Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Whole Elephant

October 2008
Quote of the Month

We are disturbed not by what happens to us,
but by our thoughts about what happens.

- Epictetus

The last of the human freedoms is
to choose one's attitude
in any given set of circumstances.
- Victor Frankl

The Epcot Ball, aka Spaceship Earth, looks a little bit different from underneath than the typical postcard shot we are used to seeing, doesn't it? So why did I take this particular view? And why did I ask you to look at it in the above question of the month?

In August, we talked about becoming aware of the I-pod/CD/tape that constantly plays in our heads. In September, we talked about becoming aware of the content on the I-pod and the judgments we make about the content. This month, I want to take this idea one step further and suggest that the way you experience your world and your life is really all in how you look at things. It is in your perspective. To take that a step further, if you are not happy with an aspect of your life, you are capable of changing that perspective. The difference from last month is somewhat subtle…but what I wanted to stress last month is to become aware of the judgments we make…and this month to become aware that you have the ability to change those judgments, if you so choose.

I am, of course, not talking about lying or being dishonest with yourself. But there typically is more than one accurate way to look at things. To illustrate this…consider a story many of us have probably heard before. That of The Blind Men and the Elephant. 

The story goes, that several blind men were describing an elephant based on the part of the elephant they were able to touch. The one standing by the tail described the elephant as rope. The one by the trunk had a very different perspective and described it as a branch….the ear felt like a fan, the body like a wall…and so on…. 

Each was limited in their perception by the part of the elephant they could touch. In addition, each of them felt they were right. They began to fight and defend their perspective until a wise man passed by. He pointed out that each of them was “right” in their description, but limited. They learned that other perspectives could be just as “right” as their own. Only by being willing to listen to the other points of view and sharing their own view, could they all grasp the totality of the elephant.

So far, we have primarily talked about things like weather and traffic. It becomes an even more powerful technique when you stretch a little bit to consider situations in your life and people around you. The “elephant” in the above situation could be your boss, the kids, the political system, the election, your ex-boyfriend, any thing else in your life that is causing you stress.

If you wish to give this a try, pause the I-pod/CD/tape in your head, become aware of the content of the I-pod….. My suggestion (as always) would be to start with something small....something that doesn't really bother you too much in order to practice.

  • Think about what you are telling yourself about the situation or issue.
  • Notice how you label it? Good? Bad? Terrible? Horrible? Catastrophic? (this is the “story” you make up or the part that comes after the comma from last month.)
  • Notice how thinking those things makes you feel.
Next… are some new things to consider…..
  • Ask yourself, “Is this the way I want to experience my life?” (If you are happy with your experience of this situation, then try again later with a different situation. I am relatively certain that everyone can think of at least one thing to which this might apply!)
  • Do I believe that changing this is within my control?
  • Do I want to give up my peace of mind to external factors such as the weather, traffic, other people or external situations?
  • Ask yourself if your judgment of the situation is really true and complete? Are you seeing the whole elephant?
  • If you are certain that it is true, ask if it is serving you? If it is not, make a conscious effort not to put your attention on it. (More on that in a later post!)
  • Ask yourself if you can change your perspective. That might mean looking at something from a different angle, broadening your view of the situation or considering someone else's perspective.…like the men and the elephant….or looking at the EPCOT ball from a different angle.
Now for some real life examples:
I’ll start with myself….. As many of you know, I used to work in the tax department of a bank. Each year, April 15 was a huge, overwhelming deadline. Supervising preparation, and making sure all the returns got either filed or extended was not always fun……..I used to feel that it wasn't possible to get all the work finished in time for the deadline…..Hhhmmm….am I making up any stories here? Do you think those judgments are making me feel particularly good? Is this the way I want to experience my life? (About now, those of you who know me may be about to say obviously not, and point out that I no longer work there…….but I did for 6 tax seasons… back to our story…)

I could choose to get lost in the negative feelings of being overwhelmed...but I would STILL have to make sure all the returns were accounted for. Instead, I stepped back and looked at the whole elephant....and began to view it as more of challenge than an obstacle. I became exhilarated and energized by the work and never missed a deadline in the six years I was there. Yes, I did eventually choose to leave, but the shift in perspective made the time while I was there much more palatable.

Another example:When I was a child, my grandparents had a plaque in their kitchen that had a Native American saying on it. It read, "May you never judge another person until you've walked a mile in their moccasins." This is true even when someone is short with you, rude or impatient. Generally their actions have very little to do with you and a lot more to do with what is going on in their lives. The person who wrote this realized that there is more to the elephant than just the part they could touch.

Finally, one more…..from the world of politics….I am intentionally leaving the name off as this example isn't being used to promote any particular candidate or political position….but simply asking both sides to consider other positions.

One of the candidates, said the following about gun control, “We might not agree on gun control, but we can agree that automatic weapons should not be in the hands of juvenile gang members…..”

Not just gun control, (comma) is a good thing or gun control, (comma) is a bad thing like we talked about last month. This candidate offered a third option….of keeping guns out of the hands of gang members. That's a broader perspective!

For one more photo on perspective, please take a look at the picture of the month shown below. Any idea about where this might be?  It is from the perspective of looking down from the top at a very good friend of mine!  It will tell you where in the caption. Next month, we'll talk more about the actual process of changing a thought or a judgment, but until then.... remember to check out the whole elephant or change the perspective on the EPCOT ball in your own life!

I would love to hear about the "elephants" in your life! Please submit your feedback, as well as any questions you may have, or topics you may be interested in for the future, to the blog under the comments section below. 

If you prefer, you may also send them to me at . All posts will be archived on my blog along with other useful information at:
Simply Spirituality or

To continue reading the next post, Meditation 2, click here.
Until next month....
Here's hoping you keep your spirituality simple!
Photo of the month
Lighthouse at Ponce de Leon Inlet, FL, August 2003

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I like your very easy simple examples of things to do immediately right NOW--if you choose to do them.

Particularly helpful:
* Think about what you are telling yourself about the situation or issue. Notice how you label it, then ask yourself is this the way I want to experience my life. Do I want to give up my peace of mind to external factors such as other people?
* The way you experience your world and your life is really all in how you look at things. If you are not happy with an aspect of your life, you are capable of changing that perspective. It is in your perspective.
*There is more than one accurate way to look at things (while we all know this intellectually, the challenge is in the implementation...)

Your sage and simple advice and challenges has given more awareness to my thoughts and really ultimately gives way to better perspective about them.