Safari as a Spiritual Experience: 6 Spiritual Practices to Radically Deepen Your Experience in Nature

After five days on safari in South Africa with my mother on her “bucket list” trip, I felt inspired to write about my practice of interfacing with nature as an oracle, using my safari experience as an example. I shared my practice with several of the safari guides and park rangers I met, and after speaking to them, I wanted to offer a few more opportunities that can help you spiritualize any experience in nature, whether you’re on safari or just going for a hike in the woods.

Not everyone can experience the immense luxury of flying across the planet to go on safari when you’re intending to have a spiritual connection in nature. My mother and I are acutely aware that we are among the privileged few who have the opportunity to do so (with so much overflowing gratitude to those of you who helped fund my mother’s dying wish. Thank you! Thank you!). Although these practices will help to deepen your experience on safari, you don’t have to fly across the world to practice these tools. You can use them in your local green areas or apply them to any National or State Park experience, wherever you may be.

Spiritual Practice #1 Ask for Permission

As I learned in Bali, nobody would dare approach a significant object of natural beauty without visiting the temple first. Nearly every waterfall, hot springs, volcano, lake, and beach has its own temple, and it is considered disrespectful to the spirits of nature to approach such sacred sites of indigenous ritual without first offering up your prayers and gifts, asking permission before you approach. When entering the space of the waterfall, for example, you bring offerings of flowers and incense and say the “puja” prayers at the temple devoted to the waterfall. Just as a respectful man would ask a woman’s permission to make love to her, a respectful devotee of the nature spirits will ask the Goddess of the waterfall for Her consent to penetrate Her. If She invites you in, then and only then, are you free to take a shower under Her cleansing spray.

While there are no temples at the South African lodges where I’ve been on safari as there were at every hotel where I stayed in Bali (Oh! How I would love it if there were!), we can still approach the safari experience (or any nature experience) as if we are entering a temple, praying to the nature spirits for permission to enter. This is what my mother and I did at both Londolozi and Singita Lebombo. Before every sunrise and sunset game drive, we prayed to the land, the animals, the birds and the plant kingdom, asking for permission to enter. Apparently, some tourists view nature as something they can “take,” plundering in without respect for Mother Earth and her beautiful creatures, hoping to come away with photos and unforgettable memories, but without any consciousness about how they approach the experience. We have a choice about how we engage with nature in a way that honors Her. Let us choose to be loving, honoring, and respectful.

Spiritual Practice #2 Engaging with Your Safari as a Meditation

Some people go on safari with a busy mind, a lot of inner and outer chatter, obvious anxiety, an air of entitlement, and significant attachment to seeing the “Big Five” safari animals—African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and Rhino. Apparently, according to my safari guides, if such tourists don’t get to see the Big Five, they may become irritable, ungracious, and even belligerent, sometimes even asking for a refund from the safari lodge. This does not honor the Great Mother and all she chooses to offer to you. Be grateful for what you are given. Every bird, herb, and Euphobia tree is a gift.

If you’re familiar with meditation practice, you probably already know how to still your mind as you approach your safari, but in case meditation is new to you, try this.

My spiritual counselor defines meditation as “being aware that you’re aware,” so you don’t have to be sitting in the lotus position or chanting a mantra to meditate. You will want to be still and silent though. Avoid the temptation to chat about everything you see. Feel free to communicate your desire for silence to your guide. If you’re with other passengers who want to stock up on knowledge, bring an mp3 player and listen to meditative music to drown out the voices. When you spend less time in your left-brain language centers and more time in the whole brain state, you significantly deepen your experience of nature and open yourself to a deeper experience.

You can simply focus on your breath, heighten your awareness of what’s happening around you with your eyes open, and notice any thoughts that interfere with this present moment. If thoughts enter your mind, notice them and then let them pass like clouds. Come back to this moment and pay close attention to everything—every plant, every cloud, every breath of wind, every animal or bird or bug. Be fully with your experience in silence. Don’t distract yourself with talking or mind chatter. Notice how every sense becomes heightened and your heart opens naturally to take it all in. When you really drop into your heart, you’ll likely find that every animal sighting feels like falling in love. You may even notice tears of joy springing forth as the animal touches your heart.

This meditative state of openheartedness is magnetic to the animals. They can feel the electromagnetic frequency of your cracked open heart. Although we are not taught this in modern Western culture, the indigenous people know well that animals move away from anxious mind chatter and move toward open-hearted stillness. Not only will you experience a deeper connection when you approach safari this way; you’re also likely to see many more animals because they won’t be able to resist your big, open, broadcasting heart energy.

Spiritual Practice #3 Surrender Your Safari to Divine Will

Instead of attaching to your desires and goals—whether it’s to see the Big Five or even to have some magical spiritual experience—give your safari to the Divine and pray, “Thy will be done.” Instead of grasping for what you want, turn over your safari to Divine Will and intend that whatever is aligned with the highest good shall come to pass. This doesn’t mean you won’t have hopes and preferences. Of course you’ll want to see leopard cubs or an elephant drinking at the watering hole! Go ahead and notice those hopes—with love—and give them to God/Goddess, releasing attachment to outcomes and trusting that whatever happens is a gift, even if the gift comes in the form of learning to deal with disappointment. When you are grateful for whatever happens, this state of unconditional gratitude relaxes your nervous system, opens your heart, and makes room for experiences that can feel almost magical. As Tosha Silver says, “The very act of grasping for the feather creates the wind current that pushes it away.” When you stop grasping, it’s almost as if you open a portal into a magical, living, breathing, conscious, aware Universe that simply wants to play with you. FUN! Once again, this state of non-attachment tends to be paradoxically attractive to the animals. When someone isn’t psychically needy, entitled, and grasping, can’t you imagine that it would feel WAY more fun to come play if you were a lion?

Spiritual Practice #4 Invite Nature to Play

Once you’ve let go, telepathically send out a signal that says something like, “Nature, wanna play!” As much as you want to play with nature, nature wants to play with you! (Read about playing with nature in “How to Call In a Cheetah” here and here. This is not meant to psychically manipulate nature into getting what you want. It’s not some fancy, playing-hard-to-get “law of attraction” technique. It’s simply an invitation, and it has to be a genuine letting go, not a false tool to try to get your way.

If nature doesn’t want to play, don’t take it personally. Sometimes nature prefers to eat or sleep or mate instead of playing with you! However, you’re likely to find that as you hold this loose intention of playful interaction, the likelihood that you’ll have a deep, love-filled, meaningful, magical, spiritual encounter with nature opens up.

Spiritual Practice #5 Nature as an Oracle

Set an intention for each game drive by posing a question that you need help with, almost as if your safari is a deck of Tarot cards, the I Ching, or the Norse runes. Just as you might ask a question to the Tarot cards and look for guidance in the cards you pick, trust that your safari will give you answers to the question you’ve asked, then be on the lookout for the answers. Make it playful, almost as if you’re on a scavenger hunt. Having invited God/Goddess to play with you and help you with whatever is needed, pay close attention to everything, especially anything unusual that happens. With each animal that crosses your path, telepathically ask the animal, “Why are you here? Do you have a message for me?” Or more simply, “Why here? Why now?”

Then listen deeply. See if you get an answer. For an example of how much fun this can be and how miraculously you might be given clear guidance, read Nature as an Oracle.

Spiritual Practice #6 Express Your Gratitude

In Bali, the temples of nature are not just entered to ask for permission. You are also invited to revisit the temples on the way out, thanking the nature spirits for the gift of being invited in. The safari experience can be experienced the same way. After every animal encounter, thank the spirit of Leopard or Lion or Rhino and offer prayers of gratitude for the privilege of having a direct experience with the Goddess in this animal form. Don’t forget to thank Gaia Sophia (Mother Earth), as well as all the rivers, lakes, mountains, plants and insects that serve the animals. End every safari experience with prayers of thanks. Anne Lamott says there are only three essential prayers—Help. Thanks. Wow. Make sure you offer at least a “Thanks” and a “Wow.”

How Do YOU Engage with Nature?

Tell us what works for you. What tools do you play with? How does nature play with you? We’d love to hear your stories!

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  1. Esther Wright

    Lissa…thank you for sharing your wonderful safari experience with us. I am so happy your mother and you had an opportunity to have this miraculous adventure. I have enjoyed reading your ideas and recommendations, but what I’m left with is alot of “doing” rather than just being in nature and experiencing the magic of sharing the moment with a hippo or lioness or whatever. My safari experiience was clearly spiritual, as well…and one of the highlights of my life. But I just sat in awe as I witnessed the elephant herds, and the lions eating their prey. So magical. Travel safely home, dear Lissa. And be blessed.

  2. Nella Nencini-Hutchings

    A friend sent this to me Lissa as I have my own safari business called Tin Trunk Safari and began it after a transformational horse safari in Kenya inspired me to move from Italy to the Great Rift Valley on Lake Naivasha and start sharing my passion with others through my very personalized safaris. As you say, the experience is so much bigger than saying you have seen these utterly majestic animals- it goes deeply into the soul and is very hard to explain without actually smelling and touching and feeling Africa. It’s a long story but as an informal yoga teacher, I also started “Yoga on Safari” and that was the absolute best kind of spiritual centering- even now clients who have never meditated or done yoga give it a try with me beside the river or before an expansive view. The trip is truly enhanced and lives are changed. I also had the joy of having my mother with me here on safari many times before she passed away – very, very cherished memories for me now. So thank you for sharing this. Nella

  3. Rita de Brabander

    I Try not to mis any of Your blogs and i enjoy every part of it . I Try even to talk to the plants, animals or birds where i live, i am shure this Will work for me also, Thank you So mutch

  4. person

    Lissa, thank. you. This is so, so beautiful. Thank you for posting the beautiful pictures as well.

  5. Roopa Karayi


  6. Paulette

    Dear Lissa,
    Your posts, purpose and passion have been so healing and helpful…especially lately! Feeling blissed out by blessings and wanted to share my poem of a walk I was honoured to have among Brothers Pine and Sisters Birch last Sunday.
    Much Love ‘n’ Gratitude to you! Keep sharing the amazing gift of ‘you’!

    Brothers Pine and Sisters Birch
    connect with all of nature:
    limbs arched to embrace the sky,
    branches shaking with their sighs,
    as they tower together in community.

    Feeling the subtle movement of the air
    as it teases at their canopies
    these majestic sentinels
    anchor deep within to Mother Earth,
    their roots acting as underground highways
    whose traffic includes insects dependent
    on their deeply-embedded and networked pathways,
    with sap their blood and source of sustenance.

    My whole being hears their peace offering,
    and my breathing automatically slows,
    my feet firmly plant on the forest floor
    while I embrace a mid-sized Brother Pine,
    pressing my pale cheek against its grey, rough-seamed trunk,
    eyes closed, my body swaying in tandem
    with its vibration from a relentless wind,
    the sound reminiscent of waves lapping onto shore,
    my tears anointing me with the blessing of their holy stature,
    their protection, their transcendent glory that
    offers solace, solitude and reminds:

    “Not one of us is better than the other,
    so why do you worry that you are not enough?
    You are safe within the cradle of our care.
    Know that whatever you need is given,
    For that is Nature’s way.”

    I hold on to that promise with my life,
    Brother Pine sending me hope in my hug.

    Sisters Birch wave their loving goodbyes
    and my world will never be the same.

    May 7, 2017
    c Paulette Dahl

    • Lissa_Rankin

      Thank you for sharing. This is sublime!


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