One year ago, elephants I will never forget

One of the main reasons I travelled to Thailand a year ago was the chance to see and experience the amazing presence of elephants.  Before the trip, my sister and I researched different elephant tourist opportunities to make sure that the elephants were treated well. We settled on the Elephant Nature Park (ENP), near Chiang Mai. But until we got there, and heard the whole story, I had no idea that elephants in Thailand (and surrounding countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos) were abused at such a horrific level.

Part by luck, part by research, we ended up at the right place.  Started by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, the Elephant Nature Park is a place that buys and rescues elephants so that they can live out the rest of their lives free from abuse. They heal the physical and emotional wounds as best they can and give the elephants a loving home while providing visitors with an experience that raises awareness and allows an up close connection with these amazing animals.

Before visiting ENP, my sister and I talked about what it meant to visit animals that had been abused and, as in the case of elephants, where abuse continues to this day. Emotionally difficult, we made a commitment to bearing witness while there, to expressing our apology as humans through emotion, and to following up by speaking up and by sharing.  That is part of the purpose of this post. To share with you these elephants, and to raise awareness that when you visit Thailand and nearby countries you know that the elephants in trekking camps (where you can ride on the elephants), and street begging, and painting pictures, have all been abused so that they will “behave”.  And so that you can help share the message and educate others.

To help you to bear witness, here is a short description of the abuse and then I can share some more amazing photos. In places like Thailand, baby elephants are captured from their Mothers and Nannies (who usually die protecting them) and are submitted to the “kraal” or “crushing”. They are placed in a stall, tied up, and then submitted to beatings and other punishment until they “behave” and then they are used in the logging industry, for street begging or to carry humans (especially tourists). You can see many examples of this abuse from the photos – chunks of ears missing from beatings, knee injuries from being forced to work in the logging industry and poor eye sight or blindness from the car lights while being used for street begging.

ENP was a place where my heart broke at these sights, but filled again with love watching the elephants rescued and free from chains.  While at the Park, we had the opportunity to watch the elephants, walk near them (with supervision), throw water on them in the river to cool them and make rice and banana balls for the elephants that couldn’t see to find food and feed themselves.  Each elephant is cared for and watched over by a mahout, an elephant keeper who is bonded to the elephant. Some of the mahouts made carvings of their elephant, which visitors could purchase. We stayed over one night so we could hear the elephants at night and in the morning, rumbling and trumpeting to each other.

My gratitude and thanks to those who play a part in rescuing these elephants and to the educated tourists who support ENP and the related sites and programs that work to end elephant cruelty and use eco-tourism to support Thai communities.

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My scary and honest word for 2018

It’s that time of year again – new beginnings, fresh starts and leaving the old  crap behind. As is my tradition, instead of New Year’s resolutions, I am picking a word for 2018 to guide my year and set my intentions.

Last year’s word was co-create, which I defined as “co-creating my life’s purpose in partnership with my inner knowing. For the record, my words for the previous 5 years were light (2012), joy (2013), fierce (2104), stretch (2015) and release (2016).*

Gotta say, it took me til about September to get off my butt and get moving. I sometimes do a mid-year check-in on my word and in July I think I had even forgotten what my word was! Somehow, I wasn’t actually working my word and so, well, not much was happening.

So, after a pretty crappy and unsatisfying summer, I starting some slow and tentative steps towards putting in my side of the partnership work. I applied for a teaching job because teaching fires my soul. I joined a step group to do another run through the 12-steps in order to get some honesty around my deteriorating relationship with food. I started journaling again to try to articulate and release the blob of messy feelings that I was carrying around daily.

And I started to ask myself, what is blocking me from the process of co-creation?  One definition of co-creation I found was “co-creation happens naturally whenever your soul or inner knowing inspires you to take action and follow your passion or pursue your life purpose.”  Well, it was not happening naturally!

img_4848This is the image I used for last year … I certainly did not feel like I was cracking open or that there was any light shining out!  In contrast, I felt blocked up by layers of clay and more and more trapped.

It became increasingly clearer that what was blocking me from co-creating my life was my increasingly dysfunctional relationship with food.   Unhealthy choices, motivated by using food to comfort me from feelings of tiredness, loneliness, depression, stress and feelings of failure was resulting in more of my energy being focused on food and less on staying connected and healthy.

Which led me to my first idea for a word for 2018 … freedom. Specifically, freedom from food. I wanted to focus on freeing up all the time and energy I spend on having crazy-brain around food and having that available to co-create my life. I want to feel physically less tired and emotionally less sad.

For me, this is a very scary thing to say publicly (well, semi-publicly) because so often my intentions around food have left me feeling like a failure. Which is just not true. My physical and emotional relationship with food is SO much better than it was ten years ago.  Ten years ago, I would not have been able to write any of this let alone share it.

So I am summoning up some courage and some hope and some optimism, and I am striving for freedom from food.  I’m not sure what all this entails. I know I want to get out walking more and have sorted out some steps to making that happen (heh, steps). I know that I need to journal more often. I know that meaningful spiritual rituals are my keys to self-knowledge and connection. And I know that that I need the support of fellow travellers on the road to a healthier relationship with food.

I was all set to pick freedom as my word for 2018. And then I realized that at the root of all of this is the need to foster a deep sense of self-worth. That spending time on freeing myself from what blocks me from my personal goals … food obsession, behaviours that trigger depression, Facebook, iPhone games, over-service to others … is worth it because I am worth it. Not because I am special snowflake but because I am worth my own time and I need me to treat myself with love and take care of myself. That each healthy choice I make is worth it because I am worth it.

So, there it is, my word for 2018 … self-worth.   It’s a scary word for me, exposed and vulnerable and honest. Let’s see where it takes me …


* For help and support in picking your Word of the Year check out Susannah Conway’s Find your Word free e-course or her Unravel Your Word workbook. Thanks, Susannah!!