Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wandering Mystic Meditation From South Africa

The beauty of meditation is you can do it anywhere. There is nowhere in particular you need to be. Some people find it's beneficial to create a special space. Perhaps a corner at home, adorned with some sacred objects from a trip abroad or a unique cushion used to sit on during the meditation.

Sitting in this space signals the mind and body that it's time to settle down, relax and take the inward journey. However, to achieve the myriad benefits of meditation, you just have to do it - anywhere. Nevertheless, there is an ideal meditation spot I found where the stillness and visual stimulus almost took the breath away.

My stay in South Africa's Drakensburg Mountains was initially hampered by a dodgy knee. My joint had been bothersome for months causing me pain, but a surfing excursion gone wrong at Coffee Bay resulted in a knee swell rather than a sea swell. This rendered my joint almost completely frozen.

When I arrived at Amphitheatre Lodge in the northern Drakensburg, I was informed that the next day's agenda would be a hike to Tugela Waterfall. This is the second highest waterfall in the world. People I'd met on the Baz Bus, a well-known backpacker transport, had forewarned me that guests staying in Ampitheatre are strongly "encouraged" to take a tour.

With me, there was a guaranteed no sale. I would have to miss this tour, even though it would have been great. With my knee unmovable, there was no point in contemplating such a trip. I wanted the planned destination to be the Kingdom of Lesotho, a place that I was keen to visit and which involved sitting in a vehicle most of the way. A trip I could have managed. I was also unable to wait longer for the Lesotho outing, having only one full day left before returning to Johannesburg in time for my flight to England. So, in an unplanned turn of events, I was now destined to spend my last free day in Africa sitting alone at Amphitheatre. Travel is full of surprise detours.

Hobbling my way to the wooden rondeval-style hut that was to be my lodging, I began to feel a sense of the expanse. However, the hot stickiness of a four-hour minibus ride from Durban combined with my annoyance that Lesotho was off the agenda had closed my mind’s eye to what was around me.

After a shower and a lie down, I emerged to find complete stillness. Even had there been a wind, there were very few trees to rustle. The scant shrubs and bushes served only as a reminder to the mountains that there was room in this place for some little things to dwell. The whole campsite was vegetation lush and pancake flat with no tents present. 

The green space was complemented only by blue sky. Mountains rose up in the distance with beige bushland ascending past a lake to the all expansive sky. It seemed bigger here. So refreshing to be away from the intense humid heat of Durban. The sun was still strong in the sky, but there was a higher altitude freshness.

That night, I sipped the complimentary margarita with my two German roommates, also nearing the end of their trips. The salt lifted my eyebrows while the sourness smacked me into a wince. The handful of people staying at the lodge all gathered outside to drink.

I was not the only one surprised by the glittering lights coming from around the lake. It was like a mirage. (Just how strong was this margarita?) During the day, there had been no signs of life. The village below was hidden by the contours of the land, but under the black sky of night, it was illuminated with a striking glow.

The next morning, everyone left on the hiking trip. There was just me and the expansive sky. I had a whole day to entertain myself, my last full day in Africa, a place I had grown to love. Sadness began to slip over me. I didn't want to leave. Leave the brilliant blue sky and the warm sun? Leave the interesting people often speaking with clicks, something incomprehensible to my ear? Leave a place where my days were free and I could just be?

I sat on the grass outside my wooden hut and watched some little finches jumping on and off the only tree. As my mind drifted, I could feel myself sink into a relaxed state. I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on my face and the cool of the grass under my hands.

I wanted to absorb this landscape. This stillness. This expanse. If I could have bottled it up and taken it home as a tonic, I would have, but all I could do was savor being in this place at this time. I fell into a meditative state without trying. Only the patter of rain eventually woke me.

Now, I have my own sacred space in which to meditate. It's not a special cushion or a particular corner in my house. It's a place of blue expansive sky with majestic mountains and a landscape that conceals what is right before me under certain conditions - just like the mind.

Claire Gillis travels and writes from her base in Sheffield UK to discover and explore the world. She believes that travel and creativity are really just states of mind.


  1. I'd love to see the area for myself someday, Claire. Thanks for posting about it. It looks stark and beautiful!

  2. Thanks for the comment, it is so very beautiful and I would def put it on your travel list if you have one!

  3. It is a good option to relax in natural surroundings.
    I would like to try it someday. Miguel Escarcega Muñoz.

  4. i like this photo because in place where there is a lot of vegetation. which gives us tranquility and so one can de-stress.

    Jessica Adai Sandoval Sandoval

  5. To Miguel and Jessica, there is nothing better than natural surroundings and vegetation! I think the altitude of the also helped to give something special to the place.