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If you go to the zoo or the circus, or even a farm in rural India, Thailand, or other parts of Asia, you may find elephants in captivity. These very large, gentle, and powerful creatures are really quite agreeable to working with humans. Yet they are often tethered by very little more than a rope.
It seems absurd, of course, that a huge beast would be secured with such a feeble device. Talk to elephant trainers and they assure you that the rope is symbolic. The elephant really can break free. So why doesn’t it?
Here you are in Thailand, working a rural road project, and there is the vast hinterland. Other elephants to have sex with. Endless bounty of food. Why is the elephant picking up that huge log and moving it?
The answer is deception. The trainer used the rope when the elephant was a calf. At that time, the rope was too strong, and it could hold the calf. So the calf learned that it did not break free at that time because it could not. It learned a fact that became false as it grew. And now it does not break free, even though it can, because it is convinced by a past experience which is no longer applicable. The trainer has deceived the elephant about current conditions through experiences in the elephant’s past.
Don’t get all high and mighty about your brain, just now. The elephant has a very large brain, compared to its body mass. Its brain is much larger than yours. These are not stupid creatures, but amazingly complex, social, and creative beasts.
There are two components to any event that has happened to you. The first aspect is what happened. The facts of the event. Who did what, what was said, to whom were things done or said, when, where, and how. Notice that the “why” is not included.
The second aspect is what you made it mean. You not only have the experience, but you have your interpretation of it. You have your reasoning about “why” these things happened.
The elephants do, too. The elephant as a calf was roped. It did not break free. So, yes, I am saying it has an interpretation of what happened. And it became convinced that because it did not break free, it could not break free.
It may have become accustomed to the rope, to the captivity. It may have become inured to the routine. And presumably there were “carrots” as well, food, some nice things to play with, showers, mud, and whatever else elephants get in captivity. But the interpretation remained: I cannot break these ropes.
That’s really just not so. It applied to the elephant calf that was, but not to the adult elephant that is. The events of the past may even be forgotten, but the interpretation lives on, is clung to, is held as baggage by the ponderous pachyderm. It remains captive because it generated a true interpretation that became false. It did not break free because at one time it could not. Now it can break free, but it does not. Such is deception, such is illusion, such is your captivity.
So the next step, the difficult and vital step, is to separate what happened from what you made it mean. And to see that what you can now do is find a more empowering interpretation for what happened.
What happened is not who you are. What happened to you is only what happened to you. Part of the “baggage” aspect of it is that you are clinging to what happened like it is your identity. But it isn’t your identity. It is only your past.
Your opportunity now is to design the future you want, design the person you wish to be, and create that future, and create that person. Part of that future hinges upon the past, because what the present is came about because of the past. But part of that future is wholly free form and available for design from tabula rasa, from a blank slate. And letting the past continue to rule who you are and how you can be means limiting what you can do now and what you can create in the future.
If you make the future by looking at the past, and then adding things that you prefer and taking away things you dislike, then the future becomes more like the past in some ways and less like it in others, but it remains MORE or LESS the same. And that won’t do.
You are more than a version of the past, you are capable of creating a future that is more than a stepwise alteration of the past. You are capable of designing a future from whole cloth, and realising it entirely without reference to the past.
But to gain that capacity, to fully express that capacity, you have to release the past, let go of it, as in letting go of the things you are clinging to, the baggage of the past. Not as in erasing memories – you cannot erase them. Not as in denying that things happened – you neither can nor would deny what happened. But as in acknowledging that they happened and then noticing (being empowered by noticing) that they do not bind you. That the past has no chains for you.
Then you see that you are fully free of what happened, because you have finally gotten beyond what you made it mean.