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The Elephant Stick

By David Cooper

The warm tropical sun beat down through the dense foliage as we road on our elephant up the steep mountain trail in the jungle of northern Thailand. The trail we were on was hardly wide enough for the large elephants that we were riding. There was definitely no way to pass.

     The young Thai boy who was sitting on top of the lead elephant's head would continually give a series of sounds, movements, and commands in an effort to keep the large beast moving. As he coached him along the path, there was no doubt that his job was his passion and that he and the elephant were as one. It was clear that the boy’s love for his elephant was very deep and that the elephant also felt a special connection for the boy.

     The lead elephant approached a very steep part of the trial. He stopped, looked around at the dense jungle, and began to eat the green foliage. No amount of encouragement or commands from the boy on his head could convince the elephant to continue his journey up the mountain. Therefore we all had to stop and wait.

     Still, the young boy's attitude did not change. He simply gave a series of new commands to the elephant. The elephant stopped eating. He lifted up his trunk and grabbed hold of a bamboo branch that hung over the trail. Pulling it down the elephant handed it to the boy. The boy took out his machete and cut a three-foot section from the branch. Next, he stripped the leaves off of the branch. Meanwhile, his elephant continued standing in the same place and went back to eating the foliage that was around him. He appeared to be totally unaware of the other elephants waiting to continue their trek up the mountain or what the boy on his head was doing.

     Completing the stripping of the leaves from the bamboo stick, the boy sat up straight. He gave a series of new commands with authority in his voice. The elephant still ignored the boy and continued eating. From our position on the elephant directly behind them, we watched in awe and disbelief as the boy raised the stick high over his head. With another series of commands he brought the stick down on the head of the elephant. It landed with a very loud noise on the elephant's forehead between and just above the eyes.

     Watching the elephant, it appeared that the hit was more noise than physical pain. The elephant in a state of surprise and disbelief as he turned his head and looked back up at the boy. The boy held the stick in the air in preparation for another hit and continued to give his commands to the elephant to move forward. Without further adieu, the elephant continued on the jungle path up the mountain, allowing the rest of us to also continue our journey up the mountain.

     As we continued, the magic of the scene took on another level of beauty for me. From the sounds of the commands from the boy to the elephant and the movements of the boy's legs behind the soft, sensitive ears of the elephant, there was an even deeper love, appreciation, and connection flowing between them. It was a love from the boy to his elephant as well as from the elephant to the boy.

     Claudia, my friend from Brazil with whom I was traveling, leaned towards me as her words locked themselves in my heart: “This is just like life. If we stay stuck and don’t continue our journey, we get hit over the head with a stick to tell us to get going again. By the lack of hair and the many bumps on your head, it appears that you tend to get stuck in the ruts of life.”

     She was right. What a metaphor for my life. Each time after my procrastination reached a critical point, there had been a startling wake-up event. Events like my first divorce, two heart attacks, a mini stroke, and a second divorce, to name a few.

     Finally, the elephants all reached the top of the mountain. As we began our descent, another metaphor became clear. The elephant boy had to continue his guidance of the elephant down the trail, for the journey was only half over.

     Reaching the river at the end of the elephant trek, there came the big “Ah ha.” It was clear. Each event in my life, including the hits along the way, had been perfect stepping stones to prepare me for the next stage and to keep me moving on my journey through life. Once again, another of my true-life adventures had created a very special metaphor: Happiness is found along the way, not at the destination. Keep on going.

David Cooper, CHTP, is a wisdom keeper of the ancient spiritual mysteries and storyteller of his true-life adventures. David lived for six years with indigenous healers and wise men in Bali, the outback of Australia, the mountains of southern Brazil, and Southeast Asia. He now lives in Sarasota with his wife Pam. Contact David at 941-921-3821,, or