The Elephant and the Rider

In general, it is normal for us to be completely unaware of all the automatic functions, or behaviors happening in our body at any given moment. The number of biologic behaviors keeping us alive and allowing us to do the things we want to do is impossible for us to comprehend, let alone directly control.

When it comes to understanding the power of our automatic, or unconsciousness behaviors, some of you may be familiar with the most common references to the “Elephant and the Rider” metaphor. For those that haven’t heard this metaphor before, it has often been used to distinguish our conscious minds from our unconscious behavior. The rider, a smart and rational person, sits on top of a large elephant, a gentle yet curious creature, and together their goal is to find the appropriate path. Instead of using this metaphor for what it has been traditionally described as, we are going to explain it a little differently to understand our relationships with our bodies.

For our purposes in explaining some of the thinking behind the HRF, let’s have the elephant represent all the automatic, dynamic, and often hidden functions of the human body. This includes behaviors associated with the body’s biology, physiology, and anatomy that occur without our awareness. The rider then represents our knowledge and awareness of these behaviors. Seated on top, the rider has the reigns of the elephant, but at times, it can become very difficult to control the elephant since it has its own nature to express. Much like the rider of an elephant, we have far less direct control over our bodies than we think.

While we have learned to generally guide our “elephant” in daily life, our elephant has its own opinions, its own rules, and you cannot force it to do things it is unwilling to do. It has its own motivations, its own yearnings and desires, and despite our logical, analytical, troubleshooting mind’s best efforts, we cannot think or “fix” our way out of the trouble the elephant sometimes gets into.

Developing awareness, much like learning to ride an elephant, requires learning about our elephant, understanding how to pay attention to its needs and behaviors, and finding gentle ways to guide it in meaningful and fulfilling directions that benefit you in multiple aspects of life. Riding an elephant effectively means learning how to be flexible with competing demands. You cannot force the elephant to move when it doesn’t want to; just try and lift the leg of that 6-ton creature and move it one step ahead. If you don’t get squashed, you still aren’t going to get very far!

Learning to ride your elephant toward a meaningful direction with the HRF means to embrace the biological, psychological, and social (biopsychosocial) processes that are present in all humans. While there are technically 9 processes described in the HRF, we summarize these 9 processes in 3 categories of skill processes called Open, Aware, and Active. To learn more about these processes please download our client manual HERE!

Picture of Leonard Van Gelder
Leonard Van Gelder

President, Founder

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