Metaphor: a link between body and mind

Stories are the way that we make sense of our worlds, at least for most of us. We make sense of our day through narrative.  “Oh, today was a good day, because I got a parking place right away at work, and I had lunch with a good friend, and I was productive at work, and my favorite song was on the radio during the ride home.”   That might not sound like much of a story, but it is certainly a typical way for a person to make sense of experiences.  There is also judgment within the story, an indication of pleasure or displeasure about the way that the experience unfolded.   And that story can have a lot of power.   For example, a story about a “good day at work” can influence mood and social interactions for the whole evening, and maybe even predispose the storyteller to experience the next day in a positive way.

Of course it works in less obvious ways, as well.   We can tell ourselves stories about how we’ve been badly treated, about how the world dispenses injustice, or about the things we would like to do to act out on feelings we’re having.    We can tell ourselves stories about how we can do something or about how we cannot do something.   Stories help us to construct our sense of ourselves as well as our sense of the world around us.

Stories tell us who we are and explain the world to us.

When we hear stories, we often respond viscerally. That is, we have a feeling about the story we hear. There is a set of sensations in the body, responses that happen just as a result of hearing a story, reading a story, watching a movie or tv show. We don’t even need to be “into it” very much to have a response. In fact, distancing can be a response to a story.
The story you tell yourself helps to create the YOU that you are. You can choose the story, though. You are not stuck with the story you have already in place. Perhaps you could tell yourself a story about a person who was stuck in old patterns, who had few different ways to behave, who was not so spontaneous, who didn’t feel feelings very clearly. Perhaps this person was learning about other ways to be in the world, was starting to think about taking some risks to be different than before. Perhaps he or she was getting ready to become someone different. Below is an exercise using a metaphor around this kind of story.

Gold chrysalises
  • You can bring your body into this exercise, or just attend to your thinking and notice that your body comes along. For example, you might imagine that you are going through a change process, perhaps like the one that turns caterpillars into butterflies. You could imagine yourself all wrapped up tightly in a chrysalis, change happening but not yet visible to the outside world. If you want to, use your body to help your mind in this imagining.
    • Feel the tightness of the hard case around you; feel your own desire to break out and begin to move freely.
    • Notice how your face and head feel, how your back and legs and torso feel, while in this tight casing.
    • Notice your own awareness of the changes in your consciousness as you have been learning more about yourself.
    • Notice the parts of your body that particularly want to expand and open.
    • Then using your powers of mind, imagine the hard casing of the chrysalis easing open, gently splitting to reveal …. what? Now just let that opening happen and allow whatever is there to emerge, providing a welcome to whatever is present for you at this moment. Welcome the new sensations, images, feelings, ideas, with compassion. If they are not what you wanted, still welcome them with kindness, knowing that there is something there for you, even if it might not be what you decided in advance should be there.

Acceptance of what is allows things to change.

Many thanks to ” Erica Marshall of ” for the insect photos, and to Brenda on Flickr for the books.   My apologies for using an old saw…the butterfly metaphor….but it works.

How do you see yourself reflected in the stories you tell yourself? What would it mean for you to know that you are not your stories? How might your life open up?

Balthasar’s Hand

I love the process of clearing space.  I love doing it in the physical world, where I declutter, remove unneeded objects, and put things in their proper places.  I love doing it in my inner world, too, when the mental noise is starting to be more insistent than my experience of sensory pleasures.  That is, when I notice that I have been walking in the woods for the last ten minutes but haven’t seen, heard, or smelled anything at all that told me I was in the woods, then I know that I am far too caught up in my inner life and that my real life, the life of my body in this world, is passing me by.

But there is a seductiveness to thinking, thinking, thinking.  In my thoughts, I can imagine that things work out just the way I want them to.   In my thoughts, I can also imagine that things are Just Terrible, and that there is an awful tragedy, and I can suffer mightily.  For some reason, people seem to like to dwell in thoughts like those maybe even more than dwelling in thoughts that bring pleasure.  In my thoughts, I can wreak vengeance on those whom I think have done me wrong.   I can see my personal justice brought to bear in my thoughts.

I don’t really want to trash-talk the thinking process.  Thinking is perhaps the most useful tool that human beings have developed.  We are capable of remembering the past on multiple levels, and of projecting the future, and those two things allow us to create new objects and experiences.  They also allow us to re-experience through various means; reading books, watching movies, talking with friends.  Thinking is a powerful tool and we don’t use it all the time. Our minds are busy, though, even when we don’t need to be thinking.  This is an adaptation;   our minds are on alert for threats to survival, opportunities to increase the likelihood of survival, and sometimes just ways to entertain us.    These busy minds can also cause us a lot of grief if we have learned habits that are unwholesome and lead us to getting caught in our thoughts and feelings.


Having a cluttered mind is like having a cluttered home or a cluttered office, though.   The clutter can really get in the way of priorities.  It can divert attention from what is really important.  And sometimes I discover little bits and pieces of clutter that really belong somewhere else.  If those bits and pieces were put where they belonged, they wouldn’t actually be clutter.


There is a Christmas cactus in the living room;  it is in a clay pot, and sits on a white saucer, to protect the table from drips of water.   On the edge of the saucer is a small brown object.   I noticed it when watering the plant, picked it up to wonder at it.  It’s a hand, actually, a ceramic hand, broken off a ceramic person and just cluttering up the saucer.   When I held it I recognized it;  it belongs to a statue of one of the famed Three Kings of Epiphany;  Balthasar, to be precise.  Balthasar comes out, along with his brethren, during winter holidays.  These guys are remnants from my life as a young mom, making merry with my small children, and Balthasar has always had trouble keeping his hand connected.  However, finding Balthasar’s hand on my plant saucer in mid summer means that it has been there for months, existing as clutter.

What to do with this hand, now that I have noticed it, picked it up, identified it?   I could find the statue and glue it on.  I could pitch the hand in the trash, which is perhaps the most reasonable thing to do. After all, Balthasar has managed without his hand for some time.     But no, I did neither of these.   I did the only thing possible for me at this time.  I put it back on the saucer, in hope that I’ll remember where it sits next December when Balthasar comes to visit out of the decorations stored in the basement.   In the meantime, in its current incarnation as “clutter” the hand has distracted and entertained me, and in fact, provided an inspiration for a post that started out being in favor of decluttering.   Maybe I’ll need to reconsider my position on that!

What is your experience?   How do your chosen objects enhance your life?   Do they ever impinge on you in a negative way?  Is it easier to do a complex task if your surroundings are clear?


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