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Cute lion cubs and bad feelings

September 28, 2019

Last night, my insomniac meanderings through social media brought me to this super-cute video ( Great animation!

Canned lion cub

Of course the video has a nasty twist at the end that leaves a bad feeling. Made worse by having actually gone out of my way to play with the lion cubs. (You can sign the petition against canned lion hunting here.)

This is why I generally ration social media and filter ruthlessly. I don’t like the way so much of it induces bad feelings. Especially when those bad feelings are laid like a trap at the end of what promises to be a good experience. (Who doesn’t love a cute young feline?)

But there’s a lot of bad stuff in the world and just running away from it, putting your head in the sand, is not always possible, or desirable. Those bad feelings ought to motivate me to do something, to make the world better. Right?

It made me think about all those paperback books I paged through, left behind by my partner’s parents who fled Nazi Germany, that pondered how “looking the other way” allowed great evil to flourish. We need to bravely face the things that create bad feelings in order to act.

And that made me think about the guilty luxury of holing up here in peaceful Portugal, far away from South Africa with all it’s pain and turmoil.

And that made me think about Maria Phalima, the South African doctor who walked away from her profession. You can watch her story on YouTube (

Maria Phalima

She describes a healthcare system where doctors are overwhelmed and burned out. As she explains, she had become someone she did not want to be. Her choice to leave was about choosing wholeness and fulfillment, choosing not to suffer. As she says: “The world needs us at our best.” (Here’s a non-affiliate link to buy Maria’s book Postmortem: The Doctor Who Walked Away.)

She describes her experience in public healthcare as “hellish” and that’s pretty much what South African higher education started to feel like in the last few years. Not that people were dying around me (although some were beaten up), but that the under-staffing, pressure to do more, student protests, and bitter tensions over race obscured the reasons for what I was doing. I had lost all compassion for students, where once I had believed that teaching had to be underpinned by love. It was a time filled with bad feelings.

I took early retirement from a tenured academic position in South Africa’s top university, and retreated to Portugal. I love Maria’s idea that I have a right to well-being, to thrive instead of suffering.

But how do we deal with the bad feelings that come from facing ugly realities, without feeling overwhelmed? How do we act responsibly while still allowing ourselves space and energy to contribute positively to the world?

In fifty-eight years on the planet, most of it spent compulsively learning (five degrees, two graduate diplomas and any number of certificates of competency to show for it), the most useful thing I’ve learned is how to do a grounding meditation and let bad feelings flow away into the earth. (I learned that from Jeffrey Allen through Mindvalley. There are cheaper ways to learn it.)

That practice allows me to start each day with a clean slate, with energy to enjoy life on this beautiful, crazy planet. But my meanderings, from pure mathematics to the hippy world of energy, have also taught me a more valuable lesson.

The troubling thing about the cute lion cub video is that it sets up the hunter as the bad guy: the fat white American (of course he’s American, or maybe German) with a gun, who is, after all, the cause of this evil canned hunting.

The petition says that “Those who conduct canned hunts should pay for their actions, as they heartlessly take innocent animal lives.” Actually, they do. They pay handsomely for the experience and in the process, they create jobs.

I am not defending hunters. I want to live in a world where life, in all it’s glory, is respected. But demonizing the hunter is not going to get me there. I have a much better chance of that world if I can regard the hunter as yet one more of the infinitely variable shapes of human. That will allow space for me to engage with the hunter, to understand what makes him tick and why he chooses to do this. That will allow space for the hunter to be receptive to my world view.

And that’s the real problem with social media. It creates barriers to communication by presenting fixed positions, by “othering”.

And that’s the beauty of learning to meditate. It not only helps me to deal constructively with bad feelings, it also allows me to cultivate compassion for those “others”, which opens up paths of communication.

I look forward to the day when these skills are taught alongside reading and arithmetic, as fundamental tools for being good humans. I hope, one day, to be proficient enough to be able to face more of the world, without letting the bad feelings overwhelm me.


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