Honoring the Elephant Matriarch

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Miss Smarty Pants here thought she was pretty clear about what courage means to her. In fact, for the first day and a half of Courage Camp I was like one of those straight-A girls in school who zips through the reading exercise faster than any one else.

Maybe I default to reflections and responses that I’ve used before because I lead and have participated in many convenings like this.

Or perhaps I was so enthralled in listening to others’ stories that I didn’t have the energy to dig any deeper into my own obstacles and aspirations.

Or maybe I have written so much about creating change and showing up naked-hearted that I thought I had figured things out.

Oh, girlfriend, you are so wrong.

About halfway through of Day Two something blurted out of my mouth that shook me awake. An idea that I’ve kept in the back of my mind for four years because it seems so risky and hard to do.

In the exercise four people got together as if it were 2018 and we were all back at Courage Camp sharing something that had happened in the past year.

“You wouldn’t believe what I did last year since Courage Camp 2017. I actually, finally did ___________, and it felt ______________ because ______________.”

This playful approach allowed really scary yearnings to jump out of who knows where. And it wasn’t just me. Everyone in my group was bragging and laughing and reveling in what they had done.  Even though, of course, it was all make believe.  We imagined what we’d love to do.

My hunch is most of us will attempt to make those things happen.

And so I surrendered to playfulness, and told the controlling me to step aside, sweetheart.

You are way too old in your thinking.

By old I mean you think you’ve figured things out so you stop really thinking and experiencing and imagining.  Even though I like to think my ideas are creative, they’re not if I’ve thought and used them before.  They might be interesting but they’re not fresh and new.

Had I started coasting on good ideas in my life?  Was I subconsciously cutting myself off from the playful, new ones?   Well, that was a big enough epiphany to make the entire Courage Camp experience worthwhile.

But there was a second one about being old that rattled me awake, too.

Being called a elephant matriarch.

Sometimes I catch myself being ageist – against myself.  I noticed at one point that I was probably oldest person at camp. It was fleeting, but still I had pangs to be 20 years younger and so that all the wisdom I was gleaning could be used for years and years. Instead of just for years.

In passing while we were drinking wine and dancing on Wednesday night someone said I was like an “elephant matriarch.”  When we wrote our appreciation notes at the end of camp, the same person again thanked me for being a matriarch elephant.

Really? Can’t I be a playful gazelle? A graceful egret? A resilient willow tree?   Anything other than an old elephant.

When I got home from Camp I researched elephant matriarchs. They are wise, unselfish, nurturing. The males take off, but the matriarch teaches, models how to respond to threats, balances the needs of the group, avoids unnecessary travel, and remembers where good resources can be found.

So the other epiphany was accepting – no, honoring – how other people see us vs. how think we want to see ourselves.

Learning with and from a community of openhearted, wise people is more expansive than anything we can learn on our own.

Slowing down to listen to others and to ourselves reveals surprises.

Cuts off our usual self-narratives.

Wakes up an inner voice that wants to sing.

Invites us to believe in our manhood, finally.

Tells the shitty roommate in our heads that dorm life isn't for you anymore.

Yodels to the adventurous spirit that is lost in bureaucracy.

Commits to Plan A and tosses the Plan B safety net into the Atlantic.

Confirms the wisdom of wearing a corporate mask as you simultaneously transform the corporation.

Convinces us to cut our hair and let it blow wild and free.

Assures us that our deep hurts are what make us deep healers.

Urges us to go find that beautiful, wild alter ego abandoned long ago.

Reminds us of what saves us, be it God, tango, Zumba, or leaving a bad relationship.


And so I will playfully attempt my creative risk --  and honor myself as an elephant matriarch.

Knowing that none of us have it all figured it out.

But together we can surprise ourselves.


For two other insightful perspectives on Courage Camp 2017:

"What Happened at Courage Camp" by Celine Schillinger

"So You Think You Are Courageous" by Simona Ralph


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