How To Eat An Elephant.

Close your eyes and imagine a very comfortable living room.

All of the chairs are soft and oversized, draped with gentle chenille blankets, and an array of well-worn and mismatched pillows. Ottomans rest happily, cluttered with notebooks, sketchpads, and stacks of old, significant books. Thick glass mason jars are strewn about, occupied by freshly cut lilacs, peonies and gardenia. Sunlight floods the room. Shelves of books line the wide open, comfortable and cozy space. Walls the color of pale butter soothe, and you can almost smell your childhood. Curled up on a chair, you pull the throw over your legs and sit quietly, sipping a cup of hot jasmine tea.  As the sun beaming through the windows spreads her perfect warmth across your face, your eyes close in a moment of pure contentment and utter peace.

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 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 living 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 with 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.


25 replies

  1. My mother always told me that adversity creates character. You exemplify this, and the way you express yourself…your words are a blanket of comfort. Thanks Tracy, after posting what I did today, just thank you.

  2. I had a boss that used to ask me this. “How do you eat an elephant?” I always inquired why we were eating a fucking elephant. It never went over well.

    You are, as usual, absolutely right, though. Every problem can be solved if taken one step at a time. Baby steps. One foot in front of the other.

    Excellent piece, Tracy.

  3. Scruffy,
    Nice post! I have similar compartments, developed then renovated or demolished . . . sometimes I become the elephant and eat me (self loathing for fun).

    It is important to center for stability when everything around you is chaotic. You seem to be also expanding beyond the small machinations that sometimes preoccupy us. Somehow I’ve become less about bites, when moving mountains I remind myself that the surface of our planet is zipping along pretty good.

    I love your spirit Tracy, this boundless being at play in the world. You’ve landed in a few mud puddles. I understand how grimy and wet and cold this feels. I understand a certain amount of energy has to be about “mud puddle avoidance” for you at this stage . . . please remember to put some energy into bounding more beautifully as well, those compartments can get a little sticky.

  4. You have a dome?! I do the first part but when you started describing the dome with doors – genius concept!! I actually went off on a tangent imagining the dome ceiling ( like rod iron, Victorian style with vines growing, birds enter and leave freely, glass top if it rains… sun… Great post Smarty Pants! I’m glad to read you again. xo, Jayne

    • THE DOME IS THE SHIT! I absolutely love your victorian atrium dome, it’s where the pretty girls with parasols go to collect their thoughts. Mines more like an insane asylum.

      • Oh no, the pretty girls would get scared in my dome and then I would have to throw them behind a door… Insane asylum would be lovely with an atrium dome. I think I even have a platform for a sharp shooter to have my back. ; ) in dire times of course

  5. Does an elephant taste better if you wrap yourself in chenille while trying to eat it? And, what happened to all of those good chenille blankets? I need to go find one … now. 🙂

  6. For some reason, I’ve always liked the elephant quote. The other one I used as a reminder was a Chinese proverb that said, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

  7. How I love this piece of writing! I think I need to create a room very like yours. Thank you for for that description of the sun on my face and my blanket and tea. Stereotypical old women are doing something right, aren’t they?

  8. I feel ya on this one, Tracy. 100%. I let a lot of stuff take up space in my head, rent-free, and it just suffocated me. The fears, anger, resentments, etc. haunted me, and I tried to outwit and outhink with the same mind that was crawling with these thoughts. Didn’t quite work out. So enter booze, and voila! Got the top hat, whip and cape out and I lining up those bad boys on their balls and chairs and making them pleasing to the audience of me.

    But as we all know, that balancing act (or disappearing act, really) only lasts for so long. then the chatter starts up again, the booze wears off and stops working and then boom, here we go again. Crazy shit starts shooting out of those human cannons and bouncing all around the cranium. Time to self-medicate again.

    But that was then. Then, the elephant in the room was the one I ignored, never mind eating it. Why bother? It gets stuck in the teeth anyway. Bad breath ensues. Better to try and sleep with it. Yeah right.

    What you say about acceptance and doing that one thing at a time…wonderful. That is how I have to take the day sometimes. Prioritize. Don’t feel compelled to tackle it all. Give some of it up to something that isn’t me. Talk about it. Share the “love”…lol.

    Fantastic stuff, Tracy. Thank you for sharing this 🙂


    • As cliche as it is, i couldn’t live without the good old “one day at a time” Most important piece of recovery I think. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, keep trudging the road my friend…

  9. Superb – I still struggle with the mental leap-frog that is my natural thought processing, but sometimes I can gain control of if.

    Thank you so much for this priceless piece of writing 🙂

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