Tag Archives: writing

Why Change Metaphors Need to Change

Imagine you wake up one morning to the following printed in bold on the front page of the newspaper: “Everything is falling apart! Chaos and mayhem are inevitable!”
Feeling anxious and scared? Most people would.

Now imagine you wake up to a front page news article which claims, “The tyrannical dictatorship is falling apart! Chaos and mayhem within the oppressive government is now inevitable!”
You’d be relieved rather than terrified, right? Well, let’s hope so!

Both news articles are about chaos, mayhem, and falling apart, so what is it about the second article which instilled relief and perhaps even hope and gratitude, while the first article instilled only fear? Well first off, where the first article was vague and grossly overgeneralized, the second article was specific and to the point, adequately defining what human realm was under threat, without leaving it up to your alerted and all too vivid imagination.

So, apart from bizarre hypothetical examples, when does this kind of trend toward all-encompassing shock value occur? It occurs, quite often, in spiritual books and discussions on alchemy, transformation, initiation, and life transitions: and this needs to change.

Accounts of spiritual transformation often abound with claims about long painful suffering, dismemberment, “dying to who you were to become who you are,” undergoing a “soul death” in order to graduate into some higher spiritual consciousness, and descriptions of dissolution and the stripping away of all you’ve ever known, are attached to, care about, or conceive of as being central to who you are. No wonder people reading about this (like me) metaphorically run screaming into the hills, never to pick up a book like this again.

So, given the high probability of grave misunderstanding, why on earth do authoritative texts on transformation skip over the all-important bit about defining their terms and settle for shock value language like “dissolve” or “dismember” when describing alchemical shifts, initiations, or life transitions? The overarching message is just as sensational and vague as the claim that “everything” is/will be falling apart, but with the additional entreaty to “not worry, and embrace the process, because you’ll be grateful in the end.”

Uh huh. Is it my pre-dismembered or post-dismembered self who is supposed to not worry and be grateful? I don’t want to know. Not me, please!

But with all the change going on in my life, ending a 30 year career as a student and beginning to build my future, I’ve been suspicious that a transformation might be lurking just under the surface anyway. When I started to catch onto the fact that I was right about this, my response was abject terror. All I knew about transformation was taken from those harrowing accounts I’d read about, and there was no way I was going to consent to an experience like that any time soon.

And then one night I was lying awake, too anxious to fall asleep, and Ailbhe and Caoilte were keeping watch on me. Finally, having been unsuccessful at it myself, I asked if they could help me calm down.

Ailbhe kept on with the watch, but Caoilte looked over at me, his face gradually showing greater concern. “No wonder you’re terrified about your future, Éilis, when you believe spiritual transformation happens like this:”

In my mind’s eye I suddenly saw an animated picture. A nondescript but imposing looking man, embodying uncertainty and change, pursues a woman through the woods as if hunting her. The woman is terrified that if she is caught, she will lose everything important to her, or end up dismembered in some vague spiritual sense, so she is running for her life.

“I wouldn’t sign up for that myself if there was a choice in the matter,” Caoilte continued, and his eyes glinted with a hint of a smile. “Actually, what is really happening during shifts and transitions is more like this:”

Again, I saw a picture of the same woman out in the woods. Now, she is caught in a vine which has twined around her arms and legs, trapping her. It appears to be on its way to eventually strangling her. There’s the person embodying change, trying to convince the woman to let him cut away and uproot the vine which is threatening her, so she can finally break free and live her life.

For a split second, my mind stopped racing a mile a minute and I was still, surprised and intrigued by what I was seeing. That was the moment when Caoilte said, quietly, “You are dying to live, Éilis. You’ve been given an understanding which has its origins in fear, but it isn’t true.”

I began to relax somewhat. I unfolded my arms, which I realized I had crossed over me, and undid the tight grip my hands had on each other. I hadn’t even been aware how much my body language was mirroring my emotions. I was able to keep from being defensive for one peaceful moment, and then like a wave with a pattern of its own, the fear returned.

“Nothing is going to happen to you, Éilis,” Caoilte said, reading my thoughts. “Transformation is an integral part of being fully alive. If anyone wishes to speak of death, it is all that is not you that dies. But such a way of putting the process is highly misleading and unnecessarily dramatic. No one explains that what supposedly “dies” were all along illusions and never really existed. People get attached to them, so they think there is something real to dissolve or cut away, but what doesn’t serve a person was never part of them to begin with. In fact holding on is what puts so many people in danger; it is allowing change to happen which keeps you safe and gives you the space to live as your own person.”

I understood, and my panic slowly dissipated into relief, even gratitude. After a while I said, “I want to really live. So, what happens now?”

Since I’ve gained this different perspective on what transformation means, I wonder why broad statements such as “you will die to who you were” aren’t discussed in a more careful, precise way. It would be healing for a person to realize that even when it feels like all she is familiar with is dissolving around her, she will never cease to recognize that core essential spark of who she is. Just as it seems unnecessarily disingenuous to gloss over the fact that it’s the oppressive government, not “everything” that is falling apart, it seems particularly cruel to devote an extensive amount of time and energy toward descriptions and accounts of dissolution, without making the distinction between the illusions and patterns that unravel and the person’s essential nature which remains the same. That core nature of a person shines even brighter in the world after all that stuff that doesn’t serve her is out of the way. Knowing that, why suggest that anything truly valuable to her could be irreparably lost?

Anyone who is in a position to make a spiritual contribution to the world and chooses to do so has the responsibility to cultivate love, rather than fear. To that end what you say, and how you say it, really does matter. Clarity is just as valuable when conveying spiritual concepts as it is in writing good journalism or constructing good arguments. Change is already daunting in and of itself. Perhaps we might be able to move more gracefully through the transitions that are bound to occur if we transform the way we think of and talk about change.

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Free Style Writing Challenge

I’ve been tagged by Jane to participate in a free style writing challenge. Being a crazy overachiever, I tried to freestyle write for more than ten minutes and so consequently found myself desperately wishing for the time to be up, and struggling because it was not up yet. I should know better. 🙂

These are the rules

1. Open an MS Word Document
2. Set a stop watch or your mobile phone timer to 5 or 10 minutes, whichever challenge you think you can beat
3. Your topic is at the foot of this post BUT DO NOT SCROLL DOWN TO SEE IT UNTIL YOU ARE READY WITH YOUR TIMER!!!
4. Fill the word doc with as much words as you want. Once you start writing do not stop.
5. Do not cheat by going back and correcting spelling and grammar using spell check (its only meant for you to reflect on your own control of sensible thought flow and for you to reflect on your ability to write the right spelling and stick to grammar rules)
6. You may or may not pay attention to punctuation or capitals. However, if you do, it would be best
7. At the end of your post write down ‘No. of words = ____” so that we would have an idea of how much you can write within the time frame.
8. Do not forget to copy paste the entire passage on your blog post with a new topic for your nominees and copy paste these rules with your nomination (at least five (5) bloggers)
**Just adding, in case anyone is like me and genuinely fails to understand rules when there are any: I thought the idea was to try to write beyond five or respectively ten minutes as in beating your own set time, but now that I am thinking about it, I think you’re supposed to write within the limits of five or ten minutes and stop when you feel like throwing something. For me, that would have occured around minute 8, if truth be told. I was not actually trying to see if I could freestyle write for fifteen minutes. Oh well, I am much better at improvising than following set directions. As usual.

My topic was: You’ve inherited a small fortune. You can move to any part of the world you like. Where would you go?

And my answer which makes me sound like a third grader (maybe from all my analytic dissertation writing?) rather boringly follows.

If I inherited a small fortune I would definitely move to Ireland to live. The landscape is incredibly beautiful, I can speak Irish with people in Galway for instance which would be awesome as I learned for fun, started learning for fun in Grad school, because I really didn’t want to be doing what I was supposed to be doing in grad school anyway and I also very much would like to teach my children Irish. It’s important to me that they grow up knowing much about where they came from, at least half their family. So what better than to let them grow up in Ireland? I could have time to visit all the sites from the Iron age I’ve been longing to visit, spend lots of time exploring bogs and forests and climbing mountains and maybe even have enough land to get an Irish wolf hound (they need quite a lot of space to run around,) and I would feel like I had come home, I am sure. I’d be so excited to move there. In fact I always had a dream to spend three months there, and sometimes even pictured myself living there on my own which is definitely why this is just a dream which will not have any basis in reality. But with asmall fortune I could find a lovely house in the country in which to live with Allegro and a friend or two and be able to pay someone to drive me around and take me places, as I’m not sure about the public transit situation in most counties and I’d want to be able to be as independent as possible. I’d make sure to make friends, and go everywhere I have always wanted to go. I would also hang out with my ancient family over there all the time and it would be awesome to learn about what the land looked like in their time and what it meant to them to live off the land and have a natural relationship with it that we don’t have in this time. Having a sense of place as they did and reverence for life, and developing that sense within the very landscape they shared would I think be a phenomenal experience. I’d really enjoy the opportunity. And finally I think I’d have tons of fun, and write this book called Braillic, which my mom and I thought about writing last year, about raising a child who is visually impaired who is also a druid which we would somehow link to our Irish ancestry and various locations we’d venture into. Perhaps I’d modify that idea a bit if I had enough money to live in Ireland in the first place, rather than attempt authoring a book with some obviously minimal excuse for doing “research” in the country.
472 words in 14 minutes and 15.7 seconds.

Seriously, I should have made up something as well such as living on the moon or in a deep sea vent with giant squid and heat resistant microorganisms. The truth is I’d rather not live in either location, unless also postulating I would not be human.

I’m not so randomly picking on:

And I’m asking them to write about…Don’t scroll down to find out until you’re ready to go

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If you could have the experience of living as a nonhuman animal for one day, what would you be? What would you do? Why?