Earlier this year I visited the Cape and spent time with a dear friend. Every day we did something different, but because we loved Stellenbosch so much we went back there many times. We ate in fabulous cafés and restaurants, we met interesting people, we popped in and out of wonderful shops and bought a variety of things that caught our fancy – artisan bread, a bone china tea set, a pretty scarf. We were delighted with the variety and diversity of our explorations.
The lesson here is to appreciate what is in your own backyard. In Stellenbosch I was made very aware that we were enjoying what millions of international tourists are drawn to annually – the sheer beauty of this land, its rich culture and heritage, and the warmth and hospitality of our fellow citizens. The rest of the world comes to enjoy the offerings that are already available to us.
While travelling through America I spent a day at Disneyland in California. It was my first visit to any of the Disney parks and I was of course blown away by the sheer grandeur and variety of activities on offer. I did as much as I could in the time available and had an absolute ball!
What took me most by surprise, however, was the fact that there were more adults than children at Disneyland. It was like a giant playground for adults – with everybody laughing, racing around and getting involved. I had never before experienced such activity and so much energy expended by so many adults in one place.
The lesson I learned is that at heart we are a playful species and play is just as important to our wellbeing as good nutrition; as George Bernard Shaw said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
In our hectic, modern lifestyles, most of us focus so heavily on work and family commitments that we never seem to have time for pure fun. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we stopped playing. Even when we do make time for leisure, we're more likely to sit in front of the TV or computer than engage in fun, rejuvenating play like we did as children. But the reality is that we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously just because we’re adults. By giving ourselves permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, we will reap a variety of health benefits throughout life.
While based in Cannes, working on a privately owned luxury yacht, I was asked by the Captain of another yacht if I would help him bring his yacht back from San Remo, just over the French border in Italy. His own crew were all on leave and he desperately needed someone to assist. As it was to be my day off and it sounded like hard work, I was reluctant to help, but I also realised that if I said no he would be hard pushed to find anyone else so I agreed.
The Captain and I set off at dawn on the designated day and took the train to San Remo. We sailed back to Cannes in perfect weather conditions and I had nothing to do except sit back and enjoy the trip. On arrival in Cannes I was well paid for my time and still had some of my day off to enjoy. It turned out to be the easiest day’s work I have ever done!
The lesson here is that when you have the chance to do something for someone else, with no expectation of reward, seize the opportunity. One can never anticipate the good fortune that can come out of an act of goodwill.
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."
Most people believe that the biggest constraint on their productivity, is the amount of time that they have. In most cases, this is not true.
Of course, you probably have had days when you went from one thing to the next without even stopping to eat, and felt like you had accomplished so much by the end of it. But you will also have noticed that you felt like you were spinning and that this was followed by a slump – a drop in energy. We cannot keep going in this mode for too long without it leading to loss of energy and burnout.
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.
I once had the great pleasure of spending a day at Disneyland in Paris, outside of tourist season. It was a real pleasure not to have the place packed with crowds, but what really stood out for me was the relatively low number of children there compared to adults. The fact that the atmosphere was still electric with energy, fun and laughter was not lost on me – I was reminded of the fact that we humans retain our juvenile sense of enjoyment and pleasure right into adulthood.
The life lesson here is that human beings are playful creatures – no other species pursues so many activities simply for amusement or spends so much time enjoying themselves – and we need to be this way. As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
While working in Keystone Ski Resort in the Rocky Mountains, I would on occasion visit Denver, Colorado for the day. I would always enjoy my time in the big city, shopping, seeing the sights and so on, but one of the novelties that really made me stop and look was the squirrels in the parks. I would watch them for long periods of time, enjoying the antics of these little creatures and of course appreciating the parks too. These little forays into nature in the big city gave me much pleasure.
I observed that the local people in Denver would rush by seeming not to even notice the squirrels. Although I was aware that they were not a novelty to them, it occurred to me how much we can miss when we take for granted the beautiful nature around us as we rush by.
The lesson here is to take notice of the world – observe it. No matter what you're doing, notice the moments that surround you – the beauty of nature, the outline of a bridge, or a view of the sunrise behind the city buildings. Look at the way the light reflects off the buildings, the tree line, and the birds that manage to nest in the branches and the animals that live in the parks. The simple act of tilting your chin can give you a whole new perspective on the place you live.
The concept of ‘living in the now’ or ‘being in the present’ has its roots in Eastern philosophies, but has gained popularity in mainstream western thinking in recent years because of the writings of people such as Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat-zinn and many others.
The increasing popularity of the concept – also referred to as ‘mindfulness’ – has quickly promoted its status from an esoteric concept to an abundantly used ‘power-phrase’ in the area of ‘self-help’. Many people are still confused by the concept and don’t fully understand it. So what does ‘living in the now’ actually mean and why and how should introduce it into our lives?