Ellie was intent on ruining a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Writing about Ellie is a little tricky. She’s always in the room — in fact, she lives in my head. She’s comprised of nearly five decades of experience and often directs me — her rider —more than I direct her. Buddha once compared the mind to a wild elephant. He said:
In days gone by this mind of mine used to stray wherever selfish desire or lust or pleasure would lead it. Today this mind does not stray and is under the harmony of control, even as a wild elephant is controlled by a trainer.
In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt describes his own elephant/rider metaphor:
In sum, the rider is an advisor or servant; not a king, president or charioteer with a firm grip on the reins. The rider is Gazzaniga’s interpreter module; it is conscious, controlled thought. The elephant, in contrast, is everything else. The elephant includes the gut feelings, visceral reactions, emotions and intuitions that comprise much of the automatic system. The elephant and the rider each have their own intelligence, and when they work together well they enable the unique brilliance of human beings. But they don’t always work together well.
Sunday Afternoon: The sun was shining. Winds were light and the trail was dry as we climbed rocky slopes and walked through prairie grass with our dog Mara, who sometimes lagged, sometimes lead. It would have been near perfect, if Ellie could have kept quiet.
You see, on Monday morning, we’d be piling into our Tahoe with the family and heading west for college visits. We planned an overnight stay in Minneapolis before making a U-turn to head home on Tuesday. This is where the trouble stemmed from.
News of wintery weather had been brewing and Ellie caught wind of it. She thought she heard the words blizzard warning. Ellie likes sunny skies and dry roads for long drives. She was full of worries, asking and answering her own questions so fast, I could hardly keep up.
Can we still cancel the hotel? I doubt it — less than twenty-four hours notice. That money is gone. When will we be able to reschedule the college visits? Vacation wasted. What can we do instead? Can we visit a couple of universities closer to home? I’m sure their tours are full by now.
I took a deep breath and told Ellie we didn’t have to make any decisions until the next morning. If we didn’t go, we’d figure it all out.
But — but, but, she stammered. If the roads are going to be as bad as they predict, should we go — do you think?
I took another deep breath and was thankful Ellie asked for my opinion.
We don’t have to decide until tomorrow. Let’s enjoy today, okay? Can you hear the cranes? Do you feel the warmth of the sun on our neck? Nice, right? Have you noticed I took my gloves off like you suggested? The sky is so blue!
We carried on for a ways — Ellie wanting to bolt into the future while I mindfully worked to keep us both in the now.
We enjoyed most of the walk, and made it to Minneapolis and back again. Working together — elephant and rider — we reclaimed the present and let the future take care of itself.