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