After much planning and anticipation, we led our first Open Heart Safari to Zambia in August 2012, with three open-hearted fellow travelers. Here’s what they had to say about the trip:
I had never considered doing a safari when I heard about the Open Heart Safari. Something about the description on the web site and Tom’s passion for it made me email Tom that I’m not seriously considering it, but it sure looked appealing. Somehow an email exchange got me to consider it. Then Tom’s web slide presentation, his passion in describing the trip, the prospect of stunning wildlife with intentional personal and spiritual connection, the spirit of the other potential trip participants on the web call, and a desire to do something special for myself motivated me to sign up. This was a very big commitment for me in terms of time and money. But once the trip started, I never had a moment of second guessing whether I’d made a good decision. By the end of the 2 weeks, I had the feeling the entire trip had been designed and executed specifically for my personal benefit. The heart-opening activities (sharing our intentions and reactions with the group, poems, meditations, and movement) were powerfully effective in opening my heart to a deep impactful experience of the wildlife, wilderness, and local communities we visited. Now at the end of the trip I feel a major transformation in my life has been catalyzed. I had started the trip with a hope to get some clarity on my life direction. The perspective I gained from the wildlife, community visits, and group members has inspired me to make a commitment around a major life change that has me excited and terrified.
Here’s my current (though no doubt incomplete) list of highlights of the trip for me:
- Nature: The majesty of the beautiful animals, the calm, peaceful beauty of the African bush, the expansive starry night sky, and experiencing the natural order of diverse types of animals, each with its own niche in the ecosystem, co-existing and playing their role, all helped me feel part of an amazing unified tapestry.
- The people: It was striking how in the rural village of Kawaza, with no plumbing or electricity and few possessions, the people seemed so full of life and joy. I saw more happy people in one morning in Kawaza than I see in a year in Philadelphia.
- The zebra meditation: Sitting down to meditate, and after a few minutes discovering a zebra peering at me from inches away. The alternating terror and accepting calm I experienced felt symbolic of changes coming in my life that will offer me the chance to get beyond fear to experience benign beautiful opportunity.
- The close bonds and open hearted sharing among the group helped me experience the wildlife and communities we met in a deep way.
With gratitude and love.
Wow! I can’t imagine a better way to experience the “real Africa” than with the Open Heart group. The wildlife viewing was spectacular, and the opportunity to meet with local people made the experience so much more well rounded. So valuable to be able to process & share our experiences. I was able to experience Africa on a deeper, more meaningful level. So often on the trip I thought how grateful I was to be with this group, and that I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Once in a lifetime experience! Exceeded expectations!
Tom and Laura are excellent guides and leaders! I appreciated Tom’s extensive knowledge and experience, along with his great sense of humor and flexibility. Laura did a great job leading the group in yoga and expressive movement sessions which really made a difference in feeling embodied in the experience. I loved the Open Heart activities (yoga, meditation, reflection, sharing, etc.); from day 1 our group really opened up to one another and experienced a heartfelt connection, which Tom was instrumental in initiating. The “open heart” element made my interactions with the wildlife and local people and environment so much more meaningful, and helped me feel more present and connected.
My daughter Katie and I were looking for a good safari company, had settled on one in Tanzania and were ready to book it. Then she heard about the Open Heart Safari from a friend who knew Tom Bennigson. Together we vetted Tom and his plans through an extended phone conversation with him and were convinced that he knows what he’s doing in Africa, that he gets being open hearted himself, and that he had actually designed an experience suited to that title. Then we did the same with Laura, who was equally gracious and forthcoming in responding to our questions. We were in. We not only felt comfortable with the leaders, we figured that the people who would be attracted to this kind of safari were the kind we’d like to travel with.
The safari experience itself exceeded our lofty expectations. South Luangwa National Park is teeming with incredible animals — so abundant, varied, natural and free, beautiful, graceful, powerful, funny, accessible and exciting, not to mention photogenic! Kafue is remote, wild, scenic and exciting. We missed nothing by passing up Tanzania except the crowds. And we gained a day at Victoria Falls, which is worthy of anyone’s bucket list.
What sets this safari apart, though, is the human interaction, both with the local people and with our travelling companions. A day and an overnight in a thatched-hut village out in the bush mixing with the people, two days and an evening with young people and adults deeply involved in grass roots community development and conservation. Opportunities almost every day to reflect and share within our group on what we were doing and seeing –always with lots of laughs. Periodic yoga and other movement, skillfully led by Laura and suited to our capabilities. We had some great conversations and look forward to staying in touch with one another across the country. Who knows, maybe even a reunion somewhere!
And here’s what Laura wrote in her journal the day the trip ended (shared with permission):
Wow. The Open Heart Safari is officially over and it was: great, amazing, heart opening, a success. I am full. I am tired. I am proud of Tom. I am awash with feelings of love and appreciation, gratitude for the openness and others’ willingness to be open. Everyone cried at the closing. They learned things about themselves. Their heart opening added to the experience of animals and people.