It’s been 13 days since I came home, and I don't know what I'm going to write. Just as I didn't know what exactly I was letting myself into when I gratefully accepted photographer Thijs Heslenfeld’s invitation: two weeks of exploring Namibia - and ourselves - in a 4x4. A country I'd only heard of by name, on a continent I'd never been to, with someone I'd only met four times before. It’s starting to dawn on me now, for real, what this trip did to me, what it touched and what it set in motion.
And the strongest thing I feel is this profound realization that I’m complete. There’s nothing I can do, create, achieve or buy to make myself whole. I am whole, I am complete. I’ve understood this for a while, but so far it was mostly a mind game. I’m actually starting to feel it now.
There’s more calmness, a deeper peace. The rush or pressure to be(come) somebody is really disappearing. And this is so liberating! I don’t need to run after anyone or anything, I don’t need to go out and find clients, develop a clearer story for my new company, make myself visible. Nothing I do adds anything to who I am. If I’m to do anything, it’s to ride the wave of trust. To be guided by a knowing that’s way deeper and stronger than anything my mind could ever come up with. To allow the right direction to unfold. And to let it bring me where I need to be, when the time’s right.
So, ehm, how did this happen all of a sudden?
A question I've been asked a couple of times now. And I can’t really answer it. It feels like a completely natural step in a process that’s been going on for a while. I can’t point out a single culprit, a specific moment, experience or realization during the trip. I do know that exploring Namibia with Thijs meant going into a vastness I hadn’t seen before, with deserts and valleys stretching tens of miles each way we looked, listening to silence, real silence, only interrupted by the the occasional animal sound or gust of wind (not seldomly our own:-).
And of course, to compensate for all of this silence, emptiness, vastness on the outside, there was noise on the inside - lots of it. Sometimes it was just static, like radio channels blaring nonsense, all competing for the same frequency. Sometimes there were memories of things I hadn’t thought of in twenty years. And sometimes there was just restlesness, an uneasy stirring with no clear shape, identity, or message.
Thijs’ presence really helped me to experience all of it. To allow everything to be. Fear, when he - on our first day and in all of his enthusiasm - showed me footprints. Of a really big cat. 200 meters from where we were about to set up camp. Anxiety, when we saw our first elephant, looking at us from a distance, half hiding itself in the bamboo, no idea where he was going, and realizing we couldn’t be in a worse place to try and get out of his way. Love, for Pallow and his family, who let us camp near their house. Shame, when Thijs inquired about my somewhat lavish eating behaviour. Vulnerability, as I shared with him that this is how I flee uneasiness, how I numb whatever I don’t want to feel. Connection, which seems to follow naturally when we dare to be vulnerable. Aliveness, while I was lazing in one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. And nakedness, as I first went for a walk in the Marienfluss valley, on my own, amidst thousands of springboks and ostriches, with no idea about the presence of lions or leopards - let alone if they were eyeing me out.
Together we took it all in, looked at it with a smile, shared, let it be, felt alive. As we traveled, I knew all of this touched me somewhere, did something. But as I shook the last Namibian hand, I still had no idea what. The dots only started connecting days after touch-down in Europe. Trailing, like they usually do.
Living with basic supplies for two weeks, showering with one cup of water, tasting a simple life, made me realize again how little we need to have an amazing time. Meeting happy people with little or no material possessions reconnected me with how all of it really doesn’t matter. Everything that we value, strive for, want, desire, in the end, really brings no fulfillment. We already have everything we really desire, we’re already where we want or need to be. It’s our selves, here and now. All it takes is another look.
One woman, whom we met in the middle of nowhere, told me she’d lived in a town for 10 years, but moved back to the bush because ‘Here I don’t need money to stay alive’. At the same time we saw people struggling, dreaming of the green grass on the other side. ‘I’ll do any job, doesn’t matter, as long as I can make a profit.’ They’re convinced that the amount of money they make equals the extent of their happiness.
Are these the things that brought me to this realization? To this feeling? I don’t really know, they’re just associations I’m making now. What I do know is that I had a kick-ass time, that I feel blessed to have been given such an amazing adventure, riding together, with Thijs and myself, not pacing or pressing ourselves. And of course, that there’s such a thing as a 'Gui-Uiri swamp'. I’m sure more will come up, but that’s for another story and another time.
We filmed photographer Thijs Heslenfeld in 2012 for the Heartworkers project. This year, he’s touring Namibia, with one or two persons at a time. His photos, which you're seeing in this blogpost, are to end up in a book. A beautiful one, for sure. Want to know more? Or even join him? Find Thijs on Facebook, or check ThijsHeslenfeld.com to stay up to date. Below a selection of photos I took myself.