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Three Friends & An Elephant

Author’s Invitation: Play While You Read

Three Friends and An Elephant is an interpersonal neurobiology version of the classic fable of folks experiencing different parts, and not the whole, of an elephant. Originating in India, the teaching tale has morphed into different versions in various cultures and religions. A favorite of mine since I learned it studying systems perspectives in the seventies, the tale now speaks to me of many aspects of IPNB:the consilience of the scientific disciplines whose findings weave the IPNB framework.

By Debra Pearce-McCall

  • The deep understanding that each person’s perspective is valid and valued

  • The multiple wisdom traditions whose definitions of ‘wisdom’ reflect a well-integrated PFC

  • The recognition that the whole will always be more than the sum of its parts, whether molecules or families, because the whole is all the parts and all their relationships

  • Connection and collaboration bring us solutions and innovations.

This version of the fable is also an IPNB adventure—a game in story form, a playful read.

The challenge: How many IPNB references can you spot in Three Friends and An Elephant?

Woven into this retelling of the tale are numerous IPNB references, metaphors, and allusions. Many details (such as descriptive qualities, actions, dialogue) were chosen with IPNB in mind. Keep count while you read, or reread, and see what and how many you spot.

Here’s a bit to get you started: Adin is the name of one of the characters, and you may spot ways that her personality and behavior reflect a particular attachment style. BIG HINT: Her name is a clue to her attachment style, avoidant/dismissive. Now, give your self a point for each time you recognize some of her language, action, etc. as reflecting that style in the story. Perhaps other character names also are attachment-related…And is an appearance made by seagulls? (score a point!)

How many IPNB references, metaphors, and allusions did you find? 
(And however many it was, hope you enjoyed the read.)

1—10 You liked the feel of the story but missed many of the IPNB-laden details. Play with this: Read some articles and/or books about IPNB, and try again.

11-25 You know your IPNB basics, and you are starting to deepen your understanding. Reflect on left- and right-mode ways to do this.

26-39 The IPNB framework is an integrated part of your knowledge base (and perhaps worldview). Whatever you do, you can be IPNB-informed.

40-50 Not only do you know your IPNB, you read this story with care, curiosity, and creativity.

A Retelling by Debra Pearce-McCall

One day, three lifelong friends were hiking in the countryside, trading tales about the year since their last meeting, when suddenly the sky began to darken. Looking up, they saw a shadow moving over the midday sun, light disappearing rapidly. One began to fret aloud as she moved closer to her friends, “This isn’t right, this is weird, it’s getting dark fast and we’re far from home, oh this is bad, Adin, know what I mean?” Adin sighed and observed, in an even tone, “Silly April, we got too caught up in talking and we all just forgot that there’s a solar eclipse happening today. Let’s just find a place to wait it out. We can sit and eat lunch while we wait for light.”

“Practical as always, aren’t you,” teased April, which helped her feel calmer. “Where should we go?” “I think I remember the way to a spot right near here where I would take my lunch break when I used to spend the day hiking out here as a kid, looking for rocks for my collect….”

“I remember that place,” interrupted April. “Oh I have lots of memories of writing and drawing there, it’s an open bowl by a sheltering circle of trees, with a pond so we can watch the eclipse in reflection…it’s a perfect place to wait. This way…, come on, Dunne, snap out of it and move!” The third friend was standing stiffly in the lengthening shadows, his eyes glazing over, but when April reached out and nervously took his hand, he followed along.

In a full solar eclipse, the sun disappears in minutes, so a blinding darkness soon surrounded the friends as they hurried down the path to their clearing. Suddenly, they came upon something huge and darker than the darkness, an obstacle blocking their way. Adin stood still and stretched her arms out until her fingertips touched something – hard and rough. Not much here, she thought as she began to slowly step to the side, looking for a way around it. Priding herself on being a logical, scientific sort, she decided to take another sampling, so she reached out again, hands contacting a solid, dry surface. For a moment, her darkness-enhanced sense of touch suggested a new sensation, almost alive, and worthy of further exploration, but she dismissed that quickly as illogical. “It’s just a large wall. Someone must have built it since we were here,” she called to her traveling companions in a sure and steady voice. “We can’t get around this. Let’s not go this way. We’ll just go back the way we came, straight on the path and then to the left.”

April had paced and worried for a bit before finding enough courage to reach out toward the unknown thing – and as she did, her hand brushed something long and skinny. She jumped back in alarm, tumbling over and rolling as she fell. Scolding herself for being so clumsy – always such a klutz! – she stood and reached again. Her mind asked, Could it be a snake? No, probably just a rope hanging from a tree, left by some children playing a game.

The long, skinny something that had startled her seemed to have changed and was longer, fatter, and stronger. Not just a snake – a giant snake! She could hear the stories folks in the town had told about dangerous snakes. She could almost imagine the pain of the bite. She could feel the snake moving…emotions rushed through her body, and she thought they just might all die out here in the dark, dark woods, and remembering that her friends were also in danger she was yelping out “Snakes, snakes, giant snakes, run, run!” so she couldn’t make out what her friend Adin was calling out – something about the way – did she say to the right?

In the darkness, Dunne was not really paying attention, because he was busy dealing with his fear of the dark – something he’d never told his friends about – and when he realized he had lost sight of his companions, he grew frantic. He started running, heart racing, fear escalating, and ran into something hard and solid, bruising his arm. Then he kind of bounced off into another just like it, then another, and another, whispering, “Ouch, just those dang trees,” as the pain and annoyance and explanation drained some of his terror. Still afraid he would get totally lost in the trees, and with no idea about which way to go, he leaned up against one of them, wondering, shoving his shaking fingers in his pockets, where he found almonds…one of the “just in case” supplies he always took on a hike. Soon his momentary terror was further eased by the sensations of sucking salt off and crunching up each nut. Was that a voice? he thought, unable to discern the sound over his own loud chewing.

At that moment, noise in the sky drew attention upward. Then the rhythmic whoosh of wings, cries and echoing cries. A flock of seagulls circling and spiraling, heard but not seen in the dark, orbiting the far edges of the clearing. The attunement and beauty of their birdsongs brought a centering pause for all three friends, who breathed deeply and listened to the unseen calls containing information and connection. Each reflected on other times when they’d heard sounds like these, strolling along the ocean shore, or signaling an unexpected sighting on the mainland. Remembering feeling part of nature, seeing and sensing the patterns that connect, each began to consider the birds’ perspective, and then they turned inward toward all they were feeling, hearing, and sensing. A sudden realization of multiple views and possibilities dawned in each of them. They begin asking the others what was happening for them, and finally calming enough to hear each other’s voices, they realized they were almost within arms’ reach of each other. The friends spoke and listened, considering all of their experiences in the dark, and what might be blocking their way. The space between them warmed with their sharing.

An image began to coalesce in their minds. Little rope snake, trees, a wall, a big snake, a new perspective! They joined hands, moving as far apart as they could while staying connected, and they moved to the left and to the right, listening, smelling, and sensing. They felt, high and low and in the middle. Suddenly, their experiences converged in consilience, and they perceived the obstacle as clearly as if the sun was shining. An elephant – with tree legs, wall sides, and snake tail and trunk! The sense of being understood and of understanding, the mindsight they shared in that moment, stayed with the three friends for the rest of their lives. Laughing in amazement and relief, they found their way down a different trail, without disturbing the creature at rest in the darkness, just as the eclipse passed its zenith and the shadows began to retreat.

As the three reached another clearing, the sun fully emerged, and everything seemed visually enhanced, glowing with reflected light. They gazed at each other with wonder and delight. The first to find words and an explanation, Adin noted that the elephant must have wandered away from the wildlife park, so she called to get help for the wild creature. She also vowed to remember how all of this day had felt, and found that from that day on she almost always remembered to feel. April hummed a song she would write about this day, which she would later turn into a well-received children’s book about balancing safety and adventure, as she was learning to do for herself. Dunne felt warmed to the core by having been so understood by his friends, and decided to take care of his fears, beginning what became a transforming, healing journey.

For the rest of their days, the friends would tell many others their stories about when they saw an elephant in an eclipse through the power of mindsight. Now and then, through their lives, they would meet and share the tales of their journeys, and talk about the gains they had harvested from that elephant sighting. Each, in his and her own way, would keep learning and teaching others about how to work with obstacles in their paths, through awareness and attention, through the power of friendships, welcoming the darkness and the light, being curious, open, accepting, and loving about themselves and others, discovering all their minds could be.

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