One of the greatest blessings of my work is to meet fellow travellers whose passion for this planet and her creatures compel them towards unique action, transcending the norm as we know it.
And so I spent an afternoon in my garden with Paul, the bush man, who spent seven years with the last of the First People, three of which were with the last band of wild /Gwikwe in the Central Kalahari of Botswana. Paul John Myburgh is the author of The Bushman Winter Has Come – my BIG book of the year.
After an hour of exploring our place in this shifting world, we got down to the business of doing an interview:
Paul, you have devoted the past 30 years of your life to making environmental films, amongst other things, and a study of the human journey. This is something I did not know when reading this book, but of course it makes sense. Could you explain the link?
In many respects the years of work I’ve been doing, whether on air pollution, water pollution, toxic waste or other, were all a pursuit of derivatives or results, effects, not causes. In the naming of these effects, all one does is blame specific organisations or people because of their negligence. In a sense we just give labels to our angry response.
But in the end, you come to the one realisation that the only single thing on this earth as a quality in human beings that ensures sustainability, is consciousness. And my story and the book ‘The Bushman Winter Has Come’ demonstrate over and over again a people with a constitution of soul that allows for a living relationship with a world that lives. And so everything is understood and responded to in that context.
That goes with the territory. When we use the word respect we almost define it in this or that situation as per somebody’s expectations. But it’s not. Respect has become, almost a derivative. It’s an expected response.
If a human being lives in obeisance to the laws of the world, the laws of nature, which are essentially deep moral laws, respect is a given. It’s automatic.
But it’s still very much missing, when it comes to how people behave towards the environment.
When you know how life joins to life, and when you know how creature joins to plant, and the living symbiosis of all things visible to invisible and invisible to invisible …by observing and knowing it, then there is nothing else to question. Everything lives out of that framework.
So this is an intact connection, which is in stark contrast with what we’re fighting, really, in the environmental field.
Ja, and we fight and we get results and there are specific physical causes and effects – and this fight is necessary because it leads people ever closer, step by step, to the fact of our fundamental trespass in this world. And we trespass by the omission of knowledge. We trespass by ignoring fundamental truths. It is the nature of the modern human that we trespass and it is time to become cognisant of that. Yes we can’t do an about turn and go back to nature, but we can go forward to nature with our eyes differently opened.
In a more integrated way?ÂÂ There’s this disconnection and we have banned ourselves from the Garden of Eden, really.
And it was pre-ordained.ÂÂ Our separation from the Garden of Eden was necessary so that we could find our way consciously back there by choice and in freedom …and in knowledge.
So this all had to happen. Some people are really angry, but you feel that our spiritual development demanded this? We have alienated ourselves from nature.
Yes but we haven’t done this consciously by choice. It was an inadvertent development that took place because of the changing of things in the ‘spiritual’ cosmos, and the human follows this impulse. So we’re talking of vast spiritual impulse that is bigger than us. We follow it, and in the following of it we come to know it and then make more or less of that knowledge.ÂÂ But the fall is necessary so that we can come together again in freedom and of our own choice. And we can only do that when we know what it is we’ve lost and what it is we can find.
So we have to experience this, it’s almost like you have to have a wound before you can heal?
Absolutely. We don’t learn the easy way. We learn only by the experience of it. And we only learn of light by darkness. We learn how to stand when we fall. That’s essentially what future humanity must do – stand!ÂÂ Stand correctly on the earth.
So in a sense it’s good that we’ve fallen as we can now see the consequences of that and how to get up again?
We’re beginning to see the consequences of it. If one looks at oneself and the great mass of humanity you see how many know and how many have no clue, and how many purport to know. And you see how much work has still to be done, then you can only turn to yourself and think, ok. What can I do? And what DO I do? Not, what do I say I abstractly and conceptually intend, but what do I actually do?
How am I living this?
And so, how do we relate this to the exodus of the Bushmen at the end of the book?
We have to look at streams of humanity. Look at that stream of humanity – the whole ancient order, which is the Bushmen, the Aboriginal, the Semang people from the Indonesian complex, the Waitaha and the Eskimos, and look at that nature of humanity – the archetypal human on this planet.ÂÂ It is not about nonsensical questions regarding ‘indigenous’.ÂÂ We all have equal rights to be here, all humans are indigenous to earth, period. That’s enough of a right.
But when one looks at these ancient streams and the time that they have served on this earth, the distance that they’ve walked, the places they’ve lived and you see what has been brought out of the constitution of that group- soul, then you see people like the Bushmen as the last of the first, literally. And in a sense we must understand that their task is done, and it is not that they need to be given a reason to continue, or must reinterpret their existence that they can then add to their contribution, or take a different direction. Their path is walked. They have come to the end of their time.
Ours is to know that, to pick up on it and to move it forward. So in terms of the Fall … you can look at that stream of humanity over the past 14, 000 years and you can see how in their mythologies the Fall is reflected. You can see how the animal nature is extricated out of the human in their stories. You can see how ostrich is banished to the animal kingdom to go and be an ostrich and no longer a man. That was the ostrich in man that was banished. It is the lion in man, the antelope, the animal nature that is extricated out of the human so that the human can become more.ÂÂ And one can track the Fall, the time when they come out of the idyllic, paradisiac world, where they were at one with the animal kingdom, at one with the plant kingdom and therefore bound into those kingdoms and so not separating appropriately – as we humans must.
You see even before that, man coming into uprightness. The rising, and finally standing upright between heaven and earth. And that was the ancestry of the Bushmen, the first risen human, the ancient race, going backwards. And from there follows the 14 000 years of the Fall. And you can track this. Then you see that it’s not that they are a different human impulse. They just came earlier, before us, and so there are these threads that are laid, and other threads that pick up and run in parallel for a while and then continue. It’s almost like the passing of a baton in a relay race.
So you see that their time has come to an end and ours has not. We’re a later race. But we come from that which was before us. And so within, we carry that which leads us to ourselves in a sense, to an understanding of ourselves.ÂÂ Their task is done. Ours the task to continue, and in the big picture you might say our task is to turn the descent into an ascent.
That’s lovely. But what about the despair that so many people feel in the environmental field? Awareness of what we’ve done to the planet can really make people feel hopeless and angry.
Of course we can despair when we look at our world with so much that is apparently wrong. So much that is sacrificed, that is destroyed and that is bereft of spirit. But when you look at this you need not despair, because you know that you’re not here for nothing and out of this darkness something will be resurrected. And it is us who must resurrect this.
This is not a theoretical spiritual dialogue, this is the most pragmatic thing that we humans can do. We’re reminded by so much around us of what we must undo and do and fix, and rise above. And so when we see these physical signposts of destitution and destruction it is not to surrender, but to find hope in that, and to aim for more.
And to be hands-on.
To be busy with it. We are not here for nothing.
And there is an awakening, don’t you think? More and more people are beginning to understand the seriousness of that. And to feel called to actually DO something, not just talk about it.
There is an awakening, sadly a lot of that has become conceptual. Because if something rises in people which is real, it’s an instinctive response to a situation, an intuitive response. They set off into the world with the best intentions, and before too long you find that the commercial and material forces almost always appropriate these impulses, repackage them and then sells them back to humans at a premium. Like the whole New Age movement as such, so many well-meaning humans that have been decoyed into a well-packaged commercial venture. And a lot of the original impulse gets lost by this practice of commercial appropriation. But this is what humans do. We fight ourselves at every step, but again, it gives us something to push against and overcome. And when we do overcome, we come through the other side much stronger.
But isn’t it because we’re trying to follow our spiritual impulse AND make a life in matter? We have to try and link it up with earning a living and that’s perhaps when the materialist packaging happens. To turn it into a business. Is that not how it happens? How do we avoid that and still survive doing the good work?
There is no excuse for repackaging it and selling it at a premium, because it is always a response from greed. It is always to make money – as much as possible. In its pure form, the way it originally comes into existence, it works well. Like organic food – it works. Health is completely appropriate, it’s not something that you need to buy at enormous expense, because the greedy people have purchased it all and are now selling it back to you at a premium. There is no mitigating circumstance here.
But when one looks at the human response in this situation, then you find yourself torn between serving the physical material world and trying to have some sort of spiritual relationship with the invisible. Everything we do inclines us to separate these two worlds, as if there are two different things. And they are not. You know I have lived with the people and I have lived by myself endlessly, with one foot in the visible and one foot in the invisible world. We learn not to separate worlds. We are each one human with a physical and spiritual aspect to our being. The more you exclude the one, the more you exclude yourself from your Self. And you end up with an enormous amount of people saying well, I don’t have time. You don’t need time. You marry your two conceptual worlds into one real world. In your physical actions you have a constant spiritual awareness of what you’re doing physically, and why. So you don’t do things that are physical and then do things that are spiritual, you’re just dividing your Self, which is another consequence of the fall – the separation. You don’t have to be separate.
Spirit in matter.
Yes, our journey is not to the exclusion of matter, or the exclusion of spirit. It is through matter to spirit.
It’s a marriage.
That is why we come through into matter, and onto the physical earth.
We have readers and people from all spheres of life aspiring to bring wholeness into their life and work. And work being part of life, obviously. So healing this rift is probably the stitching up work that we try to do on our platform, where we gather all of us, trying to bring things together and create a new whole. But for a person like yourself, having spent 7 years living with people who have never disconnected, what did it do to you personally?
I’ve been asked so often what did the Bushmen teach me. My answer is nothing. I taught myself through them, as I teach myself through everything that I do. And I took myself there. It was this soul that led me there. And so I take full responsibility for that. I didn’t go there specifically to learn or to define what I might learn. I went there because of who I am. And that simply added another layer of quality to the ‘onion’ of my soul.
Did you have any expectations when you went there, or was it simply an impulse?
It was a desire, I had no expectations. It later came to pass after four years that I was going to make a film about it, which I did. But my original intention was simply that I either had a circle unclosed from a life before, or that I had a task in front of me that I had not yet identified but was being called to. But I really just followed myself. I know one thing only – that I wanted to be a Bushman. I remember my first excursion into that world. It was delightfully ridiculous; I was driven by forces far greater than myself and just went. Through a wonderful old man I was taken to the middle of the desert and dropped off near some wild Bushmen, who saw me and ran away. Over a few days they gradually came back. I remember sitting under this camel thorn tree. I had a bag of dried prunes, a bag of dried peaches, a water bottle and a R4.99 plastic sleeping bag from Dion’s, an old camera and two spools. That was it. And I was utterly comfortable. I sat there and for the first time in my life what was inside, was outside. And I thought, ja …it was like going home. I was eventually picked up months later.
In life you follow what you are, or you don’t. And when you don’t, it is possibly, a spiritual trespass. Because you wrote your destiny before you came into this physical incarnation called life. And then it’s a question of when it unfolds, do you follow it, or do you let this or that fear or prejudice stop you from following it? And whatever you do you bear the consequence, always. And then another lesson comes from that. You can stall a life by turning left when you should turn right. And it’s fine. The world is not in a hurry. And each of us will walk the path, if it takes twice as long or not. This is not a judgement, it’s just an observation . . . you can follow yourself less astutely or more astutely.
It’s interesting you say follow yourself, because normally I would say follow your guidance or whatever, but it is actually just following yourself. As opposed to someone else.
Exactly. If you’re following yourself you can take full responsibility. And that’s the essential nature of the human relationship on earth. Responsible or irresponsible – cognisant or not. It’s as clear as that.
And then all the consequences are perfect.
As they should be, because they’re yours!
So you can take responsibility for those too. And they will all be lessons.
It’s you that you’re following and it’s you that you’re answerable to.
I think what people find scary is that it’s so unique. Like there’s no-one you can follow here.
There’s nobody else with the same path.
That is what I would call to surrender to your path. Surrender to who you really are. It can be very scary as most people are used to doing what is expected of them and fitting into moulds.
And what they’re told. This is the nature of the separated human being, the fallen human, where we’ve been so separated from our divine beginnings that we forget what we can do. We don’t understand that we are much, much more than we have lead ourselves to believe.
That’s an illusion that we follow.
So I say that WE have led ourselves to believe – not what THEY have taught us. It’s we. We do it. It is a result of our changing nature. It’s a result of our developing spirit, and in that sense we’re in the driving seat, it just seems that we are not. And in that, you can immediately give thanks and be cognisant, and do what you must do from that point of view.
So in terms of the bigger picture, as we said earlier on, things are going to get worse. More people are beginning to listen, but we have important work ahead . . . and for this, our eyes must be open.
Thank you Paul, for the sharing and for this important book.
Penguin has kindly sent us two copies to give away. We have previously offered to send the book to the first two people to have ‘liked’ this story on facebook. However, we are still waiting for Janet Bezuidenhout’s physical address as so we can courier the book to her. Anyone else who relates to Paul’s voice and would like a copy, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Elma Pollard