Feeling the whole elephant
Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”
They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.
“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.
“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.
“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”
“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.
I’m a thinker. Almost everything I experience gets processed through a Spock like filter, “And captain, I understand that the alien woman is throwing herself at you, but I fail to understand the cause.” Our history, genetics, and upbringing all serve to shape the manner in which we see the world. Interestingly, we then start to see the world through this veil of expectations, our experience then in turn lets in the information that reinforces what we already believe. Which shapes our perception of the world. Which reinforces this perception. And on it goes.
These filters are essential to our sanity. Our most basic filter is the capacity of our senses themselves: the perceive only the bandwidth of light, sound, smell, taste, and pressure to which they are sensitive. And thank goodness! How distracting would it be to see radiowaves in our daily lives?
We also filter based on our personal experience. If we have a wonderful experience, we will associate that event with pleasure, and seek it out more frequently. But have one bad brussel sprout as a kid, and that veggie is off the table.
As a kid, I was praised for my ability to think my way rationally through a conflict. With such nice reinforcement, I continued to use my logical brain as a mediator for my experiences. The only problem here is that my logic bias began to dull out some of the other information that was coming my way. Just like someone that dislikes brussel sprouts as a kid may never think to try that veggie again. Like that old story about the elephant, we continue to experience only the part of the elephant that is immediately in front of us, and don’t know that we’ve only got the tail.
One of the goals of our yoga practice is to begin to clear away the veil of expectations, so that have the opportunity to experience the world more freshly and in its wholeness. By quieting our mind’s perpetual quest to associate and evaluate, we can move into a space of more possibility. (Maybe I will sample that green thing on the table and experience how it tastes!)
For me, one of the gifts of yoga is its capacity to invite us to arrive fully and unedited into our experience. In our culture, because we are often praised for thinking and analyzing, we frequently leave our emotional and physical bodies behind. In essence, we are the elephant, and we only get to experience our trunk! Our practice gives us a safe and open space to reclaim any neglected missing pieces. We shed the restrictive layers, and take the time to feel how we feel. By giving ourselves the gift of our practice, we expand our capacity to feel the wholeness of our human experience.
- Take time to settle into your skin before you practice. As you let go of the tension, breathe and create room for your emotional experience. What bubbles up? Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel, trusting that these feelings will move through you, shift, evolve.
- As you move into your physical practice, let go of alignment and form as “rule” or “obligation.” Instead, use alignment cues as a way to feel deeper into your body and as an invitation to experience your physical body in a different way.
Breathe. Move. Feel. Better.