Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Taking Comfort in Metaphor

Yeow, it's been two weeks since my last post. Well, chalk it up to motherhood and YJ deadlines eating up all my free time (oh yeah, and realizing I can download episodes of 30 Rock from NBC's website..."Hey Liz Lemon!").

In interviews for the YJ prenatal articles, I keep hearing about methods of teaching relaxation; describing words, stories, images to help a woman focus on her breathing and distract herself from the discomfort of pregnancy or the pain of labor. So I got to thinking about the power of metaphor, and how a "seemingly unrelated subject" can be so much more evocative than the subject currently at hand.

I use metaphor all the time during pranayama in my own practice, or leading breathing exercises when I'm teaching. I use it on myself when I start to stress over something stupid ("I set the woman down hours ago") or when I'm trying to help a friend get perspective on a problem. Somehow it seems so much more useful than just telling myself to relax or stop worrying.

Why is that? Why is it more effective to imagine Buddhist monk mice carrying around mice princesses, rather than just telling myself to "snap out of it"? Why do my students relax more when they imagine a glowing orb getting brighter and dimmer with each breath, rather than just thinking about inhaling and exhaling. Wikipedia says therapeutic metaphor is using a parallel story to help illuminate a situation. So I guess, not thinking about a thing but talking around a thing is the best way to examine it--which makes sense if the thing is sensitive or troubling. Seeing something in a different light, so to speak.

Plus, it's kind of fun to come up with ways to describe and explain that are especially affecting.

I look at my sons and am reminded about the power of self-soothing. For these two, a thumb or a pacifier or a soft scrap of fabric becomes a stand-in for all things comforting and warm (or, I guess, me). Later, we turn to words and imagery to help settle us and relax. I think we'd all be in pretty good shape, if all it took was a thread-bare old scarf (Eamonn's blanket, called "Wink") to make us feel better. But, for now, a really good metaphor can be enough to help get us through a rough spot and clear the mind.

So tell me, what is your best verbal "Wink"?


Teach Children's Yoga said...

Nice post, my favorite metaphors are stories. My teacher always said, "A picture is worth a thousand words, but a story is worth a thousand pictures."

In a story you can say in a couple of minutes what would take a long time to explain any other way.

One of my favorite stories is told live by my teacher here:

It is called, "A Story of a Fishmongers Wife"

Luckymortal said...

That was a nice post.


I remember reading about when the meditation master Chogyam Trungpa came to the United States. His instructions were simple, just sit down and breathe and give yourself space.

He found it was impossible for Americans--our minds are just too busy busy busy with muck all the time.

He found that, with Americans, he had to use metaphors and other techniques to cultivate enough quiet to "just sit there."

As a video-game-playing teenager, the first techniques that really worked for me were taoist meditation that used the metaphors of "internal alchemy."

Anyway, thanks for the thought provoking post.

And thanks to TCY for posting the link to the Fishmonger's Wife.

K Amber said...
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