* 8 minute read *
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“How to Carve a Beautiful Elephant”- not the usual title you would expect from a personal growth blog is it?!
I’m reading a book at the moment that a good friend loaned me called ‘The Evolving Self‘ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s quite a dense read, but in the midst of some pretty deep concepts, one simple story jumped out from the pages. It’s an old Indian parable recalled by the author, about a young disciple who approaches an old and skilled sculptor with a request:
“Master,” he says, “I want to become a famous sculptor. What should I do?”
“Well,” replies the master, “tell me, what kind of a statue would you like to make?”
The young man thinks for a while, and concludes: “More than anything else, I would like to sculpt a beautiful elephant.”
At this, the master places in front of the young man a block of stone and a few tools: “Fine. Here is some marble, a mallet, and a chisel. All you have to do now is carve away everything that does not look like a beautiful elephant.”
And that’s where the story ends! Simple isn’t it? Well yes and no. I’ve found great wisdom in this story and I’d like to share my interpretation.
Imagine that the beautiful elephant is in fact your ideal life or an ultimate goal you would like to achieve. Well, the secret to living your ideal life is to simply to get rid of anything that is not your ideal life!
In principle, this sounds so easy, yet in reality we find it so difficult to live a happy or fulfilling life.
There are some clues in this story of the sculptor and the elephant that might help us turn this simple concept into reality,
In the story, the young man is inspired by a strong purpose; to become a great sculptor. The master questions the young man by asking him what his purpose would look like if it was manifest in reality; “what kind of statue, would you like to make?”
So, we might take the statue as a metaphor for our ideal life. The first question we need to ask ourself is: what is my purpose? Why do I get out of bed in the morning? What gets me excited? What makes me unique? Why do I exist on this planet?
This is not an easy question to answer! Some of us might stumble upon our purpose by accident when we are young, or be gifted with a purpose that aligns with us over generations, while many of us canspend a great deal of our life searching to find this elusive “spark”. However, once we have discovered our unique purpose it becomes a lot easier to begin to imagine our ideal life, or in other words, what our purpose looks like when it becomes manifested in reality.
For the young sculptor, he has a clear sense of his purpose and his ideal life; the beautiful elephant. Yet he is a long way from achieving his goal. Between the boy and his ideal life stands a massive distraction; the block of stone.
The block of stone represents all of the “white noise” in our life that distracts us and blinds us from seeing the ideal life that is possible.
So, how do we begin to remove these distractions, and take off the blind fold? How do we start to see our ideal life in reality, how to we start to create the beautiful elephant?
We need to take action.
One of my many favourite sayings borrowed from my friend Sue is: “the only way to eat an elephant is one mouthful at a time” (so many elephant metaphors!)
To begin to experience our ideal life in reality, and to remove the distractions that stand in our way, we need to take small, bold steps of action. We need to “chip away” at the “stone”. In each of our small actions we learn through trial and error what is the “elephant” and what’s not.
And the more we “chip away”, that is, the more we continue to take small risks and take action, the more skilled we become as the sculptor of our ideal life. With more practice and learning from our mistakes we begin to see, more clearly, the outline of our ideal life and we learn to acquire and adopt the tools that allow us to pursue our ideal life with greater certainty and skill.
So, how do we carve a beautiful elephant?
How do we create our ideal life?
We become clear about our purpose.
We imagine and visualise our ideal life.
We take action!
We adopt tools that make our actions more effective.
Having a clear purpose is so important. It gives our life greater meaning and becomes a power decision-making tool. Discovering my mission and purpose over the last few years has been one of the most valuable experiences of my recent personal growth journey.
My mission is to connect, empower and inspire by following my purpose and celebrating the moment. My purpose is to explore my curiosity with childlike passion and playfulness.
This simple statement has been so powerful for me over the last year. It’s something that I affirm each morning and it’s something I also use to make important decisions. When I am faced with a difficult choice I ask myself: will this experience allow me to connect (or be connected), empower (or be empowered) and inspire (or be inspired)? If the answer is yes, then I am able to step into this choice with confidence. In this process, I’m chipping away at creating my own beautiful elephant!
Another important element in this process toward creating our ideal life is intention. When I met Patrick Newell earlier this year, I was inspired by the process he has developed for himself to set a clear intention for his life each year. Patrick gives each year of his life a theme, which becomes an intention for how he lives his life and where he directs his energy.
Over the past year I have set myself a clear intention to share. This intention has been aligned with my purpose; it’s allowed me to connect, empower and inspire. And again, it’s been a useful decision-making tool to guide me toward my ideal life. This has been useful for me this year and I plan to adopt a new one-word intention again for next year.
So, are you ready to carve a beautiful elephant? I’m curious:
- What is your purpose?
- What does your ideal life look like?
- What action can you take right now in the direction of your ideal life?
- What tools and resources can you adopt to help you work toward your ideal life?
- What clear intention can you set for yourself in 2014 to focus your attention toward your ideal life?
Til next week, Be Awesome!
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