How to Eat an Elephant.

Close your eyes and imagine a very comfortable living room. The chairs are all soft and oversized, with lots of well-worn and mismatched pillows strewn about. Chenille blankets, ottomans with notebooks and sketchpads, stacks of favorite books resting on top. Old glass jars sit filled with freshly cut lilacs, peonies and gardenia. Sunlight floods the room, there are shelves of books everywhere, it is wide open, yet comfortable and cozy. The walls are a pale butter color, it makes you want to curl up on a chair, tuck your legs underneath of you, rest your crooked arm over a pillow and pull the throw up over your legs. You sit, quietly and sip a hot cup of tea, feeling the warmth of the sun coming through the windows on your face.

To me, this is the room of acceptance. This is where I go when I find a person, place or thing to be something other than what I desire. When there is nothing I can do to control or change a situation, when I realize that I am not the driver, this is where I go. Sometimes I have to push myself back into that space, sometimes kicking and screaming with claw marks on the door frame, but it is always where I come. Once inside, I am centered, an old familiarity like coming home to your childhood bedroom.  I sit, meditate, and ultimately accept situations for being exactly as they are supposed to be. I know there is a lesson for me here if I choose to remain teachable, and I reflect on the situation that I had found unsuitable for what that lesson might be.

This process can take minutes, or it can take days, but one thing is always the same; when I leave that room, I am lighter, happier, more energized and at peace. The restlessness and resistance are gone.

Our minds have many rooms. I like to think of it that way, it helps me to organize and separate my thoughts and emotions so that they don’t become jumbled and overwhelming. This compartmentalization allows me to deal with one situation at a time, bring it out into the open and examine it, work on it, and when I’m ready, it goes back to it’s room and I can let out the next one. This thinking has helped me tremendously.

My mom always used to say to me, “Tracy, how do you eat an elephant?” It used to annoy the shit out of me. She would say it every time I became overwhelmed, frustrated, and semi-manic, which was often. “One bite at a time” was always the answer. I heard the words but could never walk the walk. I was never able to separate the thoughts and they wound up tripping and falling over each other, sometimes stacked to the top, battling and vying for attention. I spent much of my life with too many thoughts in too little of a space, which led to feeling almost constantly overwhelmed. This would paralyze me. I couldn’t separate them, I didn’t know what I was looking at, and there was no way to line them up or start one at a time. It was a jumble that I couldn’t sort, which is when I would typically resort to a drink or twelve. I had to shut it down, which I would, temporarily, but the circus always started up again.

Once I began to get sober, the circus went nuts. I mean, it was a circus on fucking meth. Somehow, miraculously, and I don’t use that word lightly, I learned to quietly sit with one thought at a time. It took work, a lot of work, a lot of tears, frustration, anger, and at times, screaming, but I eventually taught my thoughts to line up. I started meditating, it took patience, something else I had to learn, it took silence and listening, none of which I knew anything about. Over time, I was able to create a mental picture in my head.

Imagine a large dome, and all around the perimeter are doors. Each one looks different, some are old and wooden, some have chipped and peeling paint, some have windows, some have brass knobs and some have a simple latch hook, but they are all the same size. I enter the middle of the dome; it is white and sterile with no defining features to speak of. I stand here quietly, and decide which door to open first. Sometimes I go into the room, and sometimes I choose to let the problem or situation out into the space with me. But it is always one at a time, always. Acceptance is a room I always enter, it’s a space I need to feel to get to where I need to be. The feelings rooted in anger are always brought out into the space with me, because those rooms are like cages, and they are also the only ones that require a key.

This has served it’s purpose and has completely enabled me to change how my mind functions. It is still the same mind that it was before, but I was missing one critical component, a master, a leader, and an alpha dog. I gave these thoughts too much power and let them overthrow me time and time again. Once I became in control of my body, mind and spirit I was able to take command and set rules and boundaries for these thoughts.

Now that I’ve created some structure for my thinking, it is easier to see the problem at hand. Acceptance, among many other things, is something that requires daily work and practice, but just like anything else in this world, the more we practice, the easier it becomes. You can teach an old dog new tricks, because I am living proof.

I will never know what is around the next corner, but I do know that with this new ability to organize my thoughts, I am able to walk through my life with a much clearer understanding of what I am facing and how to approach a problem. Life is all about problem solving, it’s just one big puzzle and it is also very much how we choose to look at it. If our noses are four inches away from the puzzle we are unable to see the whole picture or where the pieces are meant to fit. When we back up and open our aperture, things become much easier to solve. We are all about as happy as we make up our minds to be.

Now back up, open your apertures, breathe, and always remember how you eat an elephant…one bite at a time.


27 replies

  1. Damn Tracy,
    There is so much more to you than just a pretty face. Your ability to write down your thoughts is impressive. This is one of my favorite posts.
    You really are Awesome.
    Happiest of birthdays sister!

  2. I had a boss that used to say this to me all the time and I would always ask why the hell we were eating an elephant.

    Tracy, I’m happy for you that you’ve reached this point in your life and glad that you seem to be in a place where you’re content. Happy birthday!!

  3. Another lovely, contemplative post, and on your birthday, too! Happy B-Day, Tracy!

    (BTW, an aperture’s a thing on a camera, right? I didn’t want to be backing up and opening the wrong thing… )

  4. Tracy that is fabulously descriptive and exactly the way the I feel. The part before you got it together. I am not even close to biting into the elephant. I seem to have digressed in life lately. Having trouble crawling out of the hole. I will have to write down the elephant thought.

  5. Pingback: Off. | tracy fulks

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