When I first embarked on this journey, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A whole week with a remote tribe in the Amazon Rainforest? Five separate flights to get there? No electricity, showers, beds, stores, or media? Of course I was excited. But I was apprehensive too.
We ventured for two weeks to visit the most successful conservation effort in the tropics is led by the Kayapo Indians of Brazil. The Kayapo have been on the frontline of rainforest defense for almost 30 years. A single hectare in the Amazon Rainforest has up to 450 species of trees (Canada has 180 species). It is home to about approximately 1/3 of the world’s plants and animals. Kayapo lands are as large as almost half the countries in the world.
I don’t want to sound like a treehugger hippy. I’m not. But! After spending a week with these people I can honestly say my outlook on things have changed.
Here is a short list of some of the many many things I learned while living in the bush with indigenous people.
1. You need less than you think.
In a world where we are bombarded by images, ads, videos, and messages about new things we should be buying, eating, and doing, it becomes really hard to live life simply. It’s difficult not to want the new pair of boots, new iPhone or new sofa. And so our life is filled with wants. Some people base their entire happiness on these and their journey to obtain them. But maybe the reason we feel like we always need more is that once we’ve bought that thing, we quickly find it didn’t make us as happy or revolutionized our life or even made much of a difference. So we’re in this endless cycle of materialism that is difficult to escape.
The Kayapo live modestly. They don’t use money on an everyday basis. They have only a few material possessions. Their happiness isn’t based on social status, material wealth, or career development. They don’t want to become lawyers or CEO’s. What they do want is to care for their families. Make sure everyone in their community is happy and okay. Hold onto the land that they love.
2. Use your freedom.
It took me at least 3 days to get used to the fact that I had no meetings scheduled, no phone calls to make or emails to write. I didn’t have to be home to make dinner or live according to all the things people expected from me. Or the rules that society surrounds us with to maintain order.
The Kayapo live in glorious disorganization. There’s no dinnertime, no set time for anything in fact. No specific calendar – they live life as they feel it. If they feel like swimming they go, if they are hungry they hunt. Kids are completely free – no one watches over their every move. At an early age they’re already free, fearless and self-sufficient.
There is so much love in the community that it’s impossible to not want to stay.I learned that it’s okay to break the rules, it’s okay to take a Sunday to do NOTHING except relax, read, spend time with the people you care for. It’s okay to slow down, live life at my own pace and not everyone else’s. Without hectic-ness, life does NOT lose its meaning! If we take more time to enjoy the little things – the streets, the noises, the people – it frees up more room to be inspired by the world around us.
3. Don’t be afraid.
After coming back from the Amazon I realized how many of our fears are constructed by others. Isn’t that silly? To be afraid of things because you are taught to. Before going I was afraid of the snakes, the scorpions, the piranhas, of all these things people told me to be afraid of. But when I got there, I quickly learned that while those threats were present, you just had to be careful. Careful – not afraid.
I was amazed by the kids, they swam alone at 2 years of age! Manipulated knifes to make their own airplane toys, climbed crazy high trees, and thoroughly enjoyed every day. They weren’t afraid of the water or the forest. They weren’t taught to be; the adults weren’t afraid of constant failure. Everyone is seen as an integral part of the mechanism, and wants everyone else to succeed in their role. There’s no I – everything in Kayapo is we.
4. A smile goes a long way.
I speak no Kayapo and my Portuguese is rusty at best. Yet a smile goes a long way. People are people everywhere, we breathe, feel, care for our families, want to find meaning, live happily and healthy. A smile goes a long way in making people feel loved, comfortable, listened to. It goes a long way to feeling empathy, joy and understanding. The Kayapo are the smilingest bunch I’ve ever met. Everyone is calm, in a good mood … and smiling. Outside of the rainforest, we’re still alive, we get to experience the world everyday – we forget about that.
5. Appreciate what you’ve got.
I’ve never met such charismatic, loving, happy, kind people. They protect the forest with their lives because they love the land they live on. It sustains their needs, provides them with food, shelter and life. In turn they respect the land, its traditions, their stories, and their battles and learnings. Is there anything more courageous than fighting to be yourself when everyone tells you are wrong?
If you ever have a chance to have a similar experience, I urge you to do so. As for me, I’m going to work hard to remember this one, to remember how it felt, to hold the Kayapo way of life in my heart as I go back to my regular – hectic! – life.