If we've been working together you no doubt know, I do love a metaphor! Here are a few I refer to often. Some I've created and some are reminders of conventional wisdom. Many overlap. Use the "thoughts and suggestions" box to remind me if I've not mentioned one you've found helpful.
Water Your Flowers
This is perhaps the most important concept I can share with you. We have so much more control over the quality of our lives than we sometimes believe. In the human experience everyone understands that they can choose how they act, and many people understand that they can choose how they feel about the events and circumstances of their lives, but this concept takes our personal control a step further.
The essential idea is that our attention is so powerful it is creative. Imagine your life as a garden and your attention as water. Wherever you turn your attention you are nurturing growth. When you focus on something that you want more of, you get more of it. When you focus on something that you want less of, you get more of it. The truism of water in gardens is that it grows flowers and weeds alike.
The idea isn’t simply that we can choose to think positively or negatively about the events in our lives and therefore feel better or worse, it is that the positive or negative thoughts we choose to think actually change the events in our lives for the better or worse.
Struggling in the Quicksand of What Is
When we find ourselves frustrated and stuck sometimes that's because we're resisting our current reality, we're "struggling in the quicksand of what is". Common knowledge tells us that the more you struggle the more quickly you sink. And although I'm reasonably certain that it only works this way in my metaphor, I assert that the best thing to do is to stop struggling and relax into the sand, which then will allow you to rise to the surface and climb on out. The point is, only when we relax and get our bearings can we make an effective plan to change our situation and take action.
It can be helpful to think of something that we're finding painful as a ball we're clutching in our hand. This ball is made of pins, all sticking sharp side out. When we stew about something upsetting our bodies respond, tensing up and releasing stress hormones. Our imaginations are powerful and our brain can mistake a memory or thought for a current threat. This tensing reaction can be seen as gripping the pin ball, piercing our hands. Trying to aggressively push the upsetting issue away is ineffective and will also leave you bleeding. An alternative is to relax and imagine holding the pin ball gently in a softened, open palm. From this vantage point we can look down at the issue resting in our hand with more objectivity. Breathing and remaining relaxed, we can reassess the issue with calmness and better perspective. If it starts to hurt again we can recognize that we've tensed up and again soften our grip until the problem is resting gently in our open palm.
Drop Your End of the Rope
There are times when we find ourselves in a power struggle with a partner, child or co-worker or with a situation. In either situation we want something to be other than it is. Reminding ourselves to "drop our end of the rope" means to refocus on the only place we have control, ourselves. If our struggle is with another person we redirect by asking ourselves 'who do I want to be in this situation?'. If the struggle is with a situation we redirect by accepting 'what is, is' and asking 'so what do I want to do about this?'
Keeping Your Side of the Street Clean
This timeless advice is often invoked in couples' sessions. It's not that we're incorrect when we know exactly what our partner does that's not helpful, it's just that we don't have control over it. Furthermore, generally speaking our partners aren't especially appreciative of our feedback if we're not also working on our own behavior. Systems Theory teaches that each part of a system is constantly influencing the other parts. So the empowering take-home from that is that if we make a change the relationship can't help but change. In any situation, keeping your side of the street clean means focus on where you have control and ask yourself "what kind of person do I want to be here?"
Imagine that you are born with a mental library, complete with rows of empty shelves and an efficient librarian. Immediately you start writing 'books', stories you create about your experiences in the world. Some books are informational about how things work and how you get your needs met. Some books are about emotions and relationships. Your librarian files all the books away in categories so she can quickly offer them to you for future reference. Any stories connected with physical or emotional pain go in a special section titled DANGER. Soon you have a sizable library of books your child-self has written. Now in every new situation your librarian helpfully offers a relevant book. She scans the DANGER section first, as your safety is always paramount. For the most part your library system works well. Books are expanded upon and revised as life experience and understanding grows. The problem arises when we lose sight of the fact that all of the books are collections of our thoughts, emotions and impressions. The books are fiction not fact. And books in the DANGER section are hard to edit. We can offer addenda but the original story tends to remain intact, and readily suggested by our librarian. The key is in recognizing when we're reading a favorite book...the familiar storyline, emotions, and ending...and to realize that we can put it down at any time. If we aren't enjoying a read, and know it doesn't end well, we can decide to choose something more enjoyable. In other words if we're caught in painful thoughts we can change our thinking. Or stop 'reading' anything at all and just breathe.