Riding an Elephant

White Knuckles-Surviving Scary Situations And Letting Go of Fear

So, I am used to having blisters on my feet when I travel, but it is new for me to have blisters on my hands. Today, I chose the new, the adventurous route. I had planned to take the train to Ayutthaya, a city of temple ruins. Looking it up on the internet, I discovered that I could actually take a minivan for much less cost and it would take only one hour instead of two. Interesting that it didn’t mention this in my guidebook, but I decided to do it. I went to the correct subway stop only to find a madness of many minivans, a market that was going on, and the most incredible chaos. Not only that, the sign on each minibus was only in Thai, not English.  And,  I seemed to be the only tourist in this area, a fact that was later confirmed when I was buying some makeup from a woman who asked how long I had lived in Thailand.  Wow..really?
So, anyway I went from minibus to minibus trying to locate the correct one and was always told to walk farther up the street. One guy even said to walk up five. Five what?  Blocks, buses? There was neither five blocks nor buses in front of me but a big circle of traffic. What to do? I for some reason decided to follow some Thai people that cut through the market stalls into a back alley, where there happened to be a minibus, and the guy said that yes, he was going to Ayuthaya! Really, could I be this lucky? And really it was only $2 for the hour drive?  I gave the man my money, who gave it to a lady inside but then she closed the minivan door for a minute as I stood outside, and my skepticism kicked in as I started to doubt where this bus was really going. For one, there were only local people, no tourists, and they had suitcases. Where could I really be going? Well, first I should ask how long it would take to get there, so if I was going to some mystery place  I at least knew that I wouldn’t be taken hours out of the way. “One hour”, I was told and then the woman opened the doors beckoning me to get in. To my relief, there was actually a sign in English that I saw from the inside that indeed said Ayuthaya. I am glad I saw this, as the minivan continued to drop off the people inside on the way at markets, some along the highway, very strange indeed.
But I, indeed, made it to the right place, and he dropped me off at a tuk tuk (basically I was in the back of a very tiny truck with bench seats) and I negotiated a price and where I wanted him to take me. But, my tuk tuk driver thought he was king of the road swerving all over, blaring a siren for others to get out of his way, and blasting a mix of Bollywood music and American (My Sharona), as we navigated the crazy streets. “Wait a minute!” I wanted to shout. I am not an obnoxious American-you do not have to behave as if you are announcing that you have one on board. (None of the other tuk tuks that we passed were behaving in this manner) I held on to the railing for dear life, my knuckles white, my grip tight as I held on for dear life.
Aah, but the quiet and the peace as I visited the first temple. Silence permeated the grounds, birdsong filled the air, a breeze blew in the fragrance of flowers into my nose. I stood under a plumeria tree inhaling deeply as they continued to drop all around me, lightly falling on my shoulders, bringing a smile to my face.
And then, it was only three stops later that I found myself on top- yes, on top of and riding an elephant. Now, let me surprise you for a minute. As many of you have called me brave and fearless, I have a confession to make . While I like to try new things, I am usually scared to death of the new things that I try. Skydiving? They had to push me out of the plane. Asking the man in the dessert if I could take his 10 foot bicycle for a spin? I was trembling when I actually climbed up and realized how hard it was to steer. But some of these experiences have been the best that I could imagine ever having! But, I had it in my mind that I would not ride an elephant. I know, I know, I usually try everything, but I had some good reasoning. First of all, it didn’t seem like a very relaxing thing to do. And second of all, Like Water For Elephants, being one of my favorite books, I was really concerned with how these animals are treated. So, I tried explaining to my non English speaking driver that I only wanted to watch the elephants, not ride them. He nodded his head like he understood and took me to the ticket window where I paid my money, I thought just to see them, but all of a sudden I was being escorted to a tall set of stairs and I was getting on an elephant! How did this happen, I thought? I was really far up above the ground and things didn’t feel so steady at all. And then the elephant started to move or rather lumber down the road. My insides were jostled about, so much that I suddenly had all the awareness of exactly where all of my organs happened to be located in my body especially my heart which was pounding wildly. And my knuckles? Yes, they were white as I gripped on to the railing and held on for dear life.
And my driver (I guess that’s what he called)?  I was appalled as I looked down and saw that he was holding a very large and sharp knife. What for? My mind raced as I wondered what was going to happen next? Were we going to trek through jungle?  Would he have to cut away vines?  Was he intending to use this on the elephant? What was going on? Or was it for me, I soon wondered as he actually tapped my feet with it when they slid into the wrong place on the elephant. I was very careful not to misbehave, for the whole trip and never figured out what it was for. We moved through traffic and finally down the sidewalk where all of a sudden my terror turned to giggles, as I realized this was actually fun. I was now gliding past the tops of the plumeria trees that I had earlier been standing under. I looked around at the others on their elephants and everyone else was giggling too. Hey!, we all seemed to realize at once, We are on top of a very large elephant!!
 And it made me realize, so many times we go through what we think are white knuckle situations, and we are scared, and not sure we have what it takes to do it. But, it is only when we surrender having control and we let go that we then see the hilarious side of things.  We learn to laugh at ourselves as we look around and see we aren’t the only ones going through this. We are all in this together, and hey, yeah, so our insides hurt a little (or sometimes a lot) because of what we had to go through to get here, but hey, we made it up to the top, didn’t we? Even as kids, we know this, “Look ma, no hands!” It is when we worry about how the situation will turn out, when we try to control everyone and everything, that the giggling stops and we lose our bliss.
We try so hard to control our environment, to control others, how they believe, how others choose to love us, how others choose to live. What if we just stopped?  And enjoyed what showed up? Exactly how it shows up. Sometimes the only way to see the top of a plumeria tree is to get on top of that elephant. Surrender, let go. You will find that you can ride any elephant that shows up in your life with grace and style.
And so, what are the lessons of this day? It can all be summed up like this.  It wasn’t until the end of the day when I was writing out these very words, and looked down and realized that I had my shirt on backward.  All day! I had to laugh as I realized this. This is what to us joy can be. Being so absorbed in greeting the day that you forget how you are supposed to do things and how things are supposed to be. You are so wrapped up in the joy of the moment that you stop letting your mind control your actions and instead you let your heart show you the way.