by Berenice Boxler.

Recently I was on vacation in a wildlife park. The entry was included in the hotel I stayed in, and the brochure looked promising. I like animals, I enjoy being in nature, and a spacious park with a lot of outlet spoke to me, more than a zoo with often narrow cages.

In short, it was a very unpleasant and challenging experience, in many ways. An avalanche of thoughts and emotions was triggered by it: at first I quickly became aware of the absurdity of driving through the habitat of animals in a car at walking pace. Exhaust fumes, risk of accidents for the animals, background noise, all that bothered me a lot. The road was long, and though I continuously tried to focus my wandering mind on the beautiful sight of the forest, they routinely escaped into the narrow-minded search for an animal. I felt reminded of “Jurassic Park”: And where are the dinosaurs ?! My son eventually fell asleep in the back seat …

People and other obstacles

It was a strenuous journey: watching out, trying not to injure any of the very trusting animals with the car, avoiding potholes – but the most strenuous were the humans. Despite multiple signs, no one stayed in the special feeding zones and parking lots. The cars stopped everywhere, the animals were lured to the car with food and people cuddled with them (all expressly prohibited). At times it was extremely difficult to continue driving without hurting another creature, because in the hunt for the perfect selfie with a deer, all respect, caution and all park rules were undermined. “Dear parents, please pay attention to the behavior of your children.” This sign one could read everywhere, but unfortunately the so-called role-models (=adults) showed exactly the behaviour that was forbidden to protect the animals.

The world is what the brain presents to us – not necessarily as it is

This trip made a lot of things clear to me:

  • How fast the brain tends to judge and condemn other people and how it keeps repeating itself like a stuck record: “This can’t be true! Can they not read?!”
  • How the brain tends to generalize and put in a category: “The other people, the other visitors …”, there were certainly also some who behaved correctly – but my negativity bias did not notice them.
  • The swift conviction that you are right yourself and that there is a separation here: I vs. the other. This quickly results in arrogance or even rejection, or at least a deliberate separation or distance. A “we” becomes a “me” and “the other”.

In any case, many questions have been raised that have no clear answer:

Has the world changed so much in terms of behaviour in the last 20 years? Is it a subjective or an objective assessment that respect and seeing the bigger picture have become less important? Do selfies and self-portrayal on the Internet really increasingly override a correct behaviour towards other people, animals or the environment? And are these questions an expression of self-righteousness or signs of a fundamentally changed coexistence?

Mindfulness sharpens the view – also for the unpleasant

One thing is for sure: with a mindful attitude one becomes more awake to life, and thus also for the unpleasant. Mindful living is not a relaxing walk with a constant smile on your lips. Especially at the beginning or during such experiences as this mentioned above, the practitioner realizes soon how careless the majority of people (still) is. Only when we start to experience life fully do we become aware of how much trouble and unpleasantness there is and how successfully our subconscious has been working with distraction, automatisms and repression in the past. Only when the consciousness is opened up for one’s own inner processes, for the other and the world in which we all live, one becomes aware of how selfish and self-righteous a life in the autopilot can be.

A new road creates a lot of work …

Sometimes it feels like repairing a road: first of all you have to mill away the old surfacing and completely rip the road before, layer by layer, a new pavement can be laid. When in the past you simply moved places, you bought a new car with better wheels or just drove a long and cumbersome detour, it is now clear that the actual road of life consists of rough and bumpy places – which is why you avoided to drive there in the past. The detour became the new normal. But once you have taken the right path, there is often no turning back, and the bumpy and unfamiliar road becomes a challenge that must be accepted. There is now no way around, and the curiosity and the regular wonderful view motivates you to continue, but it can also stagnate again and again.

Therefore, it is just an idle game of mind to contemplate whether the others have changed or you simply became more attentive or sensitive. It does not matter at all. Everything, really everything, becomes an exercise and a welcomed challenge – and a teacher in the workings of the human brain. In the end, I can’t change anyone else, but just make sure that I stick to the rules and that I’m a role model for my own children. I can only work on my own road and level it piece by piece as I drive on it. And no, I will certainly never go back to a wildlife park.


P.S. There will be a 3h-workshop on “Mindfulness and Media” on 16 May 2020 (in German). You can find out more here:

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