In 2010, when I sold everything I owned, packed a backpack, and bought a one-way ticket to India, I dreamed of riding an elephant. I thought it would feel like divine connection to a majestic animal who would feel divinely connected to the Earth. It didn’t. What was wrong with this thought is that I thought what was divine must also be grand and good and awe-inspiring. Positive and joyous. But what this elephant showed me was that divine is truth. And while truth is always sacred and holy, it may not always feel good.
My best friend from The States, Patty, comes to visit me in India, and we decide to go elephant riding. We book it for 10 in the morning, early enough in Kumily to not melt in the hot noonday sun.
Sebastian, the man we decided to trust as our guide when we deboarded the rickety, pukey bus – yes – I got puked on on the bus ride from the tea plantations in cook, kelly-green Munnar to wild, hot Kumily. I could have kissed the Canadian woman who turned around and handed me a Wet Wipe. Different story though….Anyway, Sebastian comes to get us and walks us down the street to the waiting rickshaw. The road is being repaved so the rickshaw can’t get through. We try our best to step around the hot tar. Sticky pebbles lodge in the bottom of my flip-flops.
I am so excited. I get to ride an elephant. I get to ride an elephant!
We get to the place and walk down a short dirt lane to a large hut. We buy our ticket and go for the basic ride rather than doing the whole package and bathing the elephant too. We walk over to a tall, wooden platform and climb up the steps. They bring out our elephant; Lucky. He’s 35 years old. Patty climbs on Lucky first. I climb on behind her.
I love his ears instantly. I reach out and touch his ear. The skin is rough and rugged. His hairs long and wiry. I don’t know why I thought he would be soft – maybe that’s the way I feel the energy of the elephant…soft. But the skin – not so much.
Lucky begins the walk. We go up the trail, and he stops to drink water. We keep walking. I lean up to Patty and whisper, “He’s so connected to the Earth.”
“Yes,” she says. “He holds all the secrets of his species since the beginning of time, all of his ancestors, back to the wooly mammoth. Just feel him, and he will share that knowledge with you.” Is she speaking or is some divine wise being speaking through her? I decide it doesn’t matter. I’m going to try it.
I close my eyes and ask Lucky to share his knowledge with me; I ask him to take me back to the beginning of creation. It’s like a jolt. It’s overwhelming. And, it’s sad. “It’s really overwhelming.” She looks back over her shoulder; “I know,” Patty says. And I take a quick comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in feeling the paralyzing grief of the Earth’s history.
Do we carry such sad histories around in us – histories that date back to the beginning of time? Are we ruled by these histories unknowingly? Do we make choices based on our sad histories rather than what our heart speaks in the present moment?
Lucky keeps walking through the jungle, the chains around his legs jangling with each step. I ask Patty to hold my feet, and I lay back on him, gripping the saddle handles with all my might to keep from falling off. It’s a long way down. I look up at the jungle the canopy of green overhead. I have never been this high in the forest, never had this viewpoint. Not in this lifetime. But I know in lives past, I have ridden elephants with no saddle and have moved as one with the powerful beast. I know I have loved an elephant. The overwhelming guilt I feel while riding Lucky tells me as much. This awe-inspiring animal should not be made to tout around tourists on its back. It was created for much grander things.
Lucky starts and stops as he pleases. He is a rebel. He does not listen to the guide. He does what he wants. I love him more because of this, and Patty and I silently encourage him to break the rules. After about thirty minutes, the ride is over. We dismount Lucky and tell him goodbye.
The ride was. . . Not bad, not disappointing, but not what I thought. Instead of it ending with a “Wow. This is the coolest thing ever! I just rode an elephant!” it ended with a “I just rode an elephant, and now I need to reevaluate my life, my desires, and how I view the Divine.” Was Lucky divine? Yes. Was the history that he showed me divine? Yes. Because divine means stemming from God or Source or whatever you want to call it. And Source is always a truth teller. So, divinity for me is vowing to deliver, with compassion and love, truths, even though they may sometimes sting. When we can use that stinging truth, that divinity, to reevaluate our lives and take a small step to live even one iota more authentically, that goodness ripples out into the world in the form of freedom. And that’s something that I, and Lucky, can appreciate.”