Encountering Resistance on the Hero’s Journey: Naysayers and Elephants in Chains
From Brene Brown: “Not caring what people think,” she says, “is its own kind of hustle.” Instead we must “reserve a seat” for the critics and our own self-doubt.”Tell them, I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.”
I’ve been curious lately about “haters” and critics. I know my sister Maria has them…. people often make brutal personal remarks about her comedy online. Elizabeth Gilbert has them too..mean spirited and bitter critiques of her insanely popular book, Eat Pray Love live on in perpetuity at Amazon. In a way, I guess I associate harsh criticism with some modicum of success being achieved.
If Maria and Elizabeth were doing nothing substantial then- there would be nothing to hate on or critique.
I’ve yet to experience the kind of vicious criticism I’ve seen some of my heroes (Maria and Elizabeth) receive (thank goodness- not sure I am ready for that).
But, recently, when I began making a dream of mine come true (The pachydermal pilgrimage), I began to get feedback from a small group of critics. There were in no way haters. But, they were definitely in utter disagreement with my choices.
It started as soon as I finally launched the adventure invitation online. A few people left comments that said that they couldn’t believe I was taking people to a place to ride on elephants. They were “disappointed” with my choices. How could I do this? I was allegedly a spiritual person- one who purported to adore elephants. Great questions.
I must admit, even I was caught off guard by the idea when I first dreamed it up. It seemed great to go to an elephant conservation center and to an elephant hospital. But, was it really ok to ride on elephants?
Mind you, I was fully aware that the situation for domesticated elephants is not always ideal and often the training process is down right awful. I meditated on it and pondered. The more I did this the clearer it felt. I wasn’t even sure what was going to happen – maybe I was bringing people to Thailand to ride elephants so we could all be turned into elephant activists? The more I pondered, the more my soul was saying “yes”! I visited Alice the Elephant several times to ask specifically about the places we were visiting and about riding the elephants.
Each time, she assured me that the trip was extremely blessed and that these elephants were happy to interact with humans- part of their life adventure was to be elephant diplomats and to interact with people. Want to know how to find your own spiritual advisor? I created this course to help you find them:). Or subscribe above and get a free download for a guided shamanic meditation to discover a Core Beastie.
I responded kindly to the critics online and via email, trying to explain my process here. https://
In the end, the trip was a dream come true. It was (just as Alice had repeatedly told me it would be) extremely blessed. The women (and elephants!) who showed up were so honest, authentic, hilarious and kind.
(video photo journal below)
And I rode an elephant.
We were told to climb up some stairs into a platform. From there we would get on the elephants back.
We were riding bareback which, we learned, is much more comfy for elephants than the metal frame saddles you often see. The Chai Lai Resort’s owner at has a dream of transforming the way tourists engage with Ellies. Alexa Pham is quite an incredible amazing human- not only is she interested in improving the lives of elephants but she’s busy transforming the landscape for girls in Northern Thailand with her non-profit Daughters Rising. (And P.S. she has detractors who don’t like the attention she’s bringing to elephant riding practices.)
My beautiful elephant had chains around her neck. Not all of them did and, at first, I didn’t want to accept this. I wanted to be on an elephant who (at least) appeared free. But, I realized it was my turn and I needed to climb on.
It took me a few minutes to get over being freaked out and holding on with only my legs. As I relaxed, she kindly tucked her massive ears back tightly over my shins and held me lightly in place. We began to walk…joining our group that was already headed into the forest.
As she began to walk ,I began to shake lightly all over….like a tremor and then the tears started to come…I felt this massive overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude. I have ridden on an elephant hundreds of times in my journeys and dreams but, this was different. She was so gentle and so incredibly full of power, all at once. Her footsteps so quiet and sure.
My spirit helpers were suddenly surrounding me on all sides – and yes Alice the Elephant was there. They all seemed to be there simply to witness my joy and overwhelm. “We are so glad you came and trusted”, they were whispering in my ear.
I have no earthly idea what the beautiful elephant underneath me was thinking but I can only hope she could feel my joy.
After a good 10 minutes of riding, crying, shaking and just being blissfully blown away by her beauty I suddenly saw the chains again– but this time they spoke to me.
These chains were metaphors for me of the heaviness, the burdens that bind each of us in this life. I’ve got chains too. But, the good news is that each of us is on a journey moving towards more and more freedom. Some of our chains are simply thoughts holding us prisoner….some of us are literally chained…and each of us has choices. The question is, how do we respond to perceived oppression in all forms? How do we find more freedom? How can we be part of the solution?
It was a profound and deeply moving moment for me and I would not have experienced that if I had not taken the risk in the first place.
The same naysayers returned to comment angrily when I posted the photo of me riding on an elephant.
I wanted to tell them how beautiful the moment was...AND how much we all learned about the complex issues facing elephants in Asia with little wild left to roam and a need for food and safety. The remaining domesticated elephants in Thailand eat a lot and they need food trucked in, they need supervision and (most of all!) stimulation. The mahouts (their care givers and handlers) who’ve devoted their lives to their care also need to make a living. There are many groups working to develop new gentler methods to train mahouts for working with their elephants. There are others working to improve the lives of working elephants. One of the mahouts a pilgrim met confessed his family had been murdered and his village burned to the ground..he was a refugee from Burma. Each of us is suffering in small and large ways. We need each other to get through this.
I believe we had to go there to learn this all first hand.
I responded to each critic and detractor off line in a kindly email, letting them know that I heard them AND that I still wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. I was changed by going and I know the others pilgrims were too because they told me so. Each of us feel more deeply in love with elephants and with Thailand.
In the end, each of us has to do what we think is best in our hearts- even when (especially when?) it makes no sense to others because it’s an important step for our own growth.
Each of us is on our own unique path so how can we judge the path of another?
Have you received criticism for something you courageously shared? If it inspires you to refine your dream or improve it then- yay! If it simply feels critical then I invite you to sit with it.
I also encourage you to show up. Be seen. Trust your soul’s desires.
With love and elephants, Sarah
More inspiration on criticism: (thanks Margaret Webb for this one:)
“Criticism is an alluring substitute for creation, because tearing things down,unlike building them up, really is as easy as falling off a stump. It’s blissfully simple to strike a savvy, sophisticated pose by attacking someone else’s creations, but the old adage is right: Any fool can burn down a barn. Building one is something else again.” ~Martha Beck , The Joy Diet
Haters gonna hate! Who cares. 🙂 What matters is your deep approval of yourself! I am so thrilled for you that you had an amazing time with elephants. You are making dreams comes true and showing us all how to do that. Well done!
Thanks Abbe:) Yes you are spot on! I gotta be OK with it first and foremost! We had such a good time!
Well – I do care about my critics- and I am listening and checking in with myself. (Unless it was horrible and nasty like the unhelpful kind, LOL- which this was not.) Maybe this whole experience is prepping me for more critique as I bring my next book out to the world? I don’t know- but I agree Abbe- the most critical thing is that each of do our own soul searching and see where we stand and then MOVE on our heart’s desires- no matter what others say.
I know your live and respect for these grand pachyderms. Your face spoke volumes about what was going on around and within you. You LOOKED like you were on a spiritual journey. It wasn’t until maybe the 3rd or 4th view of the photo that I saw the chains. I was taken aback. I thought “wha…..?” And then knew… this is Sarah. Sarah. Who would never do anything that was determental to these majestic beasts. I realized then you had gone on a journey even before you got up there. And so I knew it was ok.
Liz- Im so glad a photo can translate those complex things- because that is it- this situation is multilayered and complex and far from ideal…what is important is that each of us iis simultaneously recognizing that in our own way and shifting – searching for a way to improve it- through our thoughts, actions and being. Thank you so much for reading and sharing with me!
*love * Sarah. Sarah. Can you edit my post please? So sorry about misspelling your name. I have a good friend Sara and my phone took over my spelling
Sarah… Whatever you do comes from a heart centered place, so you really can not go wrong. I could see the joy emanating from the elephants and you in the pictures. I am glad that you had such a wonderful and blessed trip!
Thank you Chrystyana- what true words those are- and it doesn’t mean I wont’ make mistakes- but that’s why were here to learn and grow:). Blessings to you and your sweet little man Taylor!
I guess I’m one of the “critics and haters” mentioned in this blog. Because I asked some questions of Sarah about her experience of riding captive and chained elephants after she posted a photo on Facebook. I asked if she had read the information from other groups who work with elephants in Thailand requesting that people NOT ride the elephants and explaining why. And I asked this “critical” question: if the elephant had a choice, would she or he choose to interact with you in that way? This is a question I ask myself all the time, in my many interactions with wild and domesticated animals. It’s a question worth answering, honestly, even if only to yourself.
I’m not clear on how that makes me the attacker, as in the Martha Beck quote or the critic, as in the Teddy Roosevelt quote. Indeed, I asked these questions because I have been in a similar situation myself, many years ago, and wish I had known then what the cost was to the animals to fulfill my dream.
I asked Sarah these questions respectfully and thoughtfully. I don’t think I, or another animal loving friend who also communicated with Sarah about this, deserve to be characterized in the way that this blog post describes us. As a hater? I think it’s quite the opposite. I’m proud to say that I am the person who asked these questions, not to tear down but to bring in a different point of view. Not to judge but to offer up another side of the story. And to allow everyone who participates to make up their own mind, with all, or at least more, of the information.
It’s pretty strange and painful, to be called a “critic and hater” for initiating a respectful, questioning dialogue.
Devin- I’m grateful for your thoughtful, probing and respectful questions. I know that you care deeply for elephants just as I do. My intent here was not to name call but simply to say that we are each on a journey and what I do on mine may not be OK with others…the most important thing is that I’m listening to my own internal guidance. I am not perfect (far from it, LOL!) and I am learning as I go too. Thank you for listening.
And yet, you did name call, Sarah. To be referred to as a hater was so painful when I was simply asking you some questions. Your use of the term “haters” also diminishes those who have been attacked by real haters. What was your purpose in using that language if your intent was not to name call? If you didn’t want to continue the discussion, you only had to say that. I did not heckle, threaten, attack or shame you. I just asked you questions and responded to your email. That’s not a hater or a critic. That’s a fellow tribe member trying to understand the situation for these beautiful elephants. Offering a different point of view, which you are free to reject. Truly, Sarah, you had me in tears to misrepresent our interaction in this way. And to have others cheering you on because they don’t know what really happened. I wish that, if you had a problem with what I was saying, you could have let me know. I never questioned your journey or your internal guidance nor would I. I would have preferred to have this discussion privately, just the two of us, but instead you brought it here. I will leave you with this last thought. If we, in this tribe, cannot speak honestly about our perceptions and our views without being called haters, then I think we are failing each other as coaches and Wayfinders.
Devin- You were not the only one who offered your opinion – so this blog post is not about you or the particular feedback you offered…rather, this post is about me experiencing my first dose of public criticism, processing it and deciding to do something anyway because my heart told me to. I hoped it might encourage others who were encountering criticism- thoughtful (as yours was) and otherwise.
I’m sorry you felt hurt or attacked. It was not my intention.
Professionals/coaches can offer each other their unsolicited opinions but, ultimately what each of us is doing is our business.
I will clarify the words above more to make it clear that I did not have vicious critcs but, I had detractors.
[I intended to post this response on Facebook but I couldn’t find your post there, Sarah. I see I have covered some of the same ground as Devin but am posting what I wrote anyway.]
I am one of the people Sarah and several of you have labeled as a “hater”. For some time it has made me uncomfortable that this label is tossed about so glibly. There are people who deserve it, I believe – those who carry out personal, ad hominem attacks, based on personal characteristics; those who seek to pull others down to elevate themselves; those who demonstrate contempt.
But what actually happened here was an expression of deep concern and love for the wellbeing of elephants, a species vulnerable to extinction; a species who passes the mirror test, that means they exhibit self-awareness; a species which has been hideously abused for centuries. What I and another coach did was attempt to open a debate about whether riding elephants is ethical and appropriate. There seem to be two camps of opinion on the topic; those who are against it for well-documented reasons, and those who are for it, because 1. they want to do it or 2. they make money from it. You didn’t respond in the arena in which this initial conversation occurred – that is your prerogative. Now you’ve labeled us “haters”. I am the guardian of my own heart and I can assure you, and those others who used this word so readily, without even knowing what had been said, that I have no hatred in my heart at all. I guess if you use that word then you don’t need to see whether what the person says has any merit. It’s hurtful and disappointing.
Also, Sarah, I do not see how the Martha or Teddy Roosevelt quotes apply at all. I’d love you to explain that. The thing is, I didn’t criticize you personally, and I don’t see how you dared greatly, to be honest. To me, you merely perpetuated the status quo. Millions of tourists before you have ridden elephants. What is harder sometime is to be the one who challenges the status quo. I am disappointed that you haven’t engaged with us, except for sending a string of links that were not relevant. Still, if you want, I would be very happy to send you some information on why leading environmental organizations and even some tour companies are no longer supporting elephant riding. As someone who has built much of your business around love for animals, it would be strange to me to find that you didn’t want to know more about the subject, and that you wouldn’t want to investigate the topic fully.
Lastly, I did not attack you personally, Sarah, nor do I have any wish to. The name-calling did not happen on my side. I wish you well.
I witness and acknowledged your courage and self-referral Sarah! From Don Miguel: “It is all impersonal. Whatever someone says is always about them.” Blessing and hugs!
Thank you Irene:) Beautiful quote- I think I need it tatooed on my forehead:)
People can agree to disagree and that’s how I see this situation. You have differing opinions, and probably aren’t going to change them easily, and we are all free to make up our own minds about things. So I think you should just agree to disagree and leave it at that. Anything else just prolongs the issue.
I soooo agree Jane Hill! Thank you for chiming in. I always long for complete harmony, yet sometimes harmony is deciding to disagree:)