Anxiety, panic attacks, depression: these are just some of the reasons I decided to shake up my career path and go to South Africa.
When I first discovered Africa Media, it seemed like an island oasis in a sea of troubles I was drowning in. I got on my flight in Los Angeles desperately hoping I would find something to calm my inner turmoil, rekindle my passion for life and skyrocket my love for photojournalism.
The journey to South Africa, Mossel Bay in particular, is a very long one. It took two layovers in London and Johannesburg and 36 hours before I finally touched down at George Airport.
The first two days of the program were the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had. Instead of jumping straight into photography and film-making, Africa Media brought in a man called Jubee.
He teaches people how to reconnect with nature, calling it our “original design.” We lose so much of our peace when we fall out of sync with nature and only focus on deadlines, responsibilities, pressures and jobs. He took us to St. Blaize trail, where he taught us body percussion and led us in deep breathing techniques and meditation.
One of the things he taught that made the biggest impact on me was “primal joy.” It’s the deep, natural peace that bubbles up within us when we are in sync and connected with nature and our original design as humans. We went to the St. Blaze Cave, which is where many experts believe mankind originated from – a powerful place to sit and try to imagine what our ancestors were doing thousands of years ago. That night, he led us in a drumming circle under the stars while we cooked food over a fire. The simple connection that opened up was amazing – the “primal joy” started to kick in. We need to always find that playful part of our soul that allows us to enjoy life.
The second day, and probably one of the most powerful experiences I personally had, Jubee led us in cold water immersion. Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely hate being cold; sometimes I won’t even get in the water in San Diego in the summer. I had no idea how I was supposed to lower my entire body into a freezing cold pool of ocean water (keep in mind it is winter in South Africa and it had been bitterly cold).
We had a rather difficult hike to get to the pool of water, and then Jubee led us in some deep breathing to get us ready to go in.
“Focus on the heat within your body. Your blood is warm, your heart is pumping heat,” he said. “Now feel the cool air against your skin. The outside is cold, but the inside is warm. Focus on that.”
Our group joined hands and waded into the pool, deep breathing, silent, focused. We took in a circle up to our shoulders, and then Jubee told us to sink down to our necks.
“No way that’s happening,” I thought in my head. “I can’t do that.”
But then, in a sort of out-of-body experience, I was floating above us in the pool watching everyone sink down, including myself, almost involuntarily. Focusing on the inner heat, holding hands with friends, breathing deep and feeling close to nature – the cold didn’t seem as fierce.
Do I sound like a hippie? Probably. But I also know I’m way more peaceful and happy now than I’ve been in years. I am rejuvenated and connected to nature, and that makes me a better photographer. It’s easy to miss a moment if I’m stressed about getting the right composition, or exposure, or focus; sometimes it’s ok to just enjoy.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but this mindset truly does help our art.