Thursday, August 24th 2017

Meditative bliss with the most Zen-like creatures alive

GUEST COLUMN: JOANNE EHRICH —I’d always had this thing about Australia’s exotic creatures (when I was a girl, I had a pet cockatiel and parakeet, butterflies with scintillating blue wings and lime-green Aussie beetles in my insect collection).

But it would be a couple of decades before I made my ultimate discovery in the animal kingdom, and was utterly transfixed by yet another creature from Down Under — the koala.

A friend passed on a news story that a baby koala had been born at San Francisco’s metro zoo (Fewer than 10 zoos in the United States have koalas. Even fewer have koala births; so it made the local paper).

I was mesmerized the moment I saw . . . this living and breathing koala mother with her baby at the Zoo. Little did I know how this experience would change my life forever. koala_jo_sm.jpg

Noticing the little baby Koala nestled in the arms of its mother, I saw how these two animals held each other in their eyes with absolute serenity and unconditional love.

There were all these kids on our side of the fence screeching because they couldn’t believe how cute this sight was. It was like they’d seen Elvis.

The grown-ups, including myself, were stunned in disbelief about how we could be so affected by a small animal, barely two feet tall.

It suddenly struck me: these odd little creatures are happy-makers. People cannot help but smile at them.

They are such content creatures and far more present than the humans around us. Think of walking through a mall. We don’t even really ‘see’ each other. We are distracted by all of the man-made artifacts and sounds around us.

Everyone is so stressed out. If you see koalas, they will take all of that out of you. It’s like being in front of the ocean and listening to the sound of rippling waves.

If Type A personalities forget how to *be*, koalas teach us how go back to that. It’s almost like their gaze and presence can put you into a meditative state.

They are Zenned-out. They have an understanding of consciousness that we do not. We are competitive. They don’t bother with that. They go about eating their eucalyptus leaves all day and look at the world and their peers anew, from one second to the next.

At the zoo, I felt transported from the everyday world into a deep sense of peace, forgetting my material concerns. It felt like a warm blanket of love.

And I had an inspiration: the koalas are giving humans so much joy that we should do something to return the favor — like helping them with their continued survival, for starters.

sleeperI wanted to learn everything there was to know about koalas, and discovered that in their Australian-island sanctuary, they essentially had no predators for centuries. Therefore, they didn’t develop the same fight-flight coding in the nervous system that governs humans and the vast majority of mammals. I learned the same to be true about many other Australian animals.

There is a fascinating intersection between Australia’s social history — or you could say, history of consciousness — and the island-continent’s primordial flora and fauna. “The attic of the world,” as Australia is nicknamed, actually started at the bottom of the heap in terms of European settlement.

Founded as a colony for prisoners, run by prison ‘screws’ (two constituencies known for anti-social predispositions), Australians have somehow emerged over the past two centuries as the least defensive and most out-going and friendly people on Earth.

Could it be that their unique natural environment contributed to this enigmatic cultural legacy? I think so. The presence of the koala and other Aussie creatures had previously exerted the same influence on the continent’s indigenous people.

The koala is the subject of many ancient Aboriginal stories involving sacred and spiritual lessons. There is something mystical about koalas stimulating these very deep thoughts in humans.

teddy-bearTo my surprise I also found the koala’s legacy showing up in the most popular stuffed toy in western culture — the Teddy Bear. Invented in the early part of the 20th century, the Teddy Bear went through several iterations to take on a more koala-like appearance: rounder face, less-pointy snout, fuzzier ears and lighter fur. Something about those kindly features had a way of invoking a comforting somatic experience in countless children over generations.

Next, I decided to capture all I could about koalas, and over the past four years, have edited and published seven books under the Koala Jo Publishing label, featuring hundreds of images taken of koalas by over 120 photographers from 24 countries. Like the Nike ad espouses, I just did it! Rave reviews started trickling in from around the planet.

Who cares if your business makes money, or if you ever make money? What matters is if it’s close to your heart. I didn’t care how much money I made. I did it because I had a calling. Love can move mountains. Once you experience something like that, you don’t sweat small stuff any longer. Once you find that fire burning, that’s all that matters in life.

Energetically, I turned into a koala. They, like my Aussie pet birds, have a way of recognizing another being. They look at us, and the world from outside of themselves, free of the burden of ego. They have a way of taking time out, just *being* and recognizing you for who you are without judgment or any preconceived notions.

You can view more than 1,000 koala photos online at Koala Jo Publishing.

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23 Comments on “Meditative bliss with the most Zen-like creatures alive”

  1. A very heart warming, inspiring and genuine story!
    Thank you!

  2. I too have a fascination to Australia, Aboriginal culture and Koala bears and now I know why. Thank you, YB

  3. I took a look at your new site and it is Fantastic!
    The articles are very insightful. Who knew that the
    Koala did not have a fight/flight response. I think
    now the site will appeal to a broader audience and
    more people will benefit from the content.

  4. Thanks, Aparna. An interesting side effect of an under-developped (not completely lacking) fight or flight response is that it promotes harmony. Many conflicts arise from individuals reacting prematurely to perceived threats. By taking time out before jumping to conclusions, we do ourselves and others a huge favor...

  5. Joanne:

    Well written. Reading this was a de-stressor.


  6. This is a great story about how you can "make things happen" when you follow your passion. It's great to hear how Joanne decided to "Just do it!" and has created books that not only share her love for koalas, but bring others enjoyment and presumably, help insure the future welfare of koalas.

    What a great example of how doing something you love can make you happy, inspire creativity and bring new experiences.

  7. I was very touched by the story about koalas. A few years ago, I took a trip around the world and truly enjoyed my stay in Australia. I have since settled in Canada. People here live at a different pace than in the "Exited States of America." More than that, they see world events with a clarity that our southern cousins just miss altogether. It's good to be home again.

  8. Wow Joanne, I think I'll book a flight to Australia forthwith. Got to see them for myself!

  9. Greetings from Taiwan. I loved the story. Keep up with your great work!

  10. Dear Joanne:

    Yep, koalas do have that effect on people! I think of it as the Great Koala Spirit reaching out for help, as there are fewer than 100,000 koalas left in Australia.

    The same thing happened to me. About ten years ago now, depressed over the loss of my mom, I looked into the face of my daughter's plush koala and it was like a cartoon hammer hit me over the head! All of a sudden I wanted to know everything about these beautiful, gentle creatures.

    I reserved the first book that came up at my local library, and it was Ken Phillips' Koalas: Australia's Ancient Ones. And like a chain, he had also had the "koala experience." An insomniac New York physics professor, Mr. Phillips was watching a late night tv show on koalas and bang, he too felt the call. He was able to follow it up by visiting Australia frequently and helping to support the Koala Hosptial in Port Macquarie ( ) and write his book. His and your books have kept me going over the years with their wonderful pictures of the sweetest faces on this planet.

    And now, koalas are endangered even more by global warming. Changes in the amounts of tannins in gum leaves due to carbon emmissions are threatening to starve koalas into extinction. The more people get the koala epiphany, whether from reading one of your books, or a trip to the zoo, or a picture online, hopefully the more people will try to help koalas and the rest of us by reducing their carbon emmissions!

    People can also help koalas directly either at the Koala Hospital mentioned above, or by contacting the AKF, at!

  11. Hi Joanne,

    Thanks for sharing your stories! Koalas are wonderful! BTW, the site is great!


  12. Like Joanne, I have been captured by koalas. Ever since I was a teenager I had this passion about Australia and of course that lovely creature: the koala!
    I made my first trip Down Under way back in 2000 and that's where I got to see them for the first time. Not in the wild but in zoos. I had been adopting koalas through the Koala Foundation for years. Together with some other Aussie-passioned friends we organised and Ausssie day and I promoted the adoption program. In the meantime I got in touch with the Dutch website of the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie. I started mailing with Carla who owns the website and, after reading her adventures as a volunteer, I decided to do that as well. I was accepted and volunteered there for about 4 weeks, December 2004 - January 2005. I had the time of my life, as you can imagine. I am so blessed that I was able to do that. It's an experience I will never forget. While I was doing my volunteer work I was able to take a lot of koala pictures, and a few have been published in Joanne's books. THANK you Joanne.
    These days, when I need some koala loving I go to one of our zoos, Planckendaal here in Belgium.
    They are wonderful creatures.

  13. Thanks, Leslie and Sylvie. You are an inspiration. For anyone wishing to join Leslie's "Koalas" discussion group on Yahoo Groups, visit:

    Also, be sure to take a peek at Sylvie Van den Bossche's "Koala Hospital" Yahoo group for even more information about how you can help:

  14. Hi Joanne,

    I had the privilege of meeting you and learning about your interest in Koalas. I think you captured those characteristics of the Koalas which penetrate through the barriers we learn to put up in our lives.

    It changes people. I sensed it when I met you and looked at some of the photographs. As is acknowledged by many, the eyes are the window of the soul. The eyes of the Koala seem to go to the heart of my being when I look at them.

    There are occasionally people who you meet whose eyes take you deeper into your consciousness than normal. Perhaps there are other beings in the universe which would have an even greater effect than the eyes of the Koala, if we were to gaze into them.

    I think the Koalas are one of our entry points into our higher dimensions of consciousness on Earth, plus they just instill happiness. Thanks for sharing your passion and experiences.


  15. An inspirational story, and so well written!

    I also wish we could have more animals in preservations vs. zoos. I know my daughter wants to see the animals up close yet they sadden me to see the animals in that state.

    It is so important for us to care for God's creatures to to protect them! Happiness and love are more important than making money, and I find that if you do something you love, the money will follow!

  16. Joanne's awesome...and hot...and, those little bears are very cute.

  17. Joanne,

    I was very moved by your summation of the beauty and serene like aura of the Koala. It was equally fascinating how you were able to juxastapose the realities of the human world with that of the Koala and expose the frivolities of human preoccupation with materialism while the Koala evoke a much more harmonious and self-gratifying existence. Yes, I agree, we can all learn something from the Koala. Unfortunately, the Koala cannot learn much from man as the Koala has already unlocked the secret to happiness. But, ironically, the Koala may have man's own recklessness and predatory practices to thank for some of it's own continued existence and protections.

    Sidney Mitchell

  18. Joanne is not just an artist, not just a publisher, and not just an enlightened soul who finds nirvana in the eyes of a koala. She is a maker of dreams, a midwife to marvels, and a truly extraordinary person.

    Thanks to her devotion to the koala and desire to aid it in its struggle for survival in a world on the brink, she brought one of my longtime dreams to life: she published my book of stories about the koala and helped me to do something for an animal that has been my favorite since I was an infant. No exaggeration, that; my dad served in Australia during WWII, and brought home a love of these Zen-inducing creatures for his daughters. There were toy koalas in the house when I was born, and a koala was my first teddy bear; there was never a time when I didn't know what they were or love them.

    Joanne sees an opportunity to better the world and seizes it; she finds people to make it work and puts them together. The collaborations she launches are truly a marvel (the incredible photoessays on the koala that she's compiled; the vegan supplement to her vegetarian recipe book, with recipes contributed by a top chef; my own Aboriginal Tales book), and the wonderful results that come of them are both personally satisfying and good for the world at large.

    If anyone's a guru, Joanne is.

    If you have not gone to to look at the koala photos there, you really should. The more stressful daily life becomes, the more these peaceful (though endangered) creatures can teach us about what is truly important -- sunlight on one's face, the embrace of a beloved child, the wind in one's hair. All else is so much window dressing.

    Listen to the guru -- that voice within telling you what you should be doing for your own growth of spirit. And if you follow that voice, you'll find what brings you to your own peak experience.

  19. what a refreshing take on these beautiful souls. i never thought of them as happy makers - - - what a wonderful concept.

  20. You are such an amazing and talented person. I love all of your work and your thoughts. And what a good writer and designer. Just inspiring. Thanks, I needed a hero.

  21. This is a sweet story. I've got to get to the zoo!

  22. I have heard that koalas are so laid back because they chew on eucalyptus leaves all day, which acts as a sedative. Maybe it's worth a try!

  23. Wonderful story Joanne!! Beautifully written and very inspiring!!! I love that you said you turned into a koala yourself... what a wonderful thing to be!!!!

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