The Girl with the Elephant Tattoo

In July 2013, following a very full beginning of the year as my mom encountered some health issues and our family leaned into another phase of life together, I was visiting Portland, Oregon, embarking on a new adventure that I had signed on for near the end of 2012 — The World Domination Summit.

I arrived in town a day early and a childhood chum who happened to live in a nearby city, came to spend some time with me before the Summit began. She and I walked all over town that day, from the river all the way to the apartment in the Northwest neighborhood where I was staying and everywhere in between. As we strolled, we reminisced about where life had taken us in the 20 years since we had last laid eyes upon one another, recounted tales of our childhoods, our adulthoods, and otherwise reconnected.

The previous six months had been challenging, I had told her. I was faced with opportunities to embrace skills I hadn’t really known I had and was being asked to step into. And likewise, it had brought up some old wounds, old patterns I had long ago outgrown but still didn’t know how to shake. I had shared that I found myself straining against the confines of roles I had blindly accepted as a little girl and wanted break free from.

As I shared these gems of self-reflection, I received the gift of my friend’s story in return.

Sacred time.

I confided that I felt like I was on the verge of something huge, something that could crack my life wide open. That’s what I thought World Domination Summit would do for me that year; why I thought I was there. It was as if I could taste this impending breakthrough on the tip of my tongue, and though the flavor was familiar, I somehow knew that I wouldn’t get there until I figured out what it reminded me of.

That evening found us in the Portland arts neighborhood, the Pearl District, at a monthly event called First Thursday where artist move their wares outdoors onto the street like an impromptu art fair.

A beautiful adventure in and of itself.

We each found little treasures that we purchased as we made our way down the block — a ring, a simple woodblock print — when we came upon an artist who made shadow boxes. One in particular — an elephant and a girl — I became absolutely captivated by.

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I picked it up and admired it. I set it down.

I walked around her tent a bit looking at others, and found myself again in front of the elephant.

I picked it up again. Once again, I set it down.

There was a stirring in my heart that I couldn’t name at the time. A feeling of recognition. A sense of connection and belonging.

A blossoming of delight.

I don’t get it, I said to my friend as I wracked my brain. What is this about? Why am I so drawn to this silly little thing?

She shrugged her shoulders just as I had. There was no answer. There was no reason I could come up with.

But I had to have it.

It cost more than I had intended to spend on anything. I didn’t have that much cash, I told myself. I didn’t even like elephants…did I?

But I was compelled.

And the little girl and the elephant became mine.

As my friend and I continued on our way, as we kept talking and catching up about our lives, revisiting both our pasts in common and not, I kept the feelings of giddiness that the elephant and little girl stirred in me close to my heart. And as we rounded the corner home, it was as if a veil had lifted revealing a most wonderful and unexpected truth.

The girl was me.

***

It may come as no surprise to hear, but I was a girl who lived with her heart on her sleeve. Deeply sensitive and aware, as I look back I see that I have picked up on the emotional nuances of my surroundings all of my life. I seemed to know things that others didn’t. I understood the energy of people and places before I had the vocabulary to talk about it. And when I did, it was met with little recognition by those around me.

Who talks about this stuff?

Since no one else seemed to see what I did — and certainly if they did, they weren’t acknowledging it — I came to the conclusion that so many of us as children do…

There was a problem, and the problem was me.

The elephant in the room was plain as day to me — the hidden story, the unidentified truth. But if it wasn’t to anyone else, surely I was the one who was wrong.

Wasn’t I?

And so began my journey of denying the elephant.

***

If ever there was a place in the country to discover a connection to elephants — literally or figuratively — it is Portland. Suddenly, it was as if elephants were everywhere…

IMG_3994…because they were.

Fresh on the heels of my discovery, it came as no surprise to me then, that our opening celebration for WDS just so happened to be at the Oregon Zoo, which has been committed to the care and advocacy of elephants for decades (check out their most recent undertaking, Elephant Lands, here).

I was enthralled simply to be in their presence.

IMG_4001Losing myself in their wise eyes, I found myself suddenly wanting to apologize to my inner child for having let the elephant go. The companion of my childhood who was loyal and dear, but whom I shunned for fear of what others would think, of what others would say.

Of what they eventually did say.

I wondered how life might have been different if I had chosen otherwise. If I had trusted her friendship and her guidance earlier.

If I had said yes instead of no.

***

As it is, this past year since WDS 2013 has been spent exploring my journey with the elephant in the room. From the impact of allowing myself to disregard it as a child, to seeing glimpses of it as I grew older, until I began standing up for her, I recognized it as a familiar thread and in a lot of cases a constant struggle in my life.

How do we own what we know? How do we trust what we see? How do we abide with what we feel?

Intuition is actively devalued in our culture, and as such, many of us have had this experience of denying any knowing that doesn’t come to us from our brain, from pure rational thought. There is an epidemic of explaining things away that has affected all of us at some point in our lives. This predominant idea that if something can’t be measured with numbers, it isn’t real.

Which leaves no room for the language and truth of the heart.

How often are magical occurrences and connections — the wonder-full and awe-inspiring synchronicities in our lives — dispelled as fantasy and fallacy by the mind even as our hearts and souls leap at the chance to acknowledge and share them?

We are all on a journey in our brain-based society to reclaim at some level, the voice of the heart. I’ve been on this journey of forgetting and remembering all of my life.

As have you.

And while the story of that adventure is different for each of us, the journey of coming home to our hearts is one and the same.

***

There was something about that shadow box I spied in the middle of a street fair nearly two thousand miles from home, the symbolic recognition of a part of my being that I had so long denied and fought with, that filled me with hope.

What I once considered a weakness and a liability — what I allowed people and institution and culture through from childhood to adulthood to tell me was a weakness and a liability — has slowly begun to feel like a strength.

So last year at World Domination Summit 2014, when speaker Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings and the book The Big Tiny handed each of us a sticker that said, “My superpower is…” for us to fill out and stick to our shirts for all to see, I wrote this…

My superpower is…I SEE ELEPHANTS.

The best way to own our strength is to claim our strength.

Yes, at times it required some explaining to my fellow WDS’ers but once I did, I’d watch a wave of recognition wash over them as they were able to acknowledge that at times, they were able to see elephants, too.

Because we all can.

So in honor of the little girl and the elephant, in honor of my story and all of our shared journey, I claimed my strength by adorning my body with a tattoo for my birthday two weeks ago.

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It is my biggest wish for all of us that we trust what we know, embrace what we see, and live our collective journey back to the wonder of the heart with compassion and self-love.

And the elephant is always with me now as a very important reminder.

What truth did your inner little girl or boy know that got cast aside in an effort for acceptance? What is your story of reclamation on your journey?

What is your superpower?

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I’d love to hear.

Embrace it. Claim it. Love it.

And watch it transform your life.

Much gratitude to you on the journey, my friends.//