Elephants and Relationships




There is an old story about a group of blind men who are brought into a room with an elephant. They are asked to examine the elephant and to tell what it is like truly. The one with the tail pronounces "an elephant is like a great rope." The one touching a leg says "no, an elephant is like a great tree." Then the one at the belly "you're both wrong--an elephant is like a boulder." And the ear is like a fan, the tusk like a sword, and the trunk like a snake; and the blind men fall to arguing bitterly over what is the nature of the elephant.

What is the nature of an elephant? From our more educated vantage point, we can see that the blind men are all right--in their way, and all wrong. And, that if they stopped arguing and began to share with each other what their respective pieces felt like, they might piece together the larger mystery which is the elephant.

It is much the same in relationship. The way it feels to you is not exactly the way it feels to your partner(s). And the options are similar. Either you can argue that the whole relationship is the way your piece feels, or you can share what yours feels like, listen to what your partner has to say, and perhaps piece together the larger mystery which is your relationship. And relationships are mysteries. If you're like me, you've long since recognized that you are nowhere close to figuring yourself out. And how much further from figuring someone else out, no matter how long you've known them. And then the relationship?

I've been in a new relationship since September. Recently I became lost in my own definitions of the relationship, so that I was orienting toward my partner as if we were in the relationship I had in my head, versus how it really existed between us. I became anxious that something was wrong (because reality didn't match my definition and I could feel the incongruity), there was despair about its future, and I wasn't making things especially pleasant for her. After awhile I realized my disharmony was entirely my own doing! Because I forgot about the elephant--that it is a mystery to be apprenticed to, not figured out based on only my own experience. When I remembered, the malaise vanished. And the miracle is, by doing this we sooner or later find that we feel the heart of the elephant that courses through all its parts. Same heart. This is love. May we all allow elephants to be elephants in 1996.
© 1996
 Mark Shafer  


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