I spent last month in Thailand, fulfilling a lifelong dream of being close to elephants. The trip was about re-finding what is really important in life, and about new beginnings. It came at the heels of a number of job experiences that left me completely wondering where the sanity of this world is – because it certainly wasn’t in my recent work situation. My whole life I have felt it was important to do work that improved the world, helped to protect the environment, or helped animals in some way. How to do that exactly is open to interpretation. But given recent experiences, I have to admit that I had become disillusioned about my ability to make a difference in the world today. Recently It all seemed futile and pointless, and I wondered if it was even worth trying anymore.
So I decided to take a trip to the other side of this great planet we live on, and see other ways of living. My major goal was to go volunteer with and be close to elephants, and so I ended up at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There I met Lek Chailert, the founder of ENP. She was generous enough to let me tag along as she spent time with her elephant friends. What a thrill! Watching Lek know just how to delight a first time visitor, to care for her elephant friends in any number of ways – nuzzling with an uncertain baby elephant, singing to a grown one who’s trust she had gained,
or watching her speak to a crowd of people with just the right blend of humility, knowledge and integrity in order to educate and help people remember why we were put on this earth – to live in cooperation with the natural world that nourishes us every day, to be kind to those weaker than us, to heal those who are broken of spirit and body, these are just a few ideas worth emulating.
I heard it said while I was there, and later noticed a saying inscribed over one of the lecture rooms that read “The Power of One”. This was a powerful idea and I thought about it while I was there. I was familiar with the thought that a few concerned people gathered together can change the world (via Margaret Mead) or the Bible’s “when two or more are gathered in my name” but really in my experience it is sometimes impossible to find even one more person who is committed to the uplifting and healing of the planet and to our true role as human beings and caretakers of the planet. But as I watch Lek in action, and her handling of everyday people and elephants, I think of how we really all are in need of healing, whether we are animals or humans. Isn’t the pain we as a species wreak upon other species and the earth herself often a reflection of the wounds and unhealed places inside each person or their race or species as a whole? I believe part of helping animals is helping people find a place of peace inside themselves, however that is often much harder to do with a person than with animals, who will return to that centered place just by removing the basic needs’ barriers like pain and hunger.
The park is home to about 35 elephants. It is maxed out right now until they can afford to purchase more land next door, which has doubled in price once the owner found out that Lek wanted it for her elephant friends. It also houses a joyous raucous 400+ dogs which have been rescued over the last few years from places like the flooded streets of Bangkok and the illegal dog meat trade – ugh! These dogs have spacious quarters and all their food and medical needs taken care of by the Park and its volunteers. Most of these dogs are ready for adoption and if you are ever in Thailand and want a companion dog – check out Elephant Nature Park!
There is so much to say about my time there that I can’t possibly fit it all in one blog post. But what I will start with is that the theme of traveling for me was Kindness. The one thing that got me through each rough patch I was in (like getting lost – twice! on the streets of Bangkok – scary!) and the one thing I saw in Lek that impressed me the most – was the power of certain kindnesses, often from total strangers, sometimes from old friends.
During one of the rare moments I was lucky enough to be alone with Lek and the elephants, I asked her – what is the one most important thing you’d want me to write about in my blog when I get back home? She talked about (and I couldn’t record an exact quote because we were standing in a river throwing water on elephant’s backs to help them bathe at the time)
that all animals, not even just elephants, deserve a life free of cruelty and full of kindness. She described what I would call a Basic Bill of Rights for All Animals. All animals need to be treated with kindness and decency, to have good living conditions including things like clean water, nourishing food, room to exercise and to express yourself naturally. This seems like such a simple truth but one that obviously still needs to be stated and promoted until there really exists a Basic Bill of Rights for All Living Beings. I believe it can be so, especially as more people become aware of what goes into that chicken in your Buffalo Wings.
I would imagine that this is why all the delicious food at the ENP is vegetarian. Because supporting the meat industry today by buying meat or chicken or pork in a supermarket or restaurant automatically means you are supporting extreme animal cruelty. And is that really where you want to put your dollars, your vote for the industry to keep doing what they‘ve been doing? Every purchase you make supports what you are buying. Why not support kindness instead of extreme cruelty? There are many videos out there that will show you exactly the inhumane conditions in meat factories and poultry farms, watch them if you need proof. But if you don’t need proof, start voting now with your $’s for what you believe in.
The entire Elephant Nature Park and Save Elephants Foundation was built on one person’s idea of the power of kindness. That these elephants whom no one cared about are now living lives free of abuse, able to socialize as they wish, where they get to be, well, elephants, and it all came about because one person had the kind thought that every species whether they be human or animal, each deserved a decent life free of abuse where they are able to live out their lives in peaceful existence – and isn’t that what we all want?
Check out ENP at http://www.saveelephant.org