the doctor’s office seeking to increase my Lexapro dosage to soothe my frayed nerves during the day until I could get home for a glass of wine at night, the doctor looked squarely in my eyes and asked me why was I doing this to myself? It was a powerful moment because he did not blame anyone out there – no one was doing this to me – rather, he directly put the responsibility of my beingness upon me – which is where it belonged, and in that moment I knew I had to change.

So I quit my high paying job, gave away my teams, titles, roles – all those things I had worked decades to amass – as well as cut 14 inches off my hair, stopped wearing make-up, and gave away any physical attachments I could which would not jeopardize my family’s quality of life too much. Within 2 weeks of this act of shedding my identity, I found myself camping in the foothills of the Himalayas. As I opened up my tent flaps to witness the splendor of the Himalayas for the first time, I could not stop weeping at what I saw. Not just the physical presence of these majestic beings, but the beauty and love nature radiated towards me, a love I had never felt it before.

The “sacred” of my life, those titles, roles, labels, vain beauty – all those things I had worked tirelessly for day and night for 25 years, no longer mattered at all to me. They almost seemed entirely ridiculous as if I was playing a game of illusion and distraction from something truer and larger. Ironically, working harder and acquiring more awards, titles, or pay did not satiate my drive, it was only when I slowed down to a stop, to experience nature, that I realized the lie I had been living.

Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new experience or sensation and can never shrink back to its old dimensions.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

This is why, after hearing about the Origins Project, I jumped at the chance to help in any way possible. Having experienced many ceremonies and studying culture for my Ph.D., I knew in my soul that nothing could be more important for humanity. I think we all know this if we allow ourselves to step outside of our frenetic busyness to see the impact of our behaviors on both the physical plane as well as the mental, emotional, and spiritual. We are void of meaning and purpose, driven instead as wage slaves to a self-made perception of what it means to be human.

One of my first acts as the Project Director for Origins was to go with Nicole and Jon to the Kalahari and experience the beauty of these peoples and their surroundings. Out on the land, I found my soul singing a song I had never heard before and I knew I could never go back to being who I was – there is that moment when you realize the “sacred” of your life, all those roles/titles/labels you have spent decades amassing and holding onto as a proxy for meaning and life, flip and become profane.

And standing in the empty vastness of the bush I found the sacred part of life. It is exactly as William Blake illustrates so poetically when he writes “To see a world in a grain of Sand/ and a heaven in a wild flower/ hold infinity in the palm of your hand/ and eternity in an hour.”

What I experienced out on the land with the Bushmen was a culture beyond time, money, and politics. It was a culture whose existence is based purely on relationship with each other, the plants, the animals, the land, and their ancestors. They don’t need books to teach from, each day they sit around the fire and tell their children the stories of their past, of how to live and be as one with all that is around them, and how to be human in a world for which they are both a part of, and separate from, all other things.

In their culture, it is the elders and their wisdom of a life well lived for the community who guides the trip. A young boy is not old enough to hunt because he thinks so, he is old enough to hunt when the elders say so. His whole life he has heard the stories of hunting and seen the dances from the men in his tribe as they tell their stories and what they learned. So, when it comes a boys turn to become a man, his education hasn’t been taught from a book about the animals anatomy and how to kill best for him. Instead, he has heard the stories of how to hunt, he has learned the art of tracking animals, watching their patterns, and learning to become the animal. He has also learned how to not kill, when to not kill, and why not to kill. If the animal is with a baby, if it is too little, or if the tribe doesn’t see enough of them then maybe too many have been hunted and they want to let the population catch up.

Bushmen don’t need to learn about sustainability, they are sustainability. The Bushmen look at the whole picture and then make a decision within as to what is best for everyone – plant, animal, land, human – not just themselves. The same is for the girls in the tribe, from infancy all children are carried on their mothers back and taken into the bush as she forages for food for the tribe. When the kids are 4 or 5 years old, they are old enough to go out on their own to find food as they have been taught and when they come back, they tell their stories of what they encountered. What did they find out there, and what questions do they have? They are not told what to do, they are encouraged to watch, learn, and discover for themselves – and then share with the others so everyone can share what they learned. This is how they have been learning for thousands of years, not by sitting in a classroom learning remotely about objects, but living in the environment with first-hand experience with the subject at hand.

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

Shakespeare

The Bushmen also teach the children to always give gratitude and respect for the animals, plants, weather, etc. All learn to give gratitude for whatever they take, and they give gratitude especially when they dance to God, that world of all things which is also in all things, and thanking their ancestors for all that they have.

In the bush I came to experience a culture of connection and purpose far beyond anything I have ever experienced in my travels around the world. While Origins Project is first and foremost about helping the San Bushmen land in a safe location and be able to continue on with their traditions and way of being in this world, make no mistake that it is the rest of humanity who will be saved by our learning from their original ways of living as one with the rest of this world around us.

Carol Grojean Ph.D., Social Systems Scientist.