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The Power of Metaphors

The Power of Metaphors

A combination of recent life experiences and studying a life coaching course have brought home for me the power of metaphors and how much influence they have in our lives.

It hadn’t occurred to me how much I could be limited by – or indeed empowered by – the deep rooted impact a metaphor can have. Buried in your subconscious, its meaning takes on a significance that can seriously affect how you handle life’s challenge.

For example, one of my deep rooted beliefs had been that “pride comes before a fall” – something I picked up as a child. But though it might have a value in teaching against vanity, what it meant for me was that if I ever took any pleasure out of an achievement, then something bad would happen to me. Ergo, I have always found it difficult to take an joy in anything I’ve achieved. The problem is, if we believe a metaphor enough, it can become literal. By turning a metaphor around, you can have a profound impact on how you feel about your life and how you handle situations.

Peacock
The peacock’s unashamedly proud display 😉

I now think of the feeling of pride as proof of a job well done.

You might have been told that you were “too big for your boots” at some point, which might result in you feeling that being who you are and reaching your full potential would mean that you would not “fit”. A new way to see that, might be that you have the chance to try on some new shoes! Or you might believe you are “at the end of your tether”, in which case, see the tether as a rope that can help you climb out of whatever situation you are in.

It might be a useful exercise for you to listen to your own thoughts or expressions as you go through your daily life – and perhaps identify the ones that make you feel unhappy, or limit you. Write them down. Tale a good hard look at them and then find a way to take the negative and turn it into a positive. Then the next time that same metaphor comes into your mind, actively change it to the positive expression. You might be surprised by how much it can change your attitude and how you feel.

And if you have a metaphor you recognise now that you would like to change – share it in the comments below – it might help others to identify and deal with it too!

One of the things that has struck me in the last few years, is how nature gives us the most amazing metaphors – positive, beautiful, life affirming examples that creation offers us naturally to learn from. I’m going to share some of them in the posts that will follow – including one of the most powerful and amazing experiences I was lucky enough to have last year when I saw a full circle rainbow. Hopefully they will inspire and help you as much as they have me.

Let the wind blow…

Let the wind blow…

"You have to accept you have no power, to be at your most powerful"

One of the big differences between humans and the rest of the natural world, is our determination to control.

It's been a key learning for me in the last few years, sometimes in the most excruciatingly painful way, that despite our supposed intelligence and our determination to direct our lives, the truth is that we have very little control or power in deciding our paths or our futures. The universe, nature has far more influence over that than most of us are prepared to acknowledge. And the irony is, that if we do accept that powerlessness, we actually become more powerful. Not necessarily in the ways we might have expected - but in a way that we finally understand, is best for the person we truly are.

By following the path that's naturally before us, rather than trying to force a direction, we generally end up in a better place. If we accept and face the challenges that are presented to us rather than trying to avoid or battle against them, we usually find that we will win through and grow.

Dandelion blowing in the windThink of this beautiful dandelion. One of nature's wonderful metaphors. A delicate fragile looking plant that's strength is in its ability to let go and allow the wind to carry its seeds and ensure it propagates. It has no control over where its seed goes, but the winds natural flow will take them where they need to with plenty of success. It trusts itself and it trusts nature.

In the same way, when we accept that we have very little power, we too become more powerful.

If you really think about what you have real control over and are honest about it, there's not much. You can't control other people. You can't control events you can't control nature. Ultimately, you can only control yourself and the decisions and actions you take.

For me It's been a personal challenge to let go of most what I know and understand and most of the "things' that I had accumulated in life - material things, work, beliefs, experience. And people. But what I have found in that process, is a better understanding of me, much more freedom, happiness - and success. The latter; success, is also redefined. Because success for me is now happiness, love and peace in my life.

We all create seeds in our lives, but we don't have much control over which ones will develop. So who knows where the seeds that are right now flying through the air will land and which of them will grow, but I trust it will be the right ones at the right time for me to have the life I was born to live.

So if you want to be and feel more powerful, accept that you have no power. Learn to be truly you. Learn to Dandelion against blue skytrust yourself and the decisions and steps you take. And trust nature and the universe to deliver the rest.

This dandelion represents for me, a new life. One that started when I let go of control and stepped into the unknown. I let the wind blow me in the right direction. And that direction took me on a new path and to a wonderful new partner who appreciates and understands equally the dandelion's stunning metaphor. For trust. For life on earth and our journey beyond it, for the Angels that walk with us and watch over us, for the way the wind blows, for love.

Let the tall poppies inspire your growth

Let the tall poppies inspire your growth

 The Poppy is a beautiful, wild and delicate flower that has great strength and independence. It is known for growing tall, reaching for the sky above the plants that surround it, so that it basks in the sunlight and attracts honey bees for pollination.

But there is a phenomenon that is a metaphor for their outstanding growth that is less attractive in human beings. Tall Poppy Syndrome has a varied history dating back to the Romans, but it is often referred to now as representing "the Politics of Envy".

The desire for normative society is still very strong in humans - and so is our capacity for envy. So when someone stands out, for their achievements, for their beauty, for their success, those who have yet to reach that level of growth, or do not possess the same characteristics, want to cut them down. Rather than seeing the other's achievement as inspiration for their own growth, or as an example of what might be possible, they feel a sense of inadequacy and feel bad about what they don't have. It's easier to bring the exceptional person down than to make the effort to match their success. The view is not "how can I do that too" it is "why should you have - or be - that, when I can't". Their attitude is fuelled by envy.

In some cultures, the dissatisfaction that the Tall Poppies create, is viewed as a negative issue socially and politically - they are a threat to control and so Tall Poppy Syndrome is actively encouraged; cut the poppies down rather than seek to achieve the same. But the development we need as humanity is not served by this attitude - it's a simple truth that we cannot grow by pulling things down (and I'm not talking about a bit of pruning here ;-)). Supporting the growth in those Tall Poppies and then encouraging them to promote growth amongst others is the way to evolve.

Three tall poppies side by sideThe Poppy, when it grows, is not concerned with superiority or comparison. It is not concerned with the other plants in its surrounds, it is simply growing to its potential, reaching its full height. Amongst humans, this is largely true too. Yes, there are exceptions, but for the most part high achieving people are not doing it to look down on others, but to look up at the sky. To reach for the stars. To be the best they can be.

So if you are a Tall Poppy - congratulations!! Stay tall and strong and glory in your sunlight - but also remember nature's metaphor extends to pollination - be a guide and sew the seeds that are required to help others to grow tall too.

If they can do it, why can’t we? #EmbraceYourDifferences

If they can do it, why can’t we? #EmbraceYourDifferences

Animal differences being embraced

Last week we had Lesbian Visibility Day. As a lesbian I’m not sure that I feel positive about that. Probably because I have become so tired of the notion that the fact I am in love with another woman is a difference for which I need to stand up and shout for my acceptance.

I simply cannot comprehend how loving another human being can be considered negative. And I detest the label – because it IS a label and because the word has been used with so much negative connotation that it makes it difficult to embrace.

No one has been able to explain to me why being gay is so hard for other people to accept. There are wars, poverty, cruelty, hardship, death, destruction… so many terrible things in the World that need our love, attention and support, that I simply can’t comprehend why people waste energy on something as harmless as two people loving each other.

That we are different to the “general” understanding of romantic (reproductive?) relationships being heterosexual, is a factor of male dominated social rules of acceptance. There is nothing in nature to suggest a single sex relationship is damaging, either to the people involved or their friends, family or offspring, other than their self imposed desire to view it negatively. In other words, it is only society and people’s seemingly endless need to harbor and express anger and hostility that has created this negative belief.

It’s quite astounding really, that being different in the human species of this planet is such a “threat” to the majority. Minorities are a general target for hatred. In the natural world, there are plenty of examples of how different species get along together and how those that differ from the physical “norm” are still embraced. Different animal species can accept and love each other, humans can embrace and adore animal species – but humans, who are supposedly blessed with the most advanced thinking and emotional capacity, seem largely and determinedly anti embracing the differences between each other.

What’s also disturbing, is that the focus is on standing up for the right to be who we are as a minority, rather than addressing the issues that cause our rejection in the first place within the majority. The rules that have been “made up” to instill fear, anger and hatred of those that are different are what need to be addressed. We have many more things in common than those differences – we are all humans and we should be doing every thing we can to make our lives happy and successful in order to protect our species.

My own view from the experiences of life, is that much of this anger and hatred stems from a core unhappiness that results from people not being able to “be” and live as “who they really are”. Our basic freedoms to exist in the way we want to naturally have been stripped away by centuries of power and control. The irony is, that at the core, the majority are unable to stand up for who they really are, because that is something they have hidden or suppressed. Because they are conforming to the need to stay safe within the confines of societal boundaries. What to wear, how to look, body shape, hair colour, race, sexuality, male and female role norms (what your interests should be, men like cars, women like dolls. Seriously? Just think about that for a minute!!! It’s ridiculous). With so many things that we have to conform to in order to fit in, how can we possibly be ourselves?

So it seems to me that what causes so much anger amongst the many, is that those who dare to and have the strength to be different, are enjoying a freedom that those poor conforming masses can’t. And I have to admit if I couldn’t be madly in love with a partner who I accept totally for who she is and who completely accepts me, warts and all; if I couldn’t have my red hair as long as I like, wear no make up, live in jeans, enjoy sports, wear flat shoes, wield a power drill, do the things that make me happy in life instead of the things that eek out a living. If I couldn’t enjoy the small things, ignore people who tell me no, or I can’t do something, not worry about the peer pressure of status or having “things”, or if I had to have friends that were only “acceptable” and on and on…. then I would be miserable too. And actually I know that, because for years I denied my true self and tried to live within the rules. And I was so unhappy!!!

But the solution is not to damn the different. There are probably many other solutions, but one of them surely must be to change your life so that you can be who you are. If the masses were brave enough to start breaking some of these rules, self imposed and otherwise, there would be no minorities and the the true state of our humanity would reveal itself – that the differences are individual. That we are all unique, but also that we are all the same – we are all human. We all have the right to be who we are. We have lost sight of the fact that that rules should only be necessary to help apply the structure we need to flourish as a species. Like care and support services, energy and communication, the preservation of our planet. Not about power, control and wealth and not about who we are and how we should “be”.

I have to stop now, before I start swaying and singing John Lennon songs. And besides, I haven’t told my partner I love her for at least an hour and I need to plan a fishing trip and see if I can find some T-Cut to fix a scratch on my car…

P.S on the subject of John Lennon, heres an amazing version of Imagine by the awesome Pentatonic. Far better than me trying 😉

The field of all possibilities

The field of all possibilities

Field of all possibilities

One of the biggest realisations for me in recent years, is how I have limited the possibilities that I have in my life – and that it’s a common trait that affects many people.

The World is literally our oyster, but many of us cannot see it. We have blinkers on. And ironically, it’s the world around us that provides the blinkers. Society, education, peers, our experiences, family even.

Imagine you are standing at the edge of a field. Perhaps the wheat field in the video below. You cannot see the other side, but your goal is to get there. What is the best route? The answer is that you do not know. But you might think the best route is to walk in as straight a direction as you can. After all, it’s just a wheat field right? You might as well just head right across.

But actually you can’t see what might be in that wheat field. There are so many possibilities, both obstacles and delights.

Direction signpostsThe analogy with life is that we so often get caught up in where we are heading, believing that the specific destination we have decided on is the best place for us to head for, that we lose sight of the value of the journey – and most importantly, the other opportunities that might open up for us along the way.

That’s how I used to be. I was so focused on the future – so intent on reaching a particular place or goal - that I forgot to enjoy the journey.  And so confined by the path and determined to stay on course that I did not necessarily see the wonderful things that were there around me. The other options I could explore.

One of my very recent learnings has been about how, in the context of this journey, making choices in the present moment and doing so wisely and with presence, has a huge impact on the direction of our lives. The decisions we make right now will affect our future with enormous significance and yet, we often make our choices for so many of the wrong reasons or in a careless way. We often do so flippantly, or based on the advice of others rather than what we intrinsically feel to be right, or with the benefit of others in mind instead of ourselves. We allow our minds to over think based on our conditioning and override the basic instincts that would often serve us better.

And we so often make a choice either consciously or subconsciously, that keeps us in a position that is safe for us, even if it causes us pain. It is a familiar place and change is far more daunting to deal with than the pain of staying the course that we are on. We fear the winds of change, as if they might blow us off course or even knock us off our feet, but actually that flowing movement might just be shifting us a new direction which ultimately we will find to be a breeze, a blast, a breath of fresh air. We also tend to perceive “changing our minds” as a negative thing, as if we may have made the wrong decision in the first place. But this is a misconception too, we just made the choice that we were best able to do at the time. Changing is not a weakness, it is a strength.

We each have the right to make choices about our direction – and if we see each choice as a unique opportunity to take a step forward in life (regardless of which direction it is in), if we make each choice open to all the circumstances that surround us and listening to our own voice, if we do so courageously and openly knowing that we can deal with the consequences, good or bad, because we can make the next choice more wisely, then we will always be open to the field of all possibilities. Which makes our opportunities endless and always positive regardless of what we have to deal with along the way.

A step backward is the way forward

A step backward is the way forward

“The Obstacle is the Path” – Zen Proverb

There are many times in life when we are confronted with a difficult process of dealing with a situation that takes time and during which we may experience a great deal of pain. Emotional pain.

Reading recently about the art of meditation and how it relates to physical exercise, I started to contemplate how we separate emotional and physical pain and treat them in different ways – and realised that if we start to look at similarities between them there may be ways in which we can shift our attitude and deal with emotional pain from a different perspective.

I’ve talked before about metaphors and how they can negatively impact our perceptions – and how reframing them can have a significant effect on our ability to deal with difficult or challenging situations. Earlier this week I experienced a deep sense of being “lost”. It was a feeling I know very well from the stages of grief – it isn’t just a simple feeling of losing touch with where you are, it is a sudden and desperate disconnection with who you are and life itself. Like being adrift in a huge ocean with no sense of where they might be any land and therefore with complete disorientation. I felt bereft. And in the moment I was in it, there temporarily felt like no way out.

I felt like I had taken a huge step backwards.

Of course as in all states it was temporary. Everything is temporary and holding on to that simple understanding now helps me get through it – I use another metaphor as a mantra. Clouds pass. Holding on to that single thought gets me to a point where I can deal with the feelings that have caused me to land in that space.

And then I started to think about the term taking a huge step backwards and relating it to exercise. If I am walking over tough terrain and meet an obstacle, I may need to move backwards to find an alternative path. In that scenario, would I literally take a step backwards? Well unless there were circumstances that absolutely prevented it, the answer would be no. Because if I did that, I would not be able to see where I was going. I would be placing my feet behind me without being sure of where I was placing them. The likelihood is, I would turn around and face the direction I now need to head in. And in that case I wouldn’t be taking a step backwards, I would actually be heading forwards to the new place I needed to be in order to change direction and make progress in a different way.

So often, we are not taking a step backwards at all, we are actually just being made aware of an obstacle that awakens us to the fact that we need to move in a different direction. And that is progress. So the next time you feel that you have taken a step backwards, perhaps a way to perceive the situation differently, would be to mentally visualise yourself turning round to face the step that you need to take. In that way you can see it from a new perspective - and not only can you see it as taking a step forward to finding your new way along the path, by facing into it, you will deal with it more sure-footedly and with greater conviction and clarity.

Footprints in the Sand

Footprints in the Sand

Footprints in sand

Running is a great metaphor, and running in the sand even more so. Today as I was jogging along the beach by the sea, I thought about how, even when I set a goal, I always take it one step at a time. If I take this one step and concentrate on that, then I have the possibility of taking the next step and I don’t think about the details of what’s ahead. That seems like a pretty good way to approach life. We might think we will be at a certain point in the future – or in the distance – but we really don’t know what will happen - actually all we can really be sure of is the step we are taking right now.

So I take the steps and keep going as long as I can – sometimes its easy, sometimes it’s hard. I might need to have a break and take a breather, sometimes I might need to stop altogether. Sometimes I have to divert off the path I intended to go, take steps to move in a different direction, or to avoid an obstacle in my path. Mostly I meet my goals, sometimes I go beyond them and occasionally I fall short. But no matter, because at some point I will start again and take some

more steps. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps another day, maybe in the same place, maybe somewhere else. All that really matters is that I keep taking the steps. One at a time. And with each one, everything is possible.

Then I thought about my footprints in the sand. They showed the path I had taken, they are my journey, but when the sea comes in they will be washed away, they will disappear from sight. It doesn’t matter though does it? Because they are in the past and it is only me that needs to know that was my path.

tide coming in
Washed away... but not in memory

Today I ran alone, in the past I have shared that run with someone by my side. And it made me think about how much pleasure there is in creating that path together, when your steps intertwine and create beautiful patterns in the sand. Those footprints disappear too, but each knows they took that journey together, regardless of what might happen in the future - and no wave can ever wash away the deep and lasting impression in memory, of the joy and love that was felt in creating them.

I’m looking forward to making many more footprints in the sand…

The Benefits of Weed

The Benefits of Weed

… or should I say weeds 😉

Weed (the flora definition of) is one those words that, in my opinion, does more harm than the poor hapless plants it targets. These are dictionary definitions:

  1. a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.
  1. any undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that grows profusely where it is not wanted: e.g The vacant lot was covered with weeds.

Well I took this photo recently on a walk with some very good friends. It struck me as I looked at the “vacant lot” all run over with weeds, how glorious it was. In a space where the plants had been allowed to grow wild, untamed, uncontrolledWeeds on a building plot, there was exceptional beauty. Not only that, but allowing these wild flowers to flourish means that more
of nature’s spectacular creations can proliferate too, like butterflies and bees.

It strikes me that it’s kind of analogous with our propensity as human beings to control, manipulate, judge. How arrogant we can be!! How can a plant be valueless, undesirable and troublesome when it supports our wonderfully natural ecosystem?

But then that’s one of the issues that we have isn’t it? That we believe we are right, that we are the Masters of this Universe? That we make better and more informed decisions about what should and shouldn’t be allowed to grow and flourish. How foolish we are. Nature has been here for billions more years than we have. It is far more powerful. It has more grace, more intelligence and more courage in its natural growth than we can ever have if we continue to restrict ourselves to a human evolution that is dominated by such ego.

It’s true I guess that where a plant has an overwhelming desire to spread, there might be a case for encouraging some regulation – but wouldn’t it be better to do so in a way that embraces its wild beauty and allows it to live in harmony with our own desires for the space it occupies? Do we really have to stop its passionate disregard for order in its tracks?

I would have thought it should be possible. But if not and there has to be a choice, I’m with the weeds…

(Oh and if you want to find out about some "relative" benefits of weed - as in marijuana - there's an interesting article on The Independent about how it's 114 times less deadly that alcohol. Another reason to be with the weeds?)

Making a Splash

Making a Splash

Sea splash
Power and glory – time to make a splash?

There’s a coastal path I run along here in Brighton, beyond the marina by the cliffs towards Saltdean. When the tide is in, the water rolls right on up to the wall that edges the path. When the waves encounter the wall – they climb right up it and make a splash. It struck me as a great metaphor for making a splash in life.

Some people avoid the splash of the water, not appreciating it because it gets in their path. Others skirt round it but give a cursory nod to its beauty. Yet more wonder at its power and awe, so they stop and take pictures. And some just love it, stand right in it and revel in all its glory. But it doesn’t matter to the sea what the reaction of any of those people are. It still goes on making its splash just the same. Because it’s doing what it’s meant to do. Joyfully.

So be like the sea. Whatever the obstacles in your way, don’t let them stop you. Keep on going and climb up and over them. And don’t think about the consequences. Just get out there and make that splash. Because that’s what you’re meant to do. Joyfully.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…

I was lucky enough last year to spend a week in Hawaii, on the Big Island. I picked the Big Island of all Hawaii’s glorious locations, because it is the one most known as a spiritual place, a sanctuary and inspiration for those going through challenging times. From the very first day, I was able to “feel” this island and I mean by that, as well as being a wondrous assault on the senses in terms of it’s beauty, it is also a place I feel a connection with in my soul. Dominated by 5 volcanoes, one of which is the largest in the world and very much active, the landscape is unique, stunning and ever-changing and growing. The analogy with a life in transformation is not lost on many people who visit.

One of the features of my time there was the presence of rainbows.  The second morning I got up early and went out to watch the sunrise and to take a look at the beautiful seascape by the hotel – I was rewarded with a spectacular rainbow that formed an arc over the still waters of the bay. There were beautiful rainbows on many days that followed (the West side of the island is known for its precipitation with over 300 inches of rain a year) But none were so spectacular as the one I saw on the last day.

I took a helicopter trip over the volcanoes – I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it was to see the raw power of nature at work, the fierce force of fire and the sheer beauty of growth and renewal it represents, so close up.  But one of the other things of utter glory I witnessed happened as we passed the Mauna Loa volcano. I mentioned to the pilot that I could see a rainbow forming just behind us, so he turned back into it and told us that in doing so we would see a full circle rainbow. Well did you ever realize there was such a thing? I didn’t. I never knew that this was possible and was completely awed by seeing it in a helicopter at 12000 feet.  It did indeed form a complete circle of total brilliance. Watch it in the video here to see how awesome it is.

So that puts the end to the myth of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow doesn’t it? Well that was my reaction – though at least it meant I could stop chasing in vain! I mentioned this to a fellow traveler, lamenting that the possibility was now gone. Her reply was just beautiful – she said, “well the point is, you are the pot of gold.”

How poignant is that? And it had a profound impact on me – because I have spent my entire life trying to find happiness outside myself. Constantly looking for my joy by seeking it in and through others. And I was blissfully happy with Maria – but she became my meaning in life. When I lost her, I also felt like I had lost my reason for being. In grief, the need to re-establish that reason for being by seeking someone else to find happiness with, was almost overwhelming. The full circle rainbow was a powerful reminder that I am the source of my own happiness – that my pot of gold is within me.

So that place over the rainbow? That place where troubles melt like lemon drops? Where the dreams that you dare to dream really can come true? Well if you’re like me, then perhaps it’s time to come full circle – and find that place inside you 😉