Heartbreak and Hope

Above all we must realise that each of us makes a difference with our life. Each of us impacts the world around us every single day.

Dr Jane Goodall, primatologist and animal rights campaigner

What is it that breaks your heart?

The provocative question, posed by spiritual activist Andrew Harvey, engages me daily as images play out in my mind of the almost unimaginable suffering of animals and the devastation of their natural habitats.

GeoffPilgrimage291Andrew, the best-selling author of the book The Hope and a co-presenter at Findhorn’s Love, Magic and Miracles conference, asked: “What, of all the causes in the world, breaks your heart the most?

“When you follow your heartbreak, instead of following your bliss, you’ll uncover the cause that you are prepared to do something about because it burns within you with such an intensity of outrage and pain.

“If we wake up to our heartbreak we’ll find our mission and when we enact our purpose we’re filled with energy and passion and joy.”

Like Andrew I’m triggered by the incredible suffering we inflict upon the animals and other beings with which we share this Earth, somehow imagining that we are separate from nature and not accountable for the havoc we are causing.

Of course, it’s easy to stand back and point fingers at the suicidal greed of the oil companies or the avaricious mining and logging industries that reduce vast tracts of our beautiful world to a wasteland each day. The madness has been likened to sawing away at the high branch we’re sitting on!

But are we so different? Each of us makes choices that depend on fossil fuels to power our cars and sustain lifestyles characterised by an addiction to comfort and convenience. So its easy to apportion blame, pointing a finger everywhere but at ourselves.


Animal whisperer Anna Breytenbach

Often I’ve felt anger and helplessness, without having the honesty to acknowledge my complicity in a system that’s stripping our only home of its resources. In my travels I’ve witnessed the slash and burn policies in Central America that left blackened, smouldering stumps where once there were towering trees stretching endlessly toward distant horizons.

I’ve felt nausea and revulsion in equatorial Africa when I watched helplessly while ancient trees toppled and convoys of logging trucks raced towards the nearest harbours with their plunder. Could I have made a difference?

In war-torn Congo and Angola tears welled up in the eyes of members of my overland expedition team when we came face-to-face with the agony inflicted by ruthless animal traders and the bloody bushmeat business. Cruelly tethered animals, including endangered primates, were changing hands at the roadside for a few dollars apiece.

In many African countries it is illegal to traffic in wild animal meat and yet in expensive restaurants in Cameroon or Gabon you could find a veritable Noah’s Ark on the menu and sophisticated and well-padded diners happy to pay the price. This isn’t only about hunger and survival!


Adelle with the rescued antelope

So was it a futile gesture of kindness when we spent $20 to rescue a young antelope? My friend Adelle cradled the terrified animal in her arms, whispering gentle reassurances and feeling its heart hammering, while we drove a few kilometres before untying limbs bound tightly together with wire that bit deep into its flesh. Then stepping aside, she released it into the wilds. Sniffing freedom, the animal ran, and then stopped to look back at its rescuers. Was the silent telepathic ‘Thank You’ a figment of our imaginations?

We debated whether we’d merely encouraged the bushmeat industry and agreed that it is up to each and every one of us to do what we feel is right. Saving that one life had been non-negotiable.

Which brings me back to the question: What is it that breaks my heart?

Perhaps more than anything I’m tortured by what is happening to baboons in South Africa, the country of my birth. Baboons, and especially dominant males, are being shot, poisoned and persecuted, sometimes by people in authority who masquerade as conservationists. The beleaguered primate’s crime is that it is desperately fighting for survival in the face of human encroachment where it has lived for thousands of years.


Baboons are a target for many intolerant humans

Admittedly baboons do raid kitchens and rubbish bins in the suburbs and can be a nuisance, but the issue isn’t about their appeal or usefulness to us. What matters is that they have an equal right to be here and like humans are an important strand in the intricate web of life. We’re all in this together as part of a massive collaborative quest for survival.

My way of dealing with this crisis of consciousness has been to walk the equivalent of a third of the circumference of the Earth with messages about treading more lightly, and along the way I’ve been inspired by countless individuals who are responding to the challenges, each doing their bit, whether motivated by simple survival or a love of life.

Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who famously led the incredible wartime rescue of the animals of Bagdad Zoo, wrote in his book Babylon’s Ark: “When one registers the fact that our very own survival depends upon the wellbeing of all life on our planet, one starts to understand that we are the ones responsible for the state we find Earth in today.”

Life survives through biodiversity and biodiversity is achieved only as a shared initiative with and through all life-forms on Planet Earth… Homo sapiens must live in close collaboration with the plant and animal kingdoms in a healthy, life-sustaining environment. There is no other way. We are all in this game of life together. There is no divide, no ‘us’ and ‘them'; no ‘man’ separate from ‘nature.’ Homo sapiens as individuals and as a species are as much a part of life’s overall thrust for survival as any other species. As living organisms, we are all part of the greater whole, and as such, we are embodied with exactly the same purpose: to survive. And to do so – as individuals, families, groups, and as a species – we have to live in dynamic collaboration with the plant and animal kingdoms in a healthy, life-sustaining environment.

GeoffPilgrimage294“There is no greater imperative. Mankind’s superior intellect and deep spiritual heritage will count for naught if we fail in this quest. Life will simply pass us by as we succumb to our own devices, and more successful life-forms will evolve to replace us…”

Perhaps my friend Braam Malherbe, an adventurer, author, motivational speaker, youth developer and TV presenter, is on the right track with his D.O.T campaign, where he invites everyone he meets to ‘Do One Thing’ for the planet. He believes collectively we can make a huge difference!

Having studied climate change in recent years he insists that the single greatest challenge facing humanity is how we deal with global climate change and the effects it is having and will have on us.

“Our planet is just a dot in the universe; we are just dots on our planet; but if we each just Do One Thing, we can make a radical difference.”

Geoff Dalglish

Geoff also writes for Odyssey Magazine as their Earth Pilgrim At Large.

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