Working with metaphors has been life-changing for me, and for many people I have worked with.
A metaphor is a way of expressing something that conveys a variety of meaningful attributes, in the form of something else.
You might hear people say things like…
“It’s as if I’m on a treadmill and I can’t keep up”
“I went for a walk to blow away the cobwebs”
“You’re a star”
None of these are literal statements – not usually anyway! – but they mean something beyond the surface structure of the words to the person who’s saying them. In other words, what we mean goes deeper than what we say, and a metaphor is a sign that there is more to discover in the unconscious aspects of our experience.
Where it gets really interesting, I find, is when the person is having some kind of embodied experience in the form of a metaphor, for example…
“I can see red mist, I’m so angry”
“There’s a tightness in my throat when I talk about it”
“I just know. I can feel it in my gut… heavy like a stone”
“I can feel a buzz of positive energy”
Or it could be pointing emphatically to a particular point in the space around them, a or sound (like ‘whoosh’ or ‘bang’).
Again, none of these are literal but there is clearly some deeper meaning, and other insights to be found if we have a chance to explore.
Understanding your metaphors can create profound shifts, often bringing about new metaphors which change the whole outlook.
In the photo on this post, I show an example of a metaphor I held at the start of my transformational journey with #NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) – a scraggy old onion with lots of layers to peel back and discover. Through NLP tools and techniques, this then transformed into a beautiful lotus flower, with the petals gracefully unfolding with ease, representing the thinking and beliefs I now hold about how I learn and develop at my best.
And once you begin to understand metaphors you begin to develop a landscape of understanding, how things connect and relate to each other, and find solutions and choices you never even knew existed!
You can probably tell I’m passionate about this… I could go on for hours, but I won’t!
A couple of years ago I visited Kelvingrove Museum with my daughter to see an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s work. I was intrigued to see the brushstrokes and pencil drawings in person, imagining him creating them all that time ago… little did I know it would spark my curiosity way beyond that.
There are many similarities in the style and form of his work, but these two stood out when I realised what’s different and unique about them.
The first is an anatomically correct study of a human spine, with every vertebra meticulously studied and set out on the page. Nothing like this had ever been done before, yet look at how the shape and form is precise, with structured notes and uniformity. Imagine the tenacity and attention to detail which went into such a piece of work, and how this helped physicians and scientists at the time.
The other picture is a map of an area in Italy which was entirely created through studying from ground level and IMAGINING what the aerial view would be. There was no aerial photography, no means of flying (yet… although he was a pioneer in that too), and yet he was able to create a map which is representative of the real landscape.
The mind which created these fascinates me, and especially the belief and determination which he must have had to boldly go where – literally – no one had gone before.
“The most important places on a map are the places we haven’t been yet.” ~ Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
During a planning meeting last week, Carolyn and I were talking about ‘maps of the world’. It’s an expression used in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and it helps to describe how we each have a unique perception of the world which shapes our experiences. In metaphorical terms, this internal representation could be likened to a ‘map’, with all the features set according to what we have experienced, our beliefs, values, memories, conditioning… and everything we have taken in through our senses. And yet this internal map which us humans have is only a representation – it’s not the whole truth, it’s not factual, and it has missing bits!
Just like Leonardo da Vinci we have created a map based on a sub-set of information, although perhaps less consciously.
As one of the Beliefs of Excellence (or pre-suppositions) in NLP says:
“The map is not the territory.”
What this is saying, in human terms, is that we have our map imprinted and integrated with all we know and have experienced, and yet there is no single version of the truth. We filter from subjective experience, which is essentially what NLP is about – the study of subjective experience, focusing on excellence and ‘doing what works’. Even having been in the same place at the same time as someone, there will be two versions of events. I am a twin and my sister and I recall different things from the same situations sometimes, either remembering different things or describing the same thing but not in the same way.
I’ve been reflecting for some time now on how to explain specifically what I do, why I do it, and the impact for clients.
Returning to work last week with fresh eyes and an open mind has been a revelation. I’ve been doing a lot of deep personal development work on myself over the summer, culminating last week in a fantastic Coaching Programme with Sue Knight. Participants shared significant discoveries which also brought learning for others in the group, and there was laughter, some tears, and a willingness to be vulnerable and express ourselves freely in-the-moment.
I felt a deep shift in my awareness of what I’m capable of, developed my sense of identity as an experienced practitioner, and appreciated the significance of the generative work I’ve been doing for some time, through coaching, training, mindfulness, and writing. More and more over time, I’m working with experienced coaches, leaders, and therapists too, because they are ready for a deep shift. And perhaps the world being a different place with the pandemic has prompted some self-reflection for all of us.
These simple words came to me this morning, which I think sum it up…
~ I help people to understand themselves like never before ~
I listen and notice even the most subtle signals in what they say and do, and also build a broad understanding of patterns of thoughts, beliefs, and how they relate to themselves and others. And I do this in a compassionate way, without judgement, which can bring insights very quickly if the person is willing to open up to their full experience (and they almost always are).
What does this bring for clients? They feel empowered to be themselves, just as they are, and live a wholehearted life, whatever that uniquely means for each of them… feeling fulfilled and doing work which aligns with who they are and what they want to bring to the world.
Words I hear most often about clients’ experiences is that they feel “lighter”, “free”, “like me again”, “I can let go”, and most recently from a business client (with a chuckle) “What is this witchy magic you do?”. I love that!
And the magic is found in sitting with someone in their world, holding space for whatever wants to emerge, which I find can have a significant healing effect, and clears the way for them to find new energy and embark on new beginnings. I know this is true, because I continue to experience it for myself.
“All the personal growth, hurting and healing is in many ways a gift. If sharing what I’ve learned with others can reassure and inspire them even just a little bit, it’s worth it. And I feel it enables me as much as any qualifications I’ve achieved, to walk a challenging path with others through my coaching.”
Thank you Sue and Carolyn, for the opportunity to join the programme. And I’m excited about the next steps.
The photo was taken in Rothiemurchus Estate near Aviemore a few years ago – a family favourite for holidays, long walks, and making memories. It’s a place where I’ve often reflected on what’s important in life… and what’s next on the path.