I recently visited Tala Game Reserve, in KwaZulu-Natal, with my mother. We spent a few hours driving around looking for game, but were disappointed in that we saw almost nothing. We eventually found our way to the bird hide overlooking a small dam, with rolling hills beyond. We set out our camping chairs on the open deck and just sat quietly, enjoying the view.
It was not long before we realised that everywhere we looked there was game to be seen. Waterfowl had settled back on the water, hippos in the dam were popping their heads up to grunt and snort, birds of prey were circling overhead, monkeys were playing in the huge fig tree on the other side of the dam, ostrich, kudu, impala and wildebeest could be seen on the hills and rhino were grazing in the distance.
The lesson I was reminded of is that desire often creates paradoxical effects: The more you want something, the more you chase after it, the more it eludes you. Henry Thoreau said: “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you; but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder."
During my travels through America I spent a few days in Boston, Massachusetts. The historic parts of the city are beautiful and on my first evening there I was charmed to see the lighting of the gas lamps.
I wondered about the gas lamps and found out that they first came to life at Haymarket Square in 1828, spreading to other parts of the city relatively quickly. By the late 1800s however, electric lamps had replaced the quaint gas lamps. The electric lamps remained until 1962, when the city, hoping to recapture the charm of an earlier era, reverted to gas lamps in Boston’s historic neighborhoods. Today the gas lamps are a big draw for tourists in Boston.
The life lesson here is that sometimes in striving for progress and the convenience of modern amenities, we lose sight of the benefits of what we already have.
It was not the modern electric lamps that turned out to be the most beneficial for the city, but rather the gas lamps. In order to capitalize on the tourism revenue, Boston had to revert back to what they originally had.
While cross country skiing in Keystone Ski Resort, high in the Rocky Mountains, I fell and a sharp piece of ice gouged a small chunk of flesh out of a finger. It was a small wound but for the next week it did not heal at all.
The ski season came to an end and my next adventure was to drive to Louisiana for the annual New Orleans Jazz Festival. I was fascinated to find that within 24 hours of entering Louisiana, which is hot and humid (the exact opposite of the extremely dry atmosphere at the ski resort) the flesh of my wound had drawn together and healing was well on its way. All it needed was the right conditions – wounds heal faster and better when kept moist.
In 1962 scientist George D. Winter found that the regrowth of skin proceeded twice as fast in a moist environment than under a scab. Wounds covered with a film dressing took about 12 to 15 days to heal, while similar wounds exposed to the air took about 25 to 30 days to heal. Our body’s cells need moisture to survive.
The lesson here is that the right things happen under the right conditions – we just need to discover and create the right conditions. This concept applies to all aspects of our life, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
While travelling in Córdoba, Spain, I visited the Great Mosque of Córdoba. It is a beautiful and fascinating building that symbolizes the many religious changes Córdoba has undergone over the centuries. Today, the Mezquita is the Cathedral of Córdoba, but the vast majority of its art and architecture is the work of Islamic architects, who built it as a mosque in the 8th century. . The shell-shaped ceiling of the magnificent Mihrab is carved from a single block of marble and the chambers on either side are decorated with exquisite Byzantine mosaics of gold. The worn flagstones indicate where pilgrims crouched on their knees.
I wanted a sense of the visual perspective which the pilgrims had, and so I knelt down on the floor to view the Mihrab. Within seconds I had two security guards bearing down on me shouting and gesticulating that I must immediately stand up. Little did I know that since the early 2000s Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral, only to be rejected on multiple occasions. My innocent action appeared to be a challenge/protest and the guards were not having it!
The lesson here is to be aware that simple, innocent actions can be deeply offensive to others. It is important to be aware of rules, customs and etiquette when visiting unfamiliar places.
While working on privately owned luxury yachts, I had the privilege of having an evening’s leave on the Island of Elba, Tuscany. While strolling around the shops and cafés of the quaint, bustling harbour some brightly coloured, fabric shoulder bags really caught my eye, but I decided not to buy one as they were quite expensive. Getting back to my yacht I regretted that decision and so the next morning I asked if I could have thirty minutes to go onshore to buy the bag. Having already had my allocated leave the chief stewardess was unwilling to let me have more time off and it took much persuasion and the promise of working the half hour plus an extra hour to pay off the favour, before she agreed. I ran all the way to the shop, purchased my bag and ran all the way back. I had taken only eight minutes, but I still put in the hour and a half I had promised. I was rewarded with the trust of the chief stewardess - she had not expected me to keep my word! This trust earned me future privileges.
The lesson here is simple, exercise your privilege to go the extra mile, and you will be rewarded.
While working on privately owned yachts in the South of France, I spent some time in Nice and paid a visit to the magnificent Monastery of Cimiez. The monastery has been used by the Franciscan monks since the 16th century and includes a church, a cemetery, a convent, beautiful gardens and sweeping views across Nice.
The beautiful church boasts three major works by Italian medieval artist Ludovico Brea and a monumental altar-piece of hand-carved wood decorated with gold-leaf. The convent houses the Musée Franciscain which is decorated with 17th century frescoes, and displays more than 300 documents and works of art from the 15th to 18th centuries. Buried in the cemetery are the painters Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy, plus the winner of the 1937 Nobel Prize for Literature, Roger Martin du Gard, as well as many notables of the Grand Italian Families laid to rest in exquisitely designed mausoleums. The remarkable garden surrounding the building is the former vegetable garden of the monks. It is now used as a garden of exceptional floral decoration.
What struck me about this awe-inspiring place is how so many disciplines - religion, art, history, literature and gardening - are brought together. The place is truly steeped in culture and inspires visitors deeply with unforgettable memories and emotion. I feel richer for having visited. The lesson here is to remember that our true wealth is not measured by the money in our bank accounts, but by the beauty and inspiration we experience in art, religion, history, literature and nature.
The lesson here is to remember that our true wealth is not measured by the money in our bank accounts, but by the beauty and inspiration we experience in art, religion, history, literature and nature.
When I was in my early 20’s I ‘did’ a Contiki Tour of Europe. Our first City was Paris and after checking into the hotel, we were taken to see the sights and ended at the Eiffel Tower. Our tour guide gave us strict instructions to be back on the bus by 9:30pm otherwise “it would leave without us!”
I had made friends with three fellow travellers and we made a plan to go up the tower as high as we could. It was magnificent and we took in the views from all 4 sides. When we realized the time it had already gone 9:30pm and we knew the bus would have left. We were not concerned - being young and invincible we knew we would find our way back to the hotel!
An hour and a half later we emerged from the Eiffel Tower to see the bus was still there. Our fellow tour members told us they had felt sorry for us and had decided to wait. We felt terrible, but also angry that we had been put in a position of unknowingly upsetting the others.
The lesson here is to say what you mean, mean what you say and stick to the plan. Don’t expect others to know you have changed the plan if you have not consulted them!
The Mandela Capture Site is situated in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa. It marks the place where Nelson Mandela was captured, at a roadblock, by the police on 5 August 1962, after being on the run from the South African Government for 17 months. There is a remarkable sculpture and a small (sadly unremarkable) museum to be found there. What really caught my interest were postcards and magnets depicting a thought-provoking quote by Nelson Mandela:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
The life lesson here is an obvious one. If we truly want freedom then we must respect others. Instead of shouting others down or intimidating them if they dare speak up against us, we need to allow them to have their own ideas and opinions. We don’t have to agree with them, but we must show tolerance and respect towards them.
Some years ago I visited Oudtshoorn, a region in South Africa well known for its ostrich farming. I had a tour of a farm, as well as a ride on an ostrich – a most interesting experience! I also learnt some fascinating facts about ostriches. What struck me most was that while ostriches are not the most intelligent bird on this planet (an ostrich's brain is smaller than its eye and would hardly fill a tablespoon!), they have adapted so well that they have been on earth between 70 and 120 million years. Their lifespan is 50 – 75 years, which is an amazing age for a bird! In Mesopotamia and Egypt ostriches have inspired cultures and civilizations for 5000 years, which is more than can be said for most other living creatures!
The lesson here is that success need not be about intellectual capacity or intelligence, but rather about getting on with the job. Too often we measure success by degrees, diplomas and certificates, rather than by the ability to adapt to what's needed and getting on with doing it!
While exploring the province of Andalucia in Spain, I saw numerous massive silhouette 'billboards' of an enormous black bull. They were so quintessentially Spanish, that I found myself quite charmed by the sight. The bull billboards are a superb image and branding campaign because although Spain has so much more to offer – food (paella & tapas), drink (sangria, sherry & wine), flamenco music and dance, and the artists Picasso and Dali – when one thinks of Spain one invariably thinks first and foremost of bull fighting.
The life lesson here is to recognize the importance of branding and image. Whether or not it is your intention, everything you do, wear or say projects an image of you. Ask yourself, "When other people think of me what comes to mind first?" Then make sure it is the thing you want people to be thinking!