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When You Need a New Mantra

A Personal Perspective: The Zambian bush forced me to think differently.

Key points

  • When we try too hard to find something, it rarely appears.
  • Once again, learning to be in the moment and accepting works in the bush and real life.
  • When a mantra developed in the bush holds true for learning to write fiction.

My husband and I were recently on a safari in Zambia, something I’ve come to love and do when our budget and covid allow. We stay at comfortable camps with good food, great stargazing in the southern hemisphere, and (normally) an abundance of animal viewing.

Every morning at 6:30, we take off in a bouncy Land Rover and, over the next four or five hours, search for animals, birds, and reptiles.

On previous trips, we’ve encountered everything imaginable, and lots of it. Elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, lions, leopards, wild dogs, hyenas, and wart hogs every few minutes. We’ve been bombarded with animals, to say nothing of the diversity and number of birds.

But on this last trip, we spent three full days at the first stop and saw very few of our favorite animals. Perhaps fewer than a dozen elephants lumbered past, usually around every tree. One day, we drove around for over two hours and saw almost nothing: gorgeous trees, a few new birds, but no animals.

Nancy Napier
Zambian Landscape
Source: Nancy Napier

I got serious about helping the guides find animals. I’ve learned I’m a decent animal spotter in the bush (although it’s a rather useless skill in urban America) and worked hard to help find animals. On this trip, I got quite tensed up and then frustrated when so few animals appeared. I needed a mantra.

As the truck jostled us, I came to a new way of thinking about our drives. We were enjoying the landscape and what we did see, birds, puko (a small antelope), and scads of hippos in the water. None of the animals I wanted to see, though, and I had to come to grips with that.

The result is a new mantra—be patient, present, and accept what the bush offers. I calmed down, let my mind wander, and just enjoyed the bumps and slow movement.

And, of course, nature provided. When you are looking for a leopard, you’ll never find one. When we stopped searching, a gorgeous specimen appeared. My gratitude was probably greater than if we'd seen the animal right at the start.

 Nancy K. Napier
A leopard suddenly appears.
Source: Nancy K. Napier

The mantra has value beyond the bush, of course. It’s driving my latest endeavor, learning to write fiction. I’m in a rough patch with the writing just now, feeling stuck and uncreative. I’ve used the Bush Mantra to see what happens: be patient, be present, and accept what comes.

The result: I’m writing these posts like a demon and letting my brain play in the background. It might be a good start to finding those “leopards of fiction” I’m looking for.