May 13, 2017

How I Learned to Love the Elephant Academy Experience.

Are you searching for your voice?

Do you intend on becoming a writer?

Is Elephant Academy something you desire to do?

If you answered, yes, to any of these questions this article deserves your attention.

“When obstacles or difficulties arise, the positive thinker takes them as creative opportunities. He welcomes the challenge of a tough problem and looks for ways to turn it to advantage.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale

As the second to last class with Elephant Academy came and went, I found emotions of joy in everything that singular class had provided. A sense of accomplishment and understanding for myself, the fellow students, the academy Teacher Assistants, and most importantly for the three prominent leaders of this class session.

Everyone showed up entirely, with their unique personalities attached.

I, however, did not show up fully until that class. Even though the time had been neatly carved out in my current routine to allow space for Elephant Academy, there was a persistent resistance after the third week.

I expected a spiritual experience, and I got one. It did not, however, package itself neatly decorated by a bow with a greeting card attached. It could be described more like a train that kept stalling and letting lots of sucky mentalities permeate the subconscious.

I mention “sucky” because Waylon Lewis liked to casually mention about how this, that, and the other thing just “sucked,” and there’s no doubt that seeped through the learning mind and clouded the material at hand. Nitpicking further would only prove to be counterproductive toward the overall message here, because Waylon is an amazing teacher—one, in my belief, who has yet to reach his full potential.

I see the light in him, and it broke my heart the way some topics were presented. If he didn’t like particular items in the lessons, it showed—alas, free will and all. I found myself saying aloud, “Can you please let the students make up their mind before saying it all sucks!” on more than one occasion.

Two moments made me stop and go, “Ahh, he is on to something spectacular!”

First was when we hit Journalism Ethics week. It was evident these lessons were his specialty. Always increasingly giddy, bubbling with ideas or information, seeking increased levels of engagement from the students and leaders. That was his fast track. This realization that this did not all suck brought me back to my writing.

Elephant Academy was a step into sharing my own writing, which was very similar to the journalistic approach. That week was a much-appreciated break in how all the information tended to present itself. There was hardly confusion when an instructor reclaimed their passion in focus for teaching. Waylon loved what he was talking about.

The second was the class mentioned earlier. We had a special guest join us in that class hour—Waylon’s mother. A lighter dynamic was evident even before the sound came on, at the time the students could only see what was on the screen, but not hear anything. As class began we meditated in silence a tad longer compared to our usual routine accompanied by the bowing in and out of class—a Buddhist practice that sets our intention in bringing focus and clarity to the present moment. Having just that time extended changed the pace immediately, purposeful intentions set in motion. Introductions concluded after a few minutes, but not without providing valuable small talk before moving into our writing drills.

Finding myself excited again, I dove head first into this class giving it every ounce of focus I had. The excitement to interact and write was the feeling I had expected from day one. That class was a great example to have and it will be cherished forever.

He showed affection toward his mother and kept an innocent, compassionate tone filled with love as he was speaking. It was similar to how he talked about Journalism Ethics. The dynamic between the two put Waylon, for me, back into the perspective of a person who is doing the best that they possibly can to be of benefit.

Before that class, my body would repeatedly be riddled with confusion. During the live group classes, I would get hung up on the particular words used. As the material was released, I noticed where information could have been applied more productively as to provide a higher level of engagement and growth with the students. It was annoying hearing, “Get your students here. No one is here. Why isn’t anyone here?”

My roommate watched a few classes with me and seconded that it would be difficult for her to return again to another class. Return I did, though, because I wanted out of my confusion. Running away was not an answer.

Confusion is a state that I am not comfortable in.

I found myself thinking back to my time in the Marine Corps. Recalling how daily strength was born out of confusion and there always a creative purpose for it. My brothers and sisters in arms would call it “fog of war” on a bad day, or “weapons of opportunity” on a great one. Strength, leadership, accountability, and having a set of core values are weapons. Not always sugar-coated in their execution, but always purposeful. The choice was mine to make now—in this new environment—how to flow with this confusion.

During a time set aside to re-commit moving through the confusion brought on by the entirety of this program, I felt I also missed experiences by allowing “fog of war” to leave me at a stalemate. Not following that intuitive voice inside was hindering my successes as a student. Feelings, as if the expected experience had repeatedly been diminished, arose inside of thought processes: I didn’t like that, so something had to be done.

Reaching out and airing a concern was met with an essential “nay” by program leaders. Conscious of it or not, my mind processes reverted to a Marine Corps habit of defending my worth and what that particular moment had to offer. I felt a need to troubleshoot what wasn’t working. Here we have an opportunity to gain insight. Once acknowledged, it can become a solution. In this student’s reality, it resulted as brainstorming sessions.

There is no wrong in their actions, as there is no wrong in mine. We are all one, are we not? We’re trying to broaden horizons and gain deeper insights into the worlds around us through reflecting upon emotions in our daily lives while staying connected with current events.

In this realization of the truth of felt emotions, I mustered the strength to make intuitive choices. There was a knowing of what had to transpire in my actions moving forward, for the confusion would not keep me crippled and small. Strength in owning our truth will send out a series of ripple effects. It seems like wasted energy when we begin to analyze others’ reactions and where they might be coming from.

So I sat in silence sending love and compassion to myself, everyone working hard at Elephant Academy, and especially toward Waylon, Caitlin, and Molly—because their dynamic reminded me of my truth. Their voices led me into an entirely transformative process. With each sucky word or resistance, I had to face myself in what I was feeling. I love to learn; I always love to do things that are seemingly difficult. Some learn the hard way; I guess that can still apply to me.

When one silences the mind to hear their truth, action is the result—not more confusion.

I wasn’t fully committed and it’s because I had told myself a lie about who I was. My natural instinct is to troubleshoot programs. To spark a constant awareness in behavior reminded me of the joy that came with that attribute. To analyze and find a solution.

How beautiful it was to look at the art piece created in the form of Elephant Academy. How beautiful it was to want and know I possessed the ability to reconstruct and streamline what once was. Ultimately, helping to create a more efficient and interactive platform. How beautiful it was to laugh at my humility, then do what I had committed to doing: writing.

If the pause had been any longer, this chance would have been missed and later presented differently. More than likely with a higher level of conflict. There couldn’t be pause for concern any longer, not once the awareness bubbled up from the fog of confusion. In that pause resides fear, and in that fear is a lack of thinking that what I have to say or offer doesn’t matter. It matters. We all matter in our individual purpose.

We are here in this life to co-create magical moments. We are here to recognize the purpose in each of our missions. We are here now to be of benefit. Who we are a benefit to is subjective. The fact remains that we all have room for growth. How much? That may never be an answered question, nor does it have to be.

We are here with the ability to communicate with compassion toward creating a better tomorrow. My journey with elephant journal is not over, but my Apprenticeship is.

As with the Marine Corps experience and the community found there, I have found an impactful community at Elephant Academy. This class was what it was for me, but different for so many others. Transformative would accurately be a word to conclude the lessons learned.

The fog of war has been lifted, and I can clearly see a much brighter tomorrow, for me, for Elephant Academy, and for all of the students that enter into this program.

“A great deal of the chaos in the world occurs because people don’t appreciate themselves.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior



Author: Nola Elliffe
Image: elephant journal Instagram
Editor: Travis May

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