ELIPHANTE 2: EXPERIENCE
This is the second half of my Eliphante essay. It is a meditation on my experience living there and my perspectives relating to human behavior in general, and society at large. In contrast to part 1, this goes deep in the way that I illustrate how the content of a microcosm effects the context of a macrocosm.
The first part is the superficial story that highlights who created it, how they did it, where and when, and why. It’s a kind of pastoral piece with beautiful pictures that serves to entertain and inspire. I recommend that you go here to read that one before reading further.
This half may seem long, and it is. But many of the details and stories are omitted for the sake of brevity. This is the untold story. This is what I witnessed. These are my reflections. It is probably best if read on a big screen.
I was first introduced to Eliphante in the Spring of 2016 and lived there for nearly 2 years. The place is like a playground for the imagination. The energy is enchanting and there is a lot of information to absorb.
There were 6 people living on the property when I came into the picture. I entered the scene as a humble observer and integrated through listening and asking questions.
Eliphante was made up of the sculptural buildings, the property, “Caretakers” of the place, and a “Board Of Directors” who “governed” the non-profit corporation.
Since the death of Michael, and the departure of Leda, there have been many different people who were living onsite as “Caretakers” and/or “Board Members” that have come and gone. The entire situation that was created over the course of 30 years by a visionary craftsman was a lot to juggle and maintain with a healthy balance.
From my perspective, it seemed to be going well, all things considered. There were tours being conducted. Visitors were coming from all over the world to be inspired, and their donations were adding revenue. There were events, workshops, and parties. Eliphante had an actual website, a Facebook page, and even an Instagram.
There have been other articles written about Eliphante on other websites. I don’t link to them here, but they can be searched for and easily found. They are more glowing and positive, but only scratch the surface, and portray the story on a superficial level, which is fine.
The fact is, all those other people who wrote those articles didn’t live there. They visited for a couple hours, or a couple days. I lived there for nearly 2 years. The experiences I had, the things I saw, the people I interacted with, all gave me the valuable gift of an exceptionally unique perspective. This is full spectrum.
Let me be absolutely clear and say that I have zero resentment or negative feelings toward Eliphante or those I interacted with. I am grateful for all the experiences and have learned a lot. My intention with this writing is to share my truth, articulate the lessons so that others may learn, and add honest value to you in such a way that we can all creatively evolve together.
By the time I arrived, there had been countless ideas that were only talked about, and projects that were started, but never to be finished. It didn’t take me long to realize that things were getting out of hand. It was only a short time before I noticed that things were out of order. It wasn’t clear who was in charge or who might be calling the shots. In fact, no one was.
For the 10 years prior to my arrival, things, projects, and people were just cruising at a maintenance level. There were some good times, but projects, finances, and their outreach mission were surviving on a plateau instead of excelling. Despite outward appearances, things were falling apart at the foundational level.
The buildings, which were the raison d'art, were not being repaired and restored. The critters, weather, and time were all eroding their structural integrity. Random materials were piling up all over the place from half started projects, in addition to the accumulated discards of peoples personal belongings. The place was virtually buried in garbage.
The financial donations coming in from tours were just barely enough to cover the basic bills and taxes, but nothing for future enhancements. The “Board Of Directors” and its “Members” were a joke. They would meet once a month to talk about things, but not actually do anything. They never really did their jobs to raise public awareness or funding for projects in ways that yielded measurable results.
After beginning to notice all those things, I had accumulated enough data to confidently engage more openly. I began to talk about issues and attend the Board meetings. I felt the need to have my voice heard.
The first thing I suggested was to change the title of “Caretakers” to “Caregivers”, and was adopted (albeit reluctantly by some of the more stubborn of the group). The meaning within language can be discovered in the words we invoke. I believed it was time for everyone involved to give more care than they were taking. It’s a move from selfishness, to contribution - and one that can radically transform any organization or community.
I was pitching in where I could for work and adding value to the conversation whenever possible. But it became too obvious to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room. There were underlying issues going on between everyone, and the interpersonal resentment and aggression was seething just beneath the surface. Things were about to explode.
There was this guy, Ryan, who nobody liked. The others had tried to work with him and get along for years, with no success. Everyone wanted him to be gone for good, except Tracy, who was the resident with the most tenure, investment, and best public reputation. She was apparently under the impression that everything could work out alright with Ryan onboard. This was the kernel of the catastrophe that undid everything. Ryan refused to calm down and cooperate, and the others were unwilling to have anything to do with Ryan.
All lines of reasonable communication between them stopped. Their behaviors devolved into those of childish pettiness. It was all gossip, complaining, blaming, and lies. The social fires were further fueled by alcohol. Basically, nothing positively constructive was happening around the land. Except for Tracy keeping the outside property and inside of the buildings clean for aesthetics, and guiding the few tours that would eventually be the last.
There was a group of 4 people that banded together, Alex, Stephanie, Murray, Tyrus. I called them the “motley crew”. They made up the majority of the “Board”. I called it the “Bored”. It got to the point where they moved away from Eliphante, but conspired among themselves, and only gathered with others outside of their cult for the monthly Bored meeting.
They had decided that nothing was going to happen until Ryan moved out of Eliphante for good. They were prepared to hold all productivity at a stalemate. They went behind his back, and acted suspiciously. Ryan wrecked a car and almost killed someone. The motley crew contacted the jail to make sure he wouldn’t see the light of day for a long time.
It was at one Bored meeting when they asked me for my opinion about something. I sat in quiet reflection for a few moments, and then started laughing, at them. They sat there looking dumbfounded and offended. I said they were “a bunch of clowns in a circus freak show”. Even though I went on to outline my observations, they didn’t want to hear anything else that didn’t fit into their one-sided narrative.
Then they started to attack from their remote positions. They were completely obsessed with destroying Ryan, and anyone that stood in their way. Which meant Tracy and I were the primary targets. They ignored me at best, and attempted to evict Tracy at worst. They employed others against us through spreading of lies, and they even enlisted a neighbor under deceitful misinformation to wage a war against us.
The motley crew, plus toxic neighbor, contacted the county to file complaints and demand that Eliphante be shut down completely. They were fixated on total annihilation of Ryan, Tracy, me, and by extension, Eliphante. It was an unbelievable nightmare. The neighbor was flying his drone over us, refusing to talk with us in a polite manner, and harassing the county to inspect and violate us. I have all the emails to prove their toxic insanity.
The motley crew would not respond to our requests for clarity through emails or phone calls. They were hiding like cowardly cockroaches. They ended up sending an email demanding that Tracy and I move out, resign from their tyrannical Bored, and surrender disgracefully. They were resorting to empty threats and blatant bullying. Passivity in the face of abuse is something I do not abide with. They wanted a war. I gave them hell, in the form of truth. I have all the emails to prove their onslaught of insanity.
I stood up to them and stood up for Ryan. I tend to favor the underdog. Since they didn’t have the guts to show up and speak to us face to face, I crafted some emails that highlighted basic truths and obvious facts. They ignored all that, and to this day pretend like nothing happened.
The motley crew finally gave up their futile efforts, resigned from the Bored, and went scurrying separately into the dark corners of their pathetic delusions. The toxic neighbor continued his futile efforts with the county. The officials ended up inspecting Eliphante and although they did shut it down to the public, they deemed it to be legally compliant as a private residence.
During that time, Tracy and I were all about doing things that cultivated peace, joy, and good vibes. We shared the habits and desires to keep the space clean, organized, and beautiful. We regularly scheduled our time around landscaping and event planning. There were some good work parties and special events for close friends and family.
It was a lot of hard work, but we were committed to keeping the space looking good and functioning properly. It was our duty.
It was a burdensome privilege to have the responsibility to honor the legacy of what Michael labored to create for 3 decades (Which is longer than some of the motley crews lives).
We spent many hours, weeks, and months cleaning up years of other peoples neglected messes, and taking out literally tons of useless trash. Tracy and I were pretty much the only two people working together for months to get Eliphante back to a place of order out of chaos.
All this was no thanks to Ryan, or the other female who was living there, who’s not even worth mentioning for the sake of this story. Together, those two were standing in contrast to Tracy and I: We wanted to do good work, while they wanted to talk about nonsense.
It was at this point when I realized I had made a mistake in my belief that protecting Ryan was going to prove to be productive. I was wrong, and have to admit that the motley crew was only right about one thing; Ryan was worthless at best, and decidedly counterproductive to the efficacy of Eliphante.
After all attempts had been made to get Ryan to cooperate by everyone over all the years, it finally became obvious to me, and reluctantly Tracy, that it was impossible to get him to do anything other than sit around and complain, blame, and justify his own pathetic existence. He was indeed the weakest link that was dragging everything and everyone down. His ego was so inflamed that he was unwilling to humble himself before anyone else. It was totally repelling.
It got to the point - just like it was with the others before me - that I could not talk with him, or even look at him. His old destructive patterns were playing out again. Him and another female resident were behaving so carelessly (Like old “Caretakers”) that it didn’t make sense to try to get through to them at all anymore. I decided that the most intelligent thing for me to do was to detach from Eliphante.
It’s been a couple months at the time of this writing since I moved out, and Tracy followed suit as well. The only person living at Eliphante is Ryan, and he’s still doing nothing. I am saddened for the fate of Eliphante and lament its unfortunate outcome. It appears to be the end of an era. It seems as though all of the great potential that Eliphante had, could end up going to waste because one immature male refused to grow up and accept personal responsibility for his life.
I am impressed by the vision, dedication, and creative followthrough of Michael Kahn. What it took for him - with the assistance of Leda and others - to imagine and construct Eliphante, is an accomplishment of the highest order. It was a playful and positive enterprise that lasted for 30 years and inspired thousands of people around the world. I am grateful to have been a part of it.
To bear witness to some of the most immature and worst behavior from people I have ever encountered was disappointing. It’s a disgrace to the legacy of Eliphante and Michael Kahn. I often times found myself wondering what he would’ve done or said about the cry babies and the motley crew. Or maybe they would not have acted so poorly with the creator alive and present to lead the way?
I believe that chief among all the issues, is that they needed to be led properly. By the time I came into the picture and attempted to fulfill that role, they were already so far down the destructive path of negativity and laziness, that my efforts to turn the direction in a better way were destined to fail. Plus, I still had a lot to learn about leadership, and role modeling the way.
In fact, there’s nothing but lessons to learn from all of this. It’s why I’m making the time and energy to write about it and share it with you.
I believe that what happened within the microcosm of Eliphante can bring many benefits into the macrocosm of your life in the whole world. It’s my duty to integrate the lessons, live by them, and inspire you to be the best version of yourself.
It’s easier said than done though. This kind of responsibility requires discipline and extreme ownership. It demands that we walk our talk. We would be wise to realize that our actions are speaking so loud that no one can hear a word we’re saying.
If we don’t learn the lessons from little things in life - like we see within the micro-social interactions - we can expect to see the problems extrapolated outward to the extreme ends of the spectrum. Terrorism, violence, world war, total chaos, the end.
If you think that sounds farfetched, you’re just not using your imagination properly, and you don’t understand the facts of human history. The worst atrocities start with egos getting in the way of connection, compassion, and empathy. Misunderstandings and lack of communication unchecked ultimately leads to evil.
I don’t think there is anything admirable about laziness. I see no virtue in idleness and neglect. I find nothing to respect about wounded children in adult bodies that refuse to transcend the volatile reactivity of unresolved issues from their past.
We only get what we tolerate. I am not willing to tolerate toxic negativity. I will not accept lies. I do not have the time or energy to put up with complaining, blaming, excuses or justifications. Passivity in the face of abuse is something I do not abide with. These are the signs of weakness and cowardice.
What are principles?
Our values are what we consider important, literally what we “value.” Principles are what allow us to live a life consistent with those values. Principles connect our values to our actions, and guide us when we face hard choices.
Why are principles important?
Without principles, we are forced to react to circumstances that come at us without considering what we value most and how to make healthy choices to get what we want. While operating without principles is negative for individuals, it is even worse for groups (as we learned from Eliphante) because it leads to friction between people without understanding their own values and how to behave in order to be consistent with those values.
I am flawed and imperfect, but I’m committed to consciously improving and developing. My path leads from vices to virtues. I choose to be courageous instead of comfortable. I believe in my ability to be better. I am behaving in ways that are conducive to becoming the man I imagine myself to be. Pain, plus reflection, equals progress. I am an Elder In Training.
THE 4 AGREEMENTS
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say what you mean and hold yourself accountable. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
It’s not always about YOU. Get over your ego attachment, and don’t make every little thing about yourself. Stop creating stories, and have the courage to detach.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
4. Always Do Your Best
As you practice living these four practices, your life will dramatically change. In the beginning, these new habits will be challenging. With practice, these agreements become integrated into your being and every area of your life.
I implore you to maintain your momentum and strength on your path. I want to remind you of the importance of the lessons we learn and the value of integrating them. I plead for you to join myself and others in being functional adults at least, and becoming enlightened elders at best.
These things take patience. It requires balance. Humility is a prerequisite. We must practice honesty - or at least stop lying to ourselves and others. Please do not allow for the corruption of your soul, your family, your community. Learn from Eliphante.
We must remember to be grateful for everything and every moment. Life is precious and it is a privilege to be alive. We are not entitled to anything. We should give more than we take. We would be wise to demonstrate vulnerability and respect.
On our quest, we can ask ourselves more intelligent questions. Who are we? What are we doing that matters? Why do we wake up, and who should even care? We get to choose to be a slave, or be the change. We decide whether we will lead or follow. If it’s neither of those two options, get out of the way.
It’s our responsibility to take the initiative to hold ourselves personally accountable for our thoughts, words, and actions. That’s extreme ownership - and a self discipline that leads to all kinds of freedoms in life. But when we stumble, let’s support each other and lift one another up. If we really want to practice compassion, then we need to start by setting healthy boundaries, and holding each other accountable.
If some of content is offensive to you, GOOD. With an open mind and heart, and a willingness to have uncomfortable conversations, we can politely disagree and begin to arrive at mutually beneficial outcomes. I’m more interested in being discerning, then being kind. If you think I’m milquetoast, you’re mistaken. I’m on a mission from mediocrity, toward magnificence.
This is an incomplete picture of my Eliphante story. But I have done my best to distill the quality of my reflections from the quantity of my experiences. I hope it serves you well. Thank you for reading. Thank you Eliphante. Thank you Michael. Thank you Tracy.
Creativity is evolution in our hands. This is a call to action. Connect. Engage. Share.