Hemingway wrote that there’s a world of difference between stalking a lion on foot than in a car. That’s why I was intrigued when I heard about life coach Richard Leider’s walking safaris in Tanzania. Unlike Hemingway, however, Leider isn’t interested in downing lions, but in showing people how to hunt the big game within themselves.
Leider began these three-week “inventures,” as he calls them, in 1983 after falling in love with Africa on an Outward Bound trek to Mount Kilimanjaro. The group usually includes 12 men and women who visit sites such as the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the Yaidi Valley (home of the Hadza, an endangered tribe of hunter-gatherers). They camp in native villages, hang out with the Masai and other tribes and hike mindfully across the savannah. The point of an inventure, says Leider, is to experience time in new way–not as a commodity but as a way to deepen human relationships. To do that, you need to embrace new cultures “with the curiosity and acceptance of a child–to allow the heart and the mind to travel together.”
The most telling moments often happen late at night sitting around the campfire with the tribal elders. Once Leider was sharing a fire with some Hadza elders when one asked him: “What are the two most important days in your life?”
“Birth and death,” he replied.
“No,” answered the elder. “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you determine why you were born.”
For Leider that day came in 1967 when he met Viktor Frankl, the famed psychiatrist and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, at a conference in San Diego. Frankel talked about what he learnd as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration: that the last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. Leider, who had just completed a master’s degree in counseling psychology, was transfixed. “I decided at that point that purpose and meaning would be my life’s work,” he recalls. “And ever since I’ve been a student of one question: What makes us get out of bed in the morning?”
The answer, he discovered, was in Africa.
During another campfire session, Leider asked a group of Hadza wise men, “How do you become an elder?”
“Who are the elders in your tribe?” one man replied.
“ I don’t have a tribe,” said Leider.
“What?” said the man, dumbfounded. “How can you survive without a tribe?”
Leider was silent. As he sat by the fire that night, he realized that the Hadza, whose way of life hasn’t changed much in the past 100,000 years, had a great deal to teach us about community and purpose. One study that fascinated Leider was conducted by scientist and author Jared Diamond, who spent 33 years working in New Guinea with hunter-gatherer tribes similar to the Hadza and concluded that they were on average “more intelligent, more alert, more expressive and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is.” Spending time with hunter-gatherers, Leider found, triggers a “great recalling” in our psyches of certain core traits that for centuries have gone largely under-utilized:
- Intelligence—Hunter-gatherers are “walking encyclopedias” of natural history with remarkable powers of observation and memory.
- Alertness—They wake up every day to the reality that time is precious and limited and, says Leider, “experience more joy in a day than some of us do in a lifetime.”
- Expressiveness—The Hadza tribe is the “original affluent society,” he adds, because they’re satisfied with very little. Once they’ve gathered the food they need on any give day, they spend the rest of their time telling stories and strengthening the community. To be a Hadza is to serve the tribe.
- Curiosity—Change is not an abstract concept; it’s ever-present in Hadza life. For hunter-gatherers, cultivating a curious mindset is a matter of life or death.
“I tell people that the wisdom of the hunter-gatherers can’t be taught, but it can be caught,” says Leider. “When you’re with the Hadza, you experience what our ancestors knew about the natural rhythms of life.”
This is why Leider keeps returning, year after year. “I haven’t had one person who has gone with me to Africa whose life hasn’t profoundly shifted in some way,” he says. Some group members return home and immediately start simplifying their lives, while others find the courage, all of a sudden, to reinvent themselves. Two couples even asked Leider to marry them.
“It’s primal,” he adds. “The backdrop—one of the last great wilderness places on earth—clarifies your mind. When you’re off the grid, without a lot of distractions, whatever’s inside you will come forward.”
To watch a video on how to live the life you love, featuring Richard Leider , go here.
Photos by Peter Malsbury/iStockPhoto (lion), Gary Smaby (Leider and giraffe) and ranplet/iStockPhoto (Masai warriors).