While checking into our bungalow on the grounds of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, I casually ask the proprietor:
“I hear you have an elephant show at 3pm. How do we get there?”
“You can either take a minivan or an elephant taxi.”
Is there even a choice? Of course we’re taking the elephant! We didn’t come all the way to Southeast Asia to hop into another minivan!
At 2:30 pm, we’re waiting outside of our hut, wondering what to expect next, when from around the corner a massive elephant lumbers into view, with a sedan chair and “driver” on its back. Are we really doing this?!! Oh yes indeed, we are. Our “mahout” (driver) motions towards a set of stairs, because, I mean, how else are you going to get onto an elephant? And soon we’re off! After an initial adjustment to the swaying motion, I’m feeling pretty comfortable about this whole experience. We’re in northern Thailand on a hot, dry day, riding an elephant. Isn’t that the kind of bucket-list experience we all travel for? This whole elephant-walking-down- the-concrete-road thing is going to be a piece of cake.
Ha! You wish, Dave!
After a few minutes, our mahout guides suddenly steers our elephant off the road to the left and onto a steep, narrow, dirt path. All of a sudden, our relaxed “taxi ride” has gotten a whole lot dicier. If our steed misses a step, we’re going flying!
Happily, our trip continues to go well for the next 20 minutes or so, with us starting to relax and enjoy the pretty jungle scenery all around us. A short while later, the venue for the elephant show comes into sight: a few wooden structures and a big pond where the animals are enjoying a luxurious, midday bath. Surely we’re going to skirt the pond and be dropped off at the nice, dry buildings in the distance.
Ha! You wish, Dave!
Of course the mahout nudges our elephant to take the most direct path to the venue – straight ahead, right into the pond. Step by step, our mount descends, the water level rising closer and closer to us. Geez, are we going to have to swim for it! This isn’t what I signed up for! At the last second, our “taxi” reaches bottom, with the water just tickly our knees. Whew! Slowly we cross the pond and hop off at the other side, safe and sound.
I have to admit, I’m a bit shaky after our ride, but Donica is exultant.
“Let’s do it again!”
“Ha, you wish, Donica!”
When faced with adversity, the danger-response part of our brain – the amygdala – tells us to fight, flee or freeze. But sometimes the appropriate response is “Joyfully Engage!” How would our lives be different if we trained our brains to move towards change rather than to resist it?