Discovering The Track Of Your Life With Boyd Varty
Born and raised at Londolozi Game Reserve in the South African wilderness in a family of conservationists, Boyd Varty grew up with lions, leopards, snakes, and elephants, speaking the local language and learning how humans and nature can naturally and beautifully co-exist. Boyd is a wildlife and literacy activist and a lion tracker, life coach, storyteller, and author. On today’s podcast, he joins Katherine Twells to talk about how you can discover the track of your life and find your authentic path. He also shares some deep insights that can guide us, especially as we navigate these uncertain times.
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Discovering The Track Of Your Life With Boyd Varty
Using Your Inner Intelligence To Find Your Authentic Path
I am honored and excited to be able to share our conversation with you. I had the pleasure of meeting Boyd Varty a few years ago, and he was able to join the CMO Summit in 2019 to share his incredible wisdom and storytelling with our community of leaders. He’s one of those people who is truly making an authentic walk towards mastery, and there is so much that he can teach us. Boyd is a wildlife and literary activist, as well as a tracker, life coach storyteller and the author of two books, Cathedral of The Wild and The Lion Tracker’s Guide To Life. He earned a Psychology degree from the University of South Africa and is a certified master life coach, as well as a TED speaker. His speech on Nelson Mandela reached more than 1.7 million views and counting.
Born and raised at Londolozi Game Reserve in The South African Wilderness in a family of conservationists, Boyd had an unusual upbringing. He lived in a place where man and nature strive for true balance where perils and wonders can exist side by side. Founded more than 90 years ago as a hunting ground, Londolozi was transformed into a nature reserve in 1973 by Boyd’s father and uncle, both visionaries of the restoration movement. Londolozi is a place that has grown legends like Nelson Mandela, who sought solace there following his 27 years of imprisonment. Since childhood, Boyd has shared his home with lions, leopards, snakes and elephants, truly a wild childhood. He grew up speaking the local language and learning how humans and nature can naturally and beautifully co-exist.
As a university student, Boyd studied Psychology and Ecology, supplementing has education by learning martial arts in Thailand, hiking through the jungles of the Amazon and apprenticing with a renowned tracker from the Shangaan Tribe, ultimately, deepening his relationship and knowledge of the natural world. At the core of his work, Boyd is driven towards healing through getting in touch with your wild nature and using that to find wholeness. He coaches individuals both in South Africa and the US by connecting people to nature and helping them understand that they have within them a personal tracking system that they can rely on. His philosophy and story have been featured in the New York Times, NBC and many more places. I’ll have to tell you, in this conversation, he shares such deep insights that can guide us all, especially, as we navigate these very uncertain times. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy and benefit from the wisdom of Boyd Varty.
Boyd, I am grateful that you’re joining me for the show. Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it.
Thank you for having me. It’s great to be on.
I always do an introduction for our conversation so our readers will know a little bit about your bio and your background, but there’s always way more to the story. I remember when I read your book, Cathedral of The Wild, it was amazing to hear more about your life, experiences and everything you’ve gone through, but for everyone reading the conversation, would you share a little bit about your origin story. There’s a lot there, as much as you want to share with us. How did you find your way to the mission that you’re living?
One of the most defining things was that I grew up in a wild Eastern part of South Africa. I grew up on a property that my great grandfather bought in 1926. He bought it because he drank too much gin at a tonic party and he heard about this bankrupt cattle farm out in the wilds. The farm was bankrupt for two reasons. One is that it’s a difficult area to run cattle. It’s low rainfall and two, there were lions eating a lot of the cattle. My grandfather was an adventurer and he was an avid lion hunter. That day, they drunk too many gin and tonics, he bought this property sight-unseen. This property then became the central feature of my family’s life.The restoration of the planet and our relationship with nature has to come out of a shift in human consciousness. Click To Tweet
My great grandfather and grandfather went there to hunt. My father and uncle grew up hunting on the land. In 1969, my grandfather died suddenly. My father, who was about fifteen at the time and my uncle would lift in the wake of this terrible loss. They went to Johannesburg and they gathered with the family advisors. They said, “First things first, you’ve got to get rid of that place. Hunting lions is a bad idea. It’s dangerous. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing going wrong going on there, get rid of it.” My father stood up and from a place deep inside of himself. He said to these men who are all captains of industry as a fifteen-year-old boy, “We’re going to keep it.” I’ve always been interested in that place inside of us that knows beyond the rational. To my grandmother’s credit, she turned to her fifteen-year-old son and she said, “If you’re going to keep it, then I’ll support you.”
That’s how my family then got into the Safari business. They ran this ramshackle safari operation. It was in a state of disrepair. You didn’t see any animals. A lot of the reserve was a high scrub. In the early ‘70s, my father and uncle were still young, they met this man who arrived at the reserve and he was a fascinating guy. He’s what I would call a restorer. He had a PhD in Ecological Sciences. When he arrived there and he looked at the land, he said to them, “If you want this place to work, you must restore the land. You must partner with the animals. Think of the animals as your kin and you must start to restore where the cattle overgrazing the land has destroyed the land.”
They were lost. They were looking for answers. Immediately they said to him, “How do we start restoring it?” He said, “Come with me, I’ll show you.” He started to show them how to restore the micro catchments, where the erosion had come in and the scrub had over on the land because the ground wasn’t holding moisture. He showed them how you start to repair it and they started doing this work. In about 5 or 6 or 10 years into that process, I was born. From the time I was young, I grew up on the land around my father actively involved in the restoration of the land. He was bringing it back to life. I saw how the land went from being devoid of animals to suddenly seeing animals return.
As we fixed the land, the herds of wildebeest, zebra and all these different animals started to return. Something went deep into my psyche, the magic of the way nature can restore itself and the way that nature can be a partner. As a result of that restoration, the land became incredibly vibrant with animals. People started to come from all over the world. Because we had done away with hunting, the wild animals started to develop trust with us. This reserve became known as Londolozi, which means protector of living things. It became world renowned as a place where you could see wild leopards. I grew up inside of a restoration of a relationship between people, animals and nature.
The second part of the origin story is I grew up apprentice to the Shangaan Trackers on this land. For hundreds of thousands of years, the Shangaan Trackers are probably some of the best trackers in the world that can follow the trails of animals, faint footprints across the landscape. From the time I was young, they started to teach me that art form. I thought that I was learning, “This is how you track a lion. This is how you follow an animal.” Later on in my life, when I got into the personal development arts, when I started working as a transformational coach, when I started working with people who were healing, when I started working in ceremonies and started working exclusively as a guide, a coach and a healer. I realized that the skillset that I had learned on the land and from the trackers could be applied to anyone who was looking for what I would call the track of their life. The way that we find our way to uncertain wild terrain, the way that we follow something that’s calling us, that is the way of the tracker.
Those principles of the way a tracker approaches doing something incredibly difficult can apply. My work then became any restoration. Any place where people were restoring their connection with nature, any place where a person was looking for the most authentic part of themselves, any place where a person was letting go of trauma and healing. That all became work in the restoration to me. Any time I saw that and saw someone doing that, I knew that in some ways, when people heal, that’s when nature will heal.
When we heal our relationship to nature, it will change. As long as we are overrun by trauma and the systems of extraction, the systemic systems of domination, as long as those are the dominant programs inside of us, we’ll never change our relationship with the natural world. My central belief is that the restoration of the planet and our relationship with nature has to come out of a shift in human consciousness. All of those strange experiences came together inside of me and a simple desire to help us live differently and to help us heal as people so that we can change our relationship with nature.
The magic of your origin story is phenomenal and it’s interesting. You’re still in the middle of your mission and we’re going to talk a lot about some of the things that you’ve said and how we co-create a different future. It’s interesting to look back. As I talk to people about where they came from and you look back and you see that you were born into restoration, and even further back that the drinking one night creates the purchase of this land and it began with hunting and it hasn’t ended yet, but the story moved into restoration and you were a part of all of that.
Everything that came together in your origin story has shaped this consciousness that you have, this belief that you have, and that you are now sharing with the world. It’s fascinating as we look, as all of us. For everyone reading, do you think back to the path you’ve walked, up until now and how it shaped you? It’s remarkable. In many ways, we think we’re making all these decisions for ourselves and we are in some ways, but in many other ways, larger forces are guiding that and helping us realize where we need to go and it’s amazing.
One of the things that come to mind is my grandfather drinking gin and hearing about this property and standing up and saying, “Sight-unseen, I’m going to buy that place. I’m going to go there.” When I think of my father stricken by grief, having lost his father and standing up in that meeting, surrounded by all these CEOs of companies and saying, “We’re going to keep the land. Even though it has got nothing going on it. Our mother is newly widowed. We’re going to keep it.” I’ll tell you one other story, which goes to what you’re saying is about ten years into the process of restoring the land, you have to understand, when they first started, the animals had been hunted and you hardly ever saw an animal.
If you did see an animal, it was trying to get away from you. It was running for its life. About ten years into that process, my father and uncle were driving home one day and they’d been out, working on the land. In the late afternoon light, a leopard stepped out onto the road, stopped and looked at them. For a moment, she allowed herself to be seen. She stood there for a couple of beats, and then she walked off the road. That was the first time a leopard had ever presented itself and given them a chance to see her without running blindly.
They drove home in silence and when they got home again, my father stopped the vehicle and they sat there for a long moment. My uncle said to my father, “Whatever happened with that leopard, that’s my future.” That knowing comes out of a different place inside of us. There are many ways that we are told and that we think about, “What it would mean to be successful?” The culture that we live in is always telling us, “These are the steps you have to take. You do this. This is the way you have to do it.” What I am fascinated by is how we know in a deeper way. I’m not out of the part of us that is socialized to be good, to succeed, to be the best and to win. How do we know out of the part of us that is more authentic? The part of us that is wild, the part of us that doesn’t care about what other people think?
What you’re saying to me is I think that there are moments in our life. If we sit, contemplate and look back, we can say, “At that moment, I know I was totally on track. I felt like something was moving to line everything up. When I met that person, when I was suddenly at that place, I felt totally myself. I felt the most of me. I know how to feel. I felt engaged, alive and expansive in my body.” When I talk about tracking your life, I talk about going back and being aware of what those moments were, how we felt in those moments and how we feel when we’re totally authentic and then saying, “Going forward, what is calling me to that same feeling? What is calling me to that same expansion of energy in my body? What is calling me to that same knowing that it’s beyond what I should rationally do, that when I engage in this, I feel pulled to it, curious about it and ignited by it?
One of the things we can do is certainly look back to help us almost categorize the track that we are looking for, that help us move forward. They call some of the tracking Developing Track Awareness. It’s teaching yourself to see your track. It takes awareness, presence and you have to teach yourself to look for a very unique set of metrics. One of the things that trackers would do to me when I was a kid is they would take me to a game path, which is where the animals moved between waterholes and clearings. They would say to me, “Walk down the path, come back and tell me what you see.”There is always a set of tracks in life, but you have to teach yourself to see it. Click To Tweet
I walk down the path and look at the ground, all these scuffs and marks on the ground. I would come back and I would say, “A hippo walked down this path to the river, and I can see where a herd of Impala walked.” These trackers would say to me in Shangaan, “Young boy, go look again.” I would walk back down the path and this time I would see where a squirrel had crossed the path. I would see where there were the faint tracks of a leopard that had worked before the hippo walked down the path. Each time I went down that path, I realized there was more information laid down there.
When I started coaching people in all different settings, that idea became radically important to me. The idea that there’s information in your life about how to be more authentic, about what lights you up, about your mission, about what you are here to do. The information is there. There is a set of tracks always in life, but you have to teach yourself to see it. You have to start tuning in. One of the ways to tuning in is starting to say, “I want to find that. I’m looking for that.” Once you start to say, “I want to start tracking my most authentic life,” and you bring that attention, interesting things start to happen.
It’s so much about that intention, deciding to set out on that track and to look, and the awareness is so important. I think about the synchronicities that come. Things are talking with us all the time in our lives and it is about to do we have the awareness to perceive them and to hear them? Sometimes that requires stillness and being way more tuned in. Even this conversation with you, when I first met you, I shared the rather fascinating synchronicities of me becoming aware of you in the world. That was everything from my brother sending me a random podcast to one of my speaking agents sending me your book, to randomly running into you at this conference and thinking, “This is fascinating. This is clearly an individual that I need to understand and learn from.”
All of that culminated in you coming to the CMO Summit in 2019 and having an opportunity to share with the community which was beautiful. I remember sitting with you at the summit and you telling me about this quest you were going to be on and how you were going to spend 40 days in a tree to commune with nature, to be still, to understand more about yourself and the track of your own life. I thought that was fascinating. I remember sitting there in that hotel, talking to you about this, fast forward into 2020, and here comes COVID, right here comes this gigantic shift in the world. I know that that accelerated your timeframe to go into the wilderness and to begin this odyssey that you went on.
I’d love to share in our conversation more about what you’ve learned, and it’s going to tie into this introduction of how do we follow this track? How do we think about the transformation that we’re in? One of the things you talked about at the beginning of your journey was this whole concept of shedding, of how do we remove ourselves from all the things that might not allow us to hear that inner track, that is pulling us off that track. Can you share a little bit about shedding and what that process looks like?
I lived alone in that tree for six weeks and I certainly felt that there were phases to the experience. The first phase I started to think of is shedding and what I noticed is I live a contemplated life. I’m attuned. I’m on the road a lot. I travel a lot. I’m always going somewhere. In truth, the first 3 or 4 days of being totally alone in the wild, no devices, no nothing, there was a lot of anxiety. What I noticed is that my mind was, as I had nothing to distract myself, it was throwing up all of these things that I hadn’t done, “You are alone. This is not good for your business. What if someone needs to get ahold of you?” All of this noise that was spinning in my head. It’s spun even faster because I couldn’t dive into my phone and check the news.
I couldn’t turn on a podcast, couldn’t update on any social network or there was none of that. The first three days are spent and it was quite anxious-making. One of the things is when you feel like you’re going to be totally alone for six weeks in the wild, one of the things was like, “This is going to be too long. Six weeks by myself out here.” You wake up at 6:00 in the morning, you go tracking, you meditate, you read, you do some yoga, you do some breathing, you write something and it’s like 9:15 and you’ve got six weeks to go.
On the third day, I felt something shift. Aboriginal people say that, “One in day culture is three days deep.” If you can get into nature for three days, suddenly all those things would that occupied your mind that was an important giveaway. Immediately as it gave way, I started to feel a very strong, physiological feeling. I felt my nervous system calming down. I felt a spaciousness starting to come into me. I felt the density of load of thought give way. I felt myself totally transitioning into a different state of being and that was way more lucid, in which I was able to rest and suddenly, I would know to do something and I would do it and I would drop back into this calm state, in which I was intuitively in tune with myself.
I started eating differently. I gave up the idea that you eat three meals a day and I would eat when my body was hungry. I felt my circadian rhythm shifting. The minute nights started to fall, I felt my body going down into steep. The minute day arrived, I work with incredible energy. What happened is the shedding was getting rid of all of the ideas of what life’s about. When that stillness started to come with it, naturally it started to come to the beginnings of insight. It wasn’t like I was trying, I started to know, I could hear my own voice again. I could hear that silent voice inside of us that guides us. The shedding gave way into what I call attuning.
It’s almost like I got my attention back. When I got my attention back, I started to attune to nature. What I saw in that phase was this incredible intelligent system around me and this intricacy of the way things are connected. I started to see everything in that ecosystem is it’s flowing, interacting, interlocking, intelligence. One of the things I realized is when you put your attention on things that are alive, you become more alive. I could almost feel the aliveness coming into me. I started to know that one of the reasons I went was to ask myself, “In any mystical tradition, why did they go to nature?”
The first answer that became clear to me in those first ten days was when you are surrounded by that kind of intricate natural intelligence, it starts to happen naturally. Without any spiritual practice, it starts to happen. You start to know that you are made of that same intelligence. You are made of that same intricate, wild, genius that is nature. You’re a part of it. The idea of void starts to give way to the intelligence of life of which I am a part of. That was an incredibly beautiful thing to start to feel connected to.
It almost feels like when you go through this process, it’s like you’re waking up from a trance. It’s being anesthetized by society and culture in our minds. In business, we talk all the time about, the concept of disruption. This to me is the ultimate disruption of this wheel, of this treadmill that we’re on. You talk about the ecosystem and the flow. I want to talk more about the flow because for people who might be reading this conversation who might feel somewhat trapped in that trance of the culture and of life. With COVID, I’ve had conversations with people because all of a sudden, we’re not traveling.
We’re not living the way we used to live. There’s still this nonstop maybe Zoom calls or other things that are starting to still pull us into a different trance, but it’s almost like we are an ecosystem even within a company, a corporation, any community is an interconnected ecosystem. I start to wonder if some people would be thinking scary to spend time out in the wilderness as you do. If we don’t have that detachment where there’s three days or more, how do you think we can tap into that flow that you’re talking about? Because it’s there and I think we miss it. How do we find that?
Here’s what I would say. This comes directly from the tree and it may seem silly, initially. What we’re all looking for is presence. We’re looking for our own presence. Some things to be aware of. When your mind is totally on social media, for example. Every time you get a gap, you check something. There’s always content going into your mind. One of the things that happen is it takes up space in which imagination and contemplation would have flowed. Instead of imagining, I would sit there and it would be empty space. I would start imagining things that were one of the most creative times of my life.Modern-day culture is three days deep. Click To Tweet
Firstly, I would say get your imagination back and do that by being disciplined first thing in the morning and late at night about getting anything electronic shut-off. If you can get an hour in the morning without it, it’s going to start to make a huge difference. If you can get a couple of hours at night, that you can do, get into a firefight with your friends. Turn all the lights and tech off, sit around a fire with your friends and notice how it starts to make you different. You drop into a different rhythm around a fire, stories start naturally coming out.
People drop into silence. There’s something about sitting and looking at a fire, which takes out the social pressure of how we should interact with each other. We all sit there and we look at the fire and there’s a different rhythm of conversation arises. Do one thing at a time. This idea sounds ridiculous, but if you can do one thing at a time, it’s going to radically change the quality of your relationships. If you do it as a practice, you’re disciplined about doing what you doing, that presence is going to flow into your life. When you do one thing at a time, it brings this tactile connection to what you’re doing. One of the things that take us out of meaning is we’re not physically connected to what we’re doing.
It’s all happening on screens, it’s happening in the ether somewhere. If you’re making tea, just make tea. If you’re making a fire, just make the fire. If you’re with people, just be with them as opposed to them checking the phone, watching the TV, watching the game. Do one thing at a time and that’ll bring you back into a tactile connection with your life. The other thing that I would say is no reverence cannot happen at high speed. For me, what we’re looking for presence. We’re looking for a connection. We’re looking to feel in our lives and we’re looking for the meaning in our lives. Meaning constellates through reverence, through tactile connection to our life, through creativity and imagining, through conviction with friends.
You don’t have to go out and live in a tree for six weeks. You are a wild being. Your nature is the same as all nature. You need to make a little space for it to come naturally to life. If you do the things that I’ve mentioned. Make space for imagination, get away from tech for enough time each day that it makes a bit of space. Do one thing at a time and find a way to slow down and get around a fire. Things are going to start happening. Those are a couple of things that came. I lived in was a beautiful, big, dark ebony tree and I felt like the tree was teaching me how to live. Those are a few things that we can all do to bring our wild nature back to life. Get your kids together, light a fire, turn all the lights off, sit around and watch what happens.
We did that. You mentioned that on one of your episodes. It wasn’t an outside fire, but I have a fireplace and in my main room. I gathered the boys. I turned all the lights off, turned on the fire and I said, “Let’s be together and talk for a little while.” We didn’t stay there for long because as fourteen-year-old is, they’re clearly ready to move on to the next thing but it was a moment and it was special. It’s like when people talk about meditation and they’re like, “I can’t. It’s too tough.” It’s like, “Do five minutes of breath for three.”
These things can open the doorway into that space. The gift when you’re paying attention so that presence, you know the difference when you’re with someone who was with you versus being with someone who is looking at their phone when it dings or looking over your shoulder at something else that’s happening. You know that they might be physically sitting in front of you, but they’re not with you. When you can give anyone in your life, your family, people that you work with, your friends, that gift of being there and present for them, if everybody did that, I do think there would be much more opening between our relationships and our level of connection.
People are starved for it. If you become the person who truly gives presence wherever you go, it opens incredible doors. It opens doors to connection, to relationships both professional and personal. It’s like the great untapped superpower and it’s simple. If you bring presence where you go, you create a ripple around you. That’s what we are in need of right now.
There’s a quote, “Wherever you go, be the soul of that place.” I think of that from a level of presence. It is simple, but it’s a practice because our minds will have us be in the past about what happened or what did we regret or what are we grieving or the future of what the anxiety, uncertainty and the worry. When we’re in those different time constructs, we are not here. We are not in the now, which we hear a lot of discussion about that, but the practice has to be to keep coming back into the moment because the moment that we’re in is the only thing that is real and actionable to us at the time. Living there is the only place where you’re truly alive.
Some of that is what you’re saying too. If we have a stillness practice if we have a contemplation practice, one of the great things about it is that naturally as we get more still, we become more attuned to our body. We become more attuned to the racing mind. We were able to be more aware of it and then our body starts to tell us through stress, through the feeling of being stressed in the body that feeling of being activated, you can feel your adrenals. It’s telling you you’re not here. This isn’t happening, this should be happening. To be great trackers is to be attuned. There’s something also about noticing. Noticing when we are in presence, when we’re out of it without judgment. Noticing starts to naturally take us back into it which is the amazing thing about it.
As I always say tracking is a discipline of awareness. It’s a discipline of attention and it’s where your attention goes, your life goes and in including if you start to pay attention to when you’re present and when you’re not. If you start to know the track of when you’re not present, that’s part of the journey to the track when you are present. That awareness, none of it happens unless we slow down a bit. In fact, one of the Buddha’s most primary teachings and the foundation of his teaching is, “Stop for a moment.” In a way, this COVID thing with all of its complications and with all of the immense difficulties it’s brought to people, at the same time, it’s been a global stop.
Inside of that stop, it has forced us into contemplation in some ways. It’s forced us to face some of the realities of the fact that we are connected that you getting laid off now can be the direct result of someone on the other side of the world eating a bat. We are connected and an economy that would cut down a 300-year-old redwood to make chopsticks so that a company can post growth to its shareholders, we need to examine those systems. Equally, we know that their alternatives now. There are different ways of doing it that we can tap into. That’s part of the imagination and creativity that we need, all of us now to craft something different. I went off on a bit of a side tangent there.
It’s wonderful because this whole idea of this interconnectivity and this ecosystem is powerful. Even pre-COVID, there is some work out there by a gentleman by the name of Frédéric Laloux, and he talks about Reinventing Organizations. You’re familiar with his work. He talks about the fact that Holacracy, the fact that we in the community are an ecosystem. Often, we’ve grown up in pyramid structures of power. What those structures don’t do is they do not welcome in the collective power of all, the role of all and the fact that everything in that ecosystem whether it is a family, a company, the world is having an impact on other things. Sometimes obviously and directly, sometimes energetically, you don’t always know it but when you do not see that connection, there’s a problem. Suddenly the actions you’re taking, you might not have the mindfulness and the awareness to be tuning in to how your actions are affecting other people.
As you say with COVID and this does not belittle the challenge, the loss, the suffering that people have endured going through this time. It’s interesting to me in life and I think about it in my own life how when things are positive, we’re given a positive message. It’s like, “That’s great. That’s fun. That’s wonderful.” The times when we internalize, grow and expand is often when we suffer or things are disconnected. I do sometimes wonder if this time with the COVID experience is a more painful way for us to understand the fact that we are interconnected. If we get that fact out of this time, how might that shape the way we behave in the future? It’s an important thing to think about.
None of us are free until we’re all free. There’s no going away from the fact in this natural system. There’s no ‘over there’ problem. There is no extraction that’s going on over there. These challenges are coming home to meet us all on our own doorstep. It can be a doorway. It takes stillness to allow it to be a doorway and into transformation, but it can be. I think of two things as you were talking. One is that I love the idea of business environments as ecosystems because they are. An ecosystem is essentially an energy field in some ways. Its energy is moving through various mechanical systems. It’s changing form. The soil into the trees, into the water, into fruit, then into an animal, then the animal transforms.If you become the person who truly gives presence wherever you go, it opens incredible doors, both professional and personal. Click To Tweet
Things are happening. In some ways, the highest level of running businesses in the future is going to be able to listen to the energy field and be attuned to the energy field and understand that it’s an organic moving alive thing. The business models of the ‘80s, which were systems. Everyone was building systematized models. That’s not working anymore because things are changing fast, disruption is radical that I feel like our role much more is to, like an organism, be adapting constantly as an energy field and an ecosystem to the speed at which things are changing. That’s one thought that comes to mind.
The Authentic Life
The second is that if we are in a giant energy field and a giant ecosystem, then the opportunity for each one of us to affect that becomes interesting to me. One of the things that I noticed traveling around the world and doing this type of work is that if a person started to track their authentic life. That’s not like, “Living my best life.” That’s like you feel deeply engaged, alive, connected, your values are aligned with what’s coming through you, there’s an essence that’s being expressed into the world. One of the things that I see in them, I see a few things, but the first thing that happens when people touch that place internally is they are taken by a deep feeling of enough.
They feel that they have enough, they stop wanting things to feel valuable. They inevitably become more creative, naturally a desire to serve. It’s almost like they don’t have to try, get up there and serve. People who touch that place wants to serve. It comes out of them. There’s a return to nature and they start to live in unusual often against the flow of society ways. They start going their own way because they’re being guided not by the set of ideals of success, but from a deeper calling. Those people, I think of it as modern-day activism, because they’re not activists out there on the street with placards and billboards.
What happens around them as they live. They realize that if they don’t do their work internally, they’ll recreate the same problems in the world, but they live. People start to look at them and say, “What’s going on over there? There’s something about that person’s life that I feel drawn to. They seem connected.” Their life starts to be an example that it’s possible to live differently, to be different, to go your own way. What I think is that when people see a possibility, it starts to ignite possibility in all of our minds. It’s like the four-minute mile thing. “No one broke it, someone broke it” and then people started breaking it all over the show. When one of us evolves, we create the possibility for all of us to evolve. The core of the work is to understand that when we change, the world can change.
It goes back to that interconnectivity, like tuning forks. As we start to tune with each other on that level of vibration, there’s all this power. There’s that quote. I think it’s Mother Teresa that says, “If everyone swept their own porch, the whole world would be clean.” To your point, there’s certainly a place for activism and social justice. There’s so much of that that we are experiencing now, but as we find our own sense of authentic ground and live from that, imagine what type of world could be created if everybody was on their track to that level of connectivity. It would be powerful. I want to refer to a quote you had from your 40 Days 40 Nights you mentioned, “Knowing when it’s enough.” There’s a level of simplicity and authenticity. It was when you’re cold at night, a warm blanket and a bowl of soup will help, but the lie is that 1,000 bowls and 1,000 blankets will make things 1,000 times better. As we’re in this liminal space from where we were pre-COVID to maybe where we’re going, how do we think about enough and simplicity in a new world?
Disruption In The New World
There are two things that come to mind as you were talking. If you don’t mind, I’ll say what came up for me, and then hopefully it’ll lead me an answer to the second part of your question. One of the things that I was thinking about as a South African when you were talking about the tuning forks and one person’s resonance. I was thinking about Nelson Mandela and how his singular presence radically changed the direction of South Africa. There is no doubt in my mind that it was him himself, his energy field was able to almost pull the whole country in a different direction. Sometimes there are certain things that are built into the system.
In South Africa, for example, there was a system of oppression. Against inside of the same pattern of the system, our revolution arises against the oppression. What Mandela did was he disrupted that algorithm. Instead of going into revolution, he went into a state of love and forgiveness. That totally changed the dynamic of the system out of his personal presence. Instead of going to war and South Africa being a bloodbath, the new South Africa was born. A rainbow nation was welcomed in. We said that our diversity is our strength. There were people who had divided, but he was able to hold that together, out of his own presence and disrupt it. What I’m saying is that everywhere you go, you have an opportunity to disrupt the algorithm.
I feel like that is the deepest work and including where you are trying to be aware of where your rage is. One of the images that have come to mind, which again is interesting to me is in Belarus there are these incredible protests going on against a dictator. Initially, it started off as the election came and was totally rigged. He won, people took to the streets and then the police came out and beating people up. Basically, arresting people, fighting people and then people started fighting with the police. There was this whole dynamic like we’re being oppressed, we had to fight and this fight broke out. The woman came onto the street. The woman of those who had been arrested, the mothers, sisters, wives, and they walked onto the streets with their flowers and they stood in peace holding their flowers.
It’s an image that we’ve seen before, but no officer can move. There’s no fighting that, but there was much presence in it. It has grabbed the world’s attention. Somehow to me, that image has grabbed me because there’s so much change that has to happen and going to be enforced upon us. This is the beginning of big things moving all around us. In some ways, I feel like, like Mandela, like those women in Belarus, we have to find a way to stand deeply committed to transformation, but still with love and be grounded in that. Be aware of disrupting the algorithm and the power of stillness and compassion to make change. I know it’s going to be hard for some people to swallow because there is this desire to fight for change, but we can also try and love for change, and there’s going to be something in that.
When you were talking and sharing that story, it gave me chills thinking about the same. Certainly, in business language, we think about disruption. Disruption almost feels violent in a way. It’s like we’re going to disrupt, invasive and moving forward. There’s a lot of action. Maybe that’s how I’m connecting it, but you often think about that versus disrupting in a way that is peaceful. You’ll be thinking about that scene. There’s nothing more disruptive than that scene, but it blows this construct apart that it has to be about violence or it has to be about opposing forces. It brings much up in my mind about what disruption can mean in a new world.
What is being asked of us, until those women took to the streets with their flowers and their hearts open, Europe didn’t give it any attention in terms of sanctions and all that’s going on there now, but something about that. I saw it and I felt something inside of me say, “That is going to be a part of what we’re going to need as we stand on a very unstable ground all around us in many different ways in our personal lives and our business lives and the way we transact. We’re going to need a creative magic. The magic that creates things rather than tears down because there’s going to be a lot of tearing down, but how do we stand in what can cultivate, create and bring together?” It’s going to be a big one and a big time for the feminine spirit and for each one of us to also ground into stillness in the chaos. That’s going to be fundamental for the next couple of years.
If you think about the fact that chaos proceeds order and then we moved back into chaos, it’s like if you think about the consciousness and the energy, it is manifesting and dissolving. If you look at nature, the constant cycle of birth, death, rebirth over and over, you mentioned earlier that information is all around us if we tune into it. If we look at nature and learn from nature and not destroy nature, but let it be our teacher much as Londolozi turned into a place of restoration. We start to see that these liminal spaces, this place of chaos, which you could certainly say we’re in now, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s like a birth canal. It means we may be in darkness now, but we are moving to creating something new. That’s a powerful and beautiful force that we’re riding is moving to something different.
We are in a huge archetypal transformation. That’s an important idea that transformation comes in many different ways and maybe this is an ending and it’s a beginning. Certainly, the way we show up in it is going to have to be a disruption in the algorithm. The question to ask yourself, “How do I do that in my own life? What are ways that I can start to play with disrupting the thing?” It could be, “My mother-in-law, we always have the same interaction. She said I didn’t do this and that,” or whatever it is, and start to disrupt it. Start to play with creating a different movement between the people in your life, the relationships in your life, and the encounters in your life. Let’s see how we can surprise ourselves with the way we can be different in encounters instead of predictably patterned.Tracking is a discipline of awareness. Click To Tweet
I’ve noticed through COVID, certainly we share partnerships with a lot of customers and the origin of this show and the origin of the CMOs Summit was the idea that we’re better in community. That there is an interconnectivity that cannot be denied and we need to nurture that interconnectivity. I’ve seen during this time how we are relating to each other, certainly in business, there’s a greater level of humanity because while adversity has been going on in individual’s lives forever. This is a collective adversity, which somehow allows and opens the door for people to say to each other in a more genuine way, a more authentic way like, “How are you? What are you learning here? Be safe. Be well.”
Those things are heartfelt and it’s changing the energy with our relationships, with each other and with our customers. I know in my other question, I was talking a little bit about, “When is there enough?” I even look at the business environment of it doesn’t have to always be more, it needs to be quality. It needs to be right so that there is this place of in our business lives and interpersonal life where we do find that it is enough. When you reach that place of enough, you suddenly have this other energy where you might have been trying to acquire more of what the old narrative said you needed, where that can be turned into the collective to do something way more powerful. Does that make sense?
It makes total sense. I hadn’t thought of that before. It doesn’t matter who you speak to the world over. They have had some experience inside of this COVID thing. Everywhere you turn, people have been united by this deeply-shared experience. That’s common ground that we’re all standing on one way or another.
One of my favorite episodes was the one about enchantment and you posed some wonderful questions for people to answer. For anyone reading this who is maybe not familiar with who you are or heard of this, I am going to encourage everyone to go to your website, BoydVarty.com, go to podcast and look for the Track Your Life podcast, to listen to this entire epic journey. I want to say that now for anyone who has it, they should definitely do it. You talked about enchantment and there are collective adversity and collective anxiety. Even though change this idea of transformation is constant, we’re not good at it. We like our own habits and our routines. There’s this way about it that makes us feel safe. When we are in the birth canal, I don’t know what’s coming and there’s a lot of anxiety, but in that episode of Enchantment, you talked about being able to look around and see the beauty, see the good, because it’s very easy to see the fear or to see what you’ve lost or what you might not have in the future versus what the enchantment is around you. Can you speak a little bit more about seeing that?
To me, what we’re looking for is at the strange thing where I coach a lot of people and a lot of them report this strange feeling of being in their life, but the worse feeling of being the pain of perfect. Life is happening somewhere else. It’s almost like they’re in life, but they’re not connected to it in some ways. That happens in a society that starts to strip meaning out of life. The way that meaning is stripped out is that it’s subtle, but you are constantly presented with a set of ideals and from the time you’re young it tells you, “If you achieve this, you will then be valuable. You will then be happy.”
Two things happen, either you achieve that. In our culture, it seems like the billionaire is the top of that aspirant pile and then you coach your first billionaire, which I’ve had a few clients who were in that league and you realize, “That isn’t it because they’re wrestling all the same stuff and maybe even more dense complexity as a result,” or this endless presentation of a place you never achieve it and you live with this constant feeling of not quite being there, “I’ve never quite succeeded. I’m never quite there.” You either get there and you realize that in it, or you’re never quite there, and these patterns are built into the society. They start to structure into us until your ego makes you a thing.
I know that’s strange, but when you say something like, “I’m not where I should be in my career.” What has happened is a part of you has made you an object and placed you on this imaginary hierarchy of where you should be and shouldn’t be. All of those things become the structures of meaning and they become mechanical, “I’m here, but I should be there. Someone else is ahead of me. They’re doing well. I’m not doing well. I’m doing better than them.” It’s this constant hierarchical structuring. In a society where the individual self is disconnected from the ecosystem, the search for meaning becomes constantly comparative. The re-enchantment is to start the process of getting ourselves out of that structure of meaning and building a whole different structure of meaning.
Meaning is like, “What are the relationships that inspire me? What trees am I friends with? Do I have a friend that is a river? When was the last time I laughed outrageously? What do I dream of? What is the story I tell of this incredible mystery of my own life that I’m in? What feeds my soul? What opens my being? What makes me feel alive? When was the last time I danced? When was the last time I sang out loud to myself?” I know these things whimsical, but what I’m saying is there’s a density of richness in life that we never get to when we’re in comparison. The things I’ve said might not appeal to you, but there was a time when we lived in close-knit families, we lived with a sense that the Earth was our friend.
All the things we now do on holiday, with the way we lived, hunting, weaving, fishing, communion, sitting around fires here. That’s how we lived. All I’m saying is that we have to imagine how to live again in a way that enchants us, in a way that feels like, “This is worth doing. I feel enriched by my own life.” I don’t think the structures that we’re in at the moment are providing anyone with that feeling. I’m not prepared to simply sit back and say, “Modern life doesn’t give you that.” I’m issuing a challenge to all of those who, if anything I said touches a place in you, then you’re a part of that transformation. What I’m saying is no one is going to remember the old ways of living and it’s not even the old ways. It’s the old news ways.
We have to remember how to live in a way that feels like the life we want to be in and work out how to do it. It’s creative and we’re not going to know. We don’t know how to do this. We have to remember together and part of that is saying to each other, “I don’t know. How do we do this? I don’t want to live like this. I don’t want to wake up with dread, walkthrough mechanical day in a mechanical life and do work that feels meaningless like it’s going nowhere and then come home and numb myself.” There is a challenge, you can wake up in your own life and you’re going to have to work out what makes you feel alive, feeds you and start doing it with such wild abandon and vigor that other people want to get on that train too and they don’t even know why.
It’s like shining light ahead for others by being willing to go there.
To enchant yourself.
Everybody reading can understand. It’s like, we’ve all had that experience where you come across someone or you’re talking to them and you’re like, “How are you doing?” They say in this deadpan boy live in the dream and it’s like the nightmare. I keep coming back this, three days away, three breadths away to this wild part of ourselves that’s waiting to be found, but we overlay it with all the reasons why we cannot. Those reasons backed up by constructs, “I can’t. My money, time, family and my security and this.” Sometimes it takes time or a good coach or a process to break through those walls, but you can break through the constructs because they are illusions. We give them power, but they’re illusions. This is a time for us all to find that personal enchantment because if everyone is doing that collectively, what type of world might we co-create from this? A different world.We have to remember how to live in a way that actually feels like life. Click To Tweet
To build on what you’re saying is, what I’ve seen time and time again is there the crazy thing about the re-enchantment. You might say, “I want to live a different life, but how do I start?” There is a part of you that knows a unique essence that you have to bring to the world. There is a part of you that knows what makes you feel alive. There’s a part of you that is naturally curious about certain things. There’s a part of you that if you start paying attention to it, it will take you into that enchanted life, but you will have to break a lot of your own rules for yourself. That’s what it means to track your life. It’s a process of starting to pay attention to that part of you that expands. Start paying attention to the people who give you energy, to start noticing things that you feel naturally curious about, and then living towards that, not out of irrational, out of that part of you that knows. If you do that, you will track your most enchanted life. That’s why we’re all here.
One of the stories you shared in the Cathedral of the Wild was a trip that you made to India. Quick aside here, I think often people like, “I can’t live in a tree. I can’t go to India. I can’t do it.” All this is right here in your own home. None of this has to be anywhere else, but I referenced this story because I believe you met with someone and their guidance was threefold, know your truth, trust the process, and release the outcome. As we navigate this uncertainty and you talk about this place of knowing, I think there’s something too, and I would love your thoughts on this aspect of trust. Even if we’ve come full circle in this conversation to where we began, your father and your uncle knowing something about this land at a young age, there was this path. There was this thing unfolding that maybe was bigger than them, but they followed the breadcrumbs. How would you comment to everyone about this whole idea of trusting in what is and what’s happening?
That’s going to be a big part of the journey. If you want to start the process of tracking your life, you’re going to have to start being willing to go without knowing. You’re going to have to start stepping towards uncertainty and so much of our life, from the time we go to school, we conditioned into being right all the time. If you’re going to start this process, you’re going to have to let go of being right. Start trying some things, moving towards some things that feel a little more alive, a little bit better. I have to say that I’ve never seen anyone go on that journey who’s regretted it, but it is a path of courage. That’s where life misses. You can’t have total security and be pulled forth to yourself at the same time. That’s okay. Some people want to know and feel safe in that. If the longing and the call are there, you’re going to have to let go. If life has a plan, you might not have faith, but it will give you faith as you go along and faith to me is the trust.
The first movement of any following any track is to go without knowing, to start tracking without being 100% certain where that animal might have gone, where that authentic path might lead, but to start anyway. The best way to end is by saying start wherever you are, start paying attention to what you’re curious about, pay attention to things that make you forget about time, move towards anything that makes you feel energized, not in your mind, but in your body. Be willing to go without knowing and see what happens when you start paying attention to that for a few days, a few weeks, where life’s going to start pulling you into directions that you couldn’t have rationally imagined for yourself.
That’s a perfect, beautiful way to end the conversation that we’ve been on this journey together and there’s so much that I’ve taken from this. In season two of your podcast, you talk a lot about finding the sacred and being able to touch that every day. Everything you shared with us from trust, faith, attuning to wildness, are there any other closing comments as we kind of come full circle on the track of this conversation that you would want to say as we end our talk?
It’s been great to chat with you and to have this opportunity to talk about these things. Inside of all of these challenges, I know that when we slow down enough, we become present and the sacred is all around us, there’s beauty all around us. The enchantment is all around us, but we got to slow down and get our attention out of all of the ways it’s scattered and see if we can land it back in simplicity. If we do that, we will see that most of what we need is right around us. The love, the connection, the brilliance, the mission, everything we’re looking for is there. It requires a tension to be attuned to it.
Boyd, you have given us incredible wisdom. I have much gratitude for your work, friendship and mission in this world. I want to say thank you.
Thank you for having me and for your support. It’s nice to be together. I’ve always enjoyed the Summit. Hopefully, we’ll get to do some more stuff altogether in person with the rest of the crew.
- Cathedral of The Wild
- The Lion Tracker’s Guide To Life
- Boyd Varty
- Reinventing Organizations
- 40 Days 40 Nights
- Track Your Life
About Boyd Varty
Boyd Varty is wildlife and literary activist, as well as a tracker, life coach, storyteller, and the author of Cathedral of the Wild and The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life. He earned a psychology degree from the University of South Africa and is a certified Master Life Coach, as well as a TED speaker. His speech on Nelson Mandela reached more than 1.7 million views.
Born and raised at Londolozi Game Reserve in the South African wilderness, in a family of conservationists, Boyd had an unusual upbringing. He lived in a place where man and nature strive for balance, where perils and wonders exist side-by-side. Founded more than 90 years ago as a hunting ground, Londolozi was transformed into a nature reserve in 1973 by Boyd’s father and uncle, both visionaries of the restoration movement. Not only is the place a sanctuary for the animals, but it is also now a place where ravaged land can flourish and the human spirit can grow. It is a place that has grown legends like Nelson Mandela, who sought solace in Londolozi following 27 years of imprisonment.
Since childhood, Boyd has shared his home with lions, leopards, snakes, and elephants. He grew up speaking the local language and learning how humans and nature can naturally and beautifully coexist. Storyteller, Life Coach, Tracker, Wildlife & Literacy Activist He has spent the majority of his life in apprenticeship to the wisdom of nature and though he has survived a harrowing black mamba encounter, a debilitating bout with malaria, and a vicious crocodile attack, his biggest challenge has been overcoming a personal crisis of finding purpose.
As a university student, Boyd studied psychology and ecology, supplementing his education by learning martial arts in Thailand, hiking through the jungles of the Amazon, and apprenticing with a renowned tracker from the Shangaan Tribe, ultimately deepening his relationship and knowledge of the natural world. Like a tracker, he continues to follow unconventional paths. He has worked intensively over the past seven years in ceremonial spaces as an apprentice to a Peruvian shaman, while generating his own system of coaching called “Track Your Life,” which draws lessons from the ancient form of tracking to motivate individuals to uncover their purpose and building more meaningful lives. Boyd has spent the last ten years refining the art of using the wilderness – and the tracking mindset – to create deep introspection and personal transformation in others.
At the core of his work, Boyd is driven toward healing, wildness, and wholeness. He coaches individuals in both South Africa and the U.S. where he connects people to nature and to their own internal tracking system. His philosophy and story has been featured in The New York Times, NBC, and more.
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