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Transformation: Mary's Story

The Elephant Ignores Barking Dogs

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Dear Friends,

Some years ago I (Ron) was seeing Mary for a number of sessions at my clinic room in Nerang, Queensland.  These were very productive, helping her resolve old issues of shame, fear and anger.  Then I didn’t see or hear from her for nearly two years, until she phoned for an urgent appointment.

The story unfolded that she had been the office secretary at this one place of work for the past five years.  Her boss, whose typing and appointments she was responsible for, had been a kind man who was generous in his appreciation of the good work she always did.  As in all of life, nothing ever remains unchanged; and so it happened that her boss was promoted to another location and replaced by a younger man and his deputy.  This change was only a little unsettling for Mary during the first day or so, as she struggled to ‘read’ their expectations and understand the new work formats being brought in.

The trouble began at the close of the third day when both of her superiors sharply criticised the standard of her work.  The following day was considerably worse as the complaints multiplied, presented to her in an increasingly cold and gruff manner.  That night – it was a Tuesday – Mary began having severe panic attacks, with difficulty breathing, hot flushes, and diarrhoea – so she phoned me to see if she could come to have a session the next day.  Fortunately I had a spot vacant.

After listening to her story I began by reminding her that she was ‘ready’ for whatever challenges life was presenting her with, in the same way that a diligent student in high school is ready for the test at the end of each semester. We then explored various ways to reduce the impact of the ill-tempered criticisms.

 

The first of these involved the following inner reasonings: 

  • If criticisms directed at us are valid, this is to our advantage so that we can improve our skill;
  • If they are not true, this is also useful since it gives us an opportunity to rise above concerns
            about praise or blame from others.

Either way, the criticism can be regarded as a benevolent gift from God or the Universe.

The next step was to open the heart again towards her superiors, for it is the closed heart which experiences pain and fear.  Again, I reminded her of an approach we had spent some time on in our sessions two years ago – the Blind Man analogy.  It goes like this:

Imagine that a blind man is walking towards you on a busy city footpath, tapping his white cane as he moves steadily along.  You of course mentally note his approach and are prepared to make way for him.  Suddenly there is a screech of brakes and you are both distracted, long enough for you to forget his now-closing proximity.  You collide and his big frame catches you off balance so that you fall to the ground, severely bruising your elbow and knee.  The question now is: Would you feel upset at him?  “No, of course not.”  Why not?  “Well, because he’s blind.  It is more my fault than his.”

In the same way, the two men who chastised Mary are ‘blind’, blind in sensitivity and respect for another human being.  So it is no good saying, “They shouldn’t behave like that” – they are ‘blind’ and blind men cannot see, regardless of how much we want them to see.  With this reasoning – repeating to ourselves, ‘The blind man can’t see’, whenever the feelings of hurt and indignation rise up again – we let go of judgment and blame, and our heart begins to open once more.  In due course, we can feel compassion for their plight, for surely someone who 'vomits' verbal abuse on another is a long way from feeling peaceful and happy.

At this point in the session Mary’s breathing had returned to being full and easy and she was confident that, in time, she would be able to handle the work situation.  But she said, “Is there something else I can do? I still feel apprehensive about going into work this afternoon”, (now Wednesday).  So I told her about the Elephant and the Barking Dogs.  It goes like this:

You know that Suwanti and I go to India every year?  Yes, well, one of the striking things about being there is that, if you are in a little village somewhere, it is not unusual to see an elephant walking slowly down the street, carrying a load of something or other.  And along with the elephant there will be dozens of barking dogs, all mean and hungry, and they’ll be darting in towards this big graceful animal, again and again, snarling and barking.  But does the elephant show any sign of disturbance?  Not in the least.  In fact, it is as if the dogs aren’t even there.  The elephant just continues along its way, totally unfazed by the frenzied aggressiveness surrounding it.  Now, why is the elephant unmoved by the dogs?  Because it knows it’s an elephant; an elephant is big and can’t be hurt by barking dogs, even if there was a hundred of them.  So, we have to remember that we are an ‘elephant’.  We are not what we seem to be.  You are not just Mary and I am not just Ron – we are magnificent beings, all of us.  Who we really are is ever-content, without fear.  We might live in a body that is frightened, but ‘who-we-really-are’ is not frightened.  That is, we are an elephant, unconcerned about barking dogs.

As I finished relating this analogy, Mary was wearing a huge smile.  She rushed to tell me that, on one wall of her kitchen was a painted mural of a huge elephant.  So she would be sure to remember, ‘I am an elephant’, every time she went into the kitchen. She left the session in high spirits, feeling confident that she would be fine.

The next Saturday at about ten in the morning, Mary phoned me at home, apologising for doing so but saying that her news was so exciting she could not wait to share it. She told me that there had been little change in her on the Wednesday afternoon at work, nor on Thursday, both difficult days, although the panic attacks had subsided. Then, she said, “When I woke up on Friday morning the first thought that entered my head was, ‘I am an elephant’, and the words stayed in my mind all day. And do you know what?  Neither of my bosses said a bad word to me all day; they smiled each time they went past my desk; and just before I left for home both of them came up to me -separately- and thanked me for doing such good work.  How about that!”

This saw the beginning of a totally different work environment, relatively stress-free, with respectful behaviour from her two superiors.  Now that Mary was symptom-free she threw herself into a mission of sharing with her friends the vital importance of recognising our own magnificence.

With love,
Ron and Su Farmer

 

Practice

The Elephant Ignores Barking dogs

Underlying this simple yet powerful technique for enhancing self-esteem and becoming immune to insults is the pivotal truth that we are not the body, nor the mind, intelligence, memory and emotions. No, we are Spirit, Soul or Atma residing for a while in a body that thinks, discriminates, remembers and feels. As Spirit, we are indestructible, magnificent, exquisite, beyond all fear and anxiety, and unmoved by praise or blame.

This is what the great Masters have all taught us – Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Gurdjieff, the Sufis and so on. And the world has seen living examples of this Truth in Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa and many others. Each one of them knew they were an ‘elephant’, unafraid of ‘barking dogs’.

 

The Practice

  • Whenever possible, go to the ocean, the mountains or the desert and imagine that you are
             looking at yourself; believe that you are not separate from the vastness, the power, the
              magnificence.  Say aloud a few times, “This is how amazing I am.”
  • Begin to see yourself in the beauty of Nature – in sunsets and starry skies, in butterflies and
            flowers. Say aloud a few times, “This is how beautiful I am.”
  • Visualise a huge elephant surrounded by barking dogs, hardly aware of their presence.
            Imagine being the elephant in that situation. Get used to feeling totally unconcerned.  While
            imagining that, allow to come into your mind one or two people who speak down to you, who
           are disrespectful.

The next step: in real life, go into the presence of such a person (perhaps a parent, spouse, friend, work colleague, etc) and keep the image of being an elephant at the forefront of your mind.  Keep repeating to yourself – at least until you stop feeling threatened or demeaned – ‘I am an elephant.  They are just barking dogs.’

Later when you have time alone, say a few times to yourself or aloud the words of Lord Jesus: “Lord, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Remember: the dog cannot help barking at elephants and at people it does not appreciate; the blind man cannot see, no matter how much he might want to see; and the criticising person brings a gift, either for our own self-improvement or for prompting us to recognise our innate beauty and magnificence.

Note: Variations of the above self help techniques and principles can be found in the Self Help Therapy CDs  ‘Self-Esteem’ and ‘Relief from Stress’.

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