Wild, beautiful elephants have entered my life on an almost daily basis.
How can that be, and why are elephants showing up everywhere around me? Am I seeking them out or are they seeking me out?
It must be a combination of both, as we know life is never just one thing. No insult to zebras, which have that beautiful pattern separating their curves of black and white: grey is more life-like, I believe. We can learn more from grey than black and white.
Answers in life are somewhere in the middle—more grey, aren’t they?
All the best things in life are grey, like the beautiful elephant skin I have been so blessed to be able to touch and caress recently.
So, how am I so blessed as to be touching, feeding and communing with elephants so regularly? It’s because I moved to Thailand about three months ago from a small town in Florida. I am now living in the town of Chonburi, which is about two hours (depending upon your method of transport, be it mini-van, bus or motorbike) southeast of Bangkok.
There are not too many native elephants here, I must say. This is an urban area, growing quite quickly in popularity due to its proximity to Bangkok and its location adjoining the Sea of Bangkok. Jungle surrounds it to the south and east.
Chonburi is not well known for being a center of elephant camps. Konchanaburi to the Northwest and Chanthaburi to the southeast have more elephant trainers and camps, to be sure. So why am I encountering elephants now? It must be fate, is all I can think.
First things first, let’s get it out of the way and out in the open. Yes, I am aware of the treatment of elephants here, and the harm that it does to both the trainers (it does harm them too, mentally and spiritually) and the elephants.
It is just like in the U.S. when net fishing was banned—there was initially a horrible outcry about economic loss by the families of workers in that industry. But eventually, the fishing industry changed and those families found new ways to support themselves in and around the Florida waters. It will be the same for the elephant trainers, but it will take more time here.
These people are not “evil incarnate,” as a friend wrote to me recently after I sent her a picture. The picture showed me happily feeding a baby elephant, with his trainers standing next to me. Yes, the trainer did have one of those sticks with a crook at the end to control the baby, and I am sure the poor thing had been beaten by it at some point. I cringed looking at it, but the trainer never touched the baby in front of me.
Let me just say here that I am a staunch supporter of animal rights, and if I were in the U.S. I would not have supported this activity, as the trainers have so many other options to feed their families. But that is not so here in Thailand—yet!
With Ganesha the Elephant God on the job, these beautiful mammals will survive to live and feed and be happy, free jungle dwellers soon. Their trainers will learn to find a way to live, feed their families, and be happy right alongside their elephants in peace.
Do I know when or how this will happen, or have a path for them? No, sorry, I do not. I just have a Thai Buddhist faith that this will happen within its time (and the sooner the better).
How am I connected to elephants, and particularly with Ganesha?
Let’s start with my first encounter with Ganesh, or Ganesha. Either pronunciation is correct it seems, just a variant of the same name. I prefer Ganesha, as when said out loud it sounds more Thai to me.
Almost two years ago, I took my second yoga teacher training course. My first was almost 20 years ago. This one changed my life dramatically in a short time. Was it the hand (Paw? Hoof? Foot?) of Ganesha having his say in my life? I believe so!
I attended a Yoga U.S.A. event, and went to a booth with small silver icons, or talismans, that you can slip on a chain around your neck. I did not like the “look” of Ganesha prior to this time. He looked angry, like a wild bull elephant to me, and I did not want any more anger in my life—I had quite enough flowing around me at that time.
But somehow, this little silver elephant man kept drawing my hand to him. Letting go of my misconceptions, I went with my heart, bought the little icon and slipped it onto my silver chain to slide around next to my Om symbol. I went home and read up on Ganesh (as I called him then—it sounded less foreign).
I found out that Ganesha is often called the Remover of Obstacles.
Well, did I ever need that back then. Who would have thought Ganesha would not only remove obstacles in my path to contentment, but would lead me halfway around the world to his own self-image, the elephant? Little did I know that he would have his hand in removing obstacles and leading me to a new world of success. Not monetarily yet, but in contentment and adventure.
Ganesha is also known as the Lord of Success. But, in what form? Certainly not a form I would have recognized before he came into my life.
Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati, the Hindu Gods. Ganesha is usually portrayed as having the head of an elephant with a curved trunk and big ears. He also has the pot-bellied body of a man. As the lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles, he came into my life to lead me out of the jungle I had found myself in. What jungle was in Florida? The Everglades, you may ask? No, just my personal mind-jungle.
Ganesha is also known as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and writing. He is even known to bring wealth if followed with an open heart and mind. My little Ganesha led me to a teaching position (education!) and to the knowledge and wisdom that let me take the chance to follow the dream. Oh, and of course there is the writing!
Yet, l knew none of this when Ganesha drew my hand to him amongst all of those pretty baubles. I wore my little silver Ganesha around my neck and my world began to change. Did I know enough then to give him credit? No, I did not. It is only recently that I have been led to his physical manifestations, and recognized the magnificence of the elephant and Ganesha!
Oh, how I was heartbroken when I fingered my chain one day last year after leading a yoga class and found that he had fallen off my necklace! I looked everywhere but could not find him. One of my yoga mentors gave me great advice, though. She said, “Your life has changed so much in the last year since you began wearing him, you did not need him anymore. He has set you on your path and felt he needed to go help someone else.”
What a wonderful way to think of this little bit of silver elephant man! He is off to help someone else.
I went home and researched some more about my elephant man. I found out that his elephant head symbolizes the Atman, our soul. His human body signifies maya, or our earthly existence. Also, the head denotes wisdom and his trunk represents Om, the sound symbol of cosmic reality. He can have many arms and hands, as is often the case with Hindu Gods.
He is often depicted, as was the case with my silver talisman, with his upper right hand holding a goad, which helps him propel mankind forward on the eternal path and remove obstacles from the way. A noose is often in his lower left hand. Not a hangman’s noose, but a gentle implement to capture difficulties in my path.
His broken tusk is held like a pen in his lower right hand as a symbol of sacrifice, which he made for writing the Mahabharata. The rosary (or mala beads) in his other hand suggest that the pursuit of knowledge should be continuous. The laddoo (sweet candy) he holds in his trunk helps me remember to discover the sweetness of the Atman. His fan-like ears remind me that he is all ears to my petition. The snake that runs round his waist represents the Kundalini energy in all its forms.
I was most fascinated by the little form of a mouse that I could not see on my small necklace talisman. When you look at a painting or other depiction of him, he often is either riding a mouse or a mouse sits at his feet. There are various reasons for the symbolism of the mouse. Usually, it symbolizes pestilence and greed, as rats and mice ate the crops and spread disease.
But I take a different view, one I think Ganesha might approve of. All beings are created with a purpose and a place in the world. Mice and rats are as needed in our world as elephants and elephant trainers. Neither are evil incarnate; all things under the sun are in their place for a reason.
So again, why are elephants everywhere for me now?
Ganesha has been making personal appearances in my life in his true form now that I can see him for who he is. I was in a small storefront Indian restaurant with some friends in an urban downtown area of Chonthaburi just last week. Outside the window was a two-laned cobblestone street with five-foot-wide sidewalks set right up against the two and three story buildings of the heavily foot-traveled gem market street.
I look up from my Thai-Indian meal and walking on the sidewalk was a baby elephant!
He was striding slowly behind his master like a big, gorgeous puppy—not chained or even leashed, just walking freely behind his guardian. My mouth dropped open; I grabbed my camera and ran out the door to take pictures. It took my brain almost a minute to register the fact that an elephant was walking by, so I only got a picture of his wonderful little (in elephant terms) butt swaying back and forth. Just like an elegant woman might look while wearing her sexiest gown.
Am I depicting these elephant trainers as I would like them to be, and not as they are? Possibly, but as Buddha (and Ganesha) might say, time moves in eddies and tides. In and out, as it cleans and purifies the world to its rhythm.
I feel Ganesha has swept away my obstacles and brought me to a wondrous new path. Where will my new life in Thailand lead me? I don’t know, but I am going to follow that wonderful swaying elephant butt to more wonderful swaying adventures.
Stop and take just a few seconds to look around you—maybe my little silver Ganesha talisman is waiting for you!
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Asst Ed.: Moira Madden/Ed: Brianna Bemel