Metaphors hang on the edge of our awareness and defining them can bring them into a palpable experienced resource. They come naturally when we take the time to explore our inner-landscape.
We can go straight to the source, which is found inside us, of what we’d like to feel and doing that routes the groove each time we do it, making it easier, smoother and faster to get back there each time
And so now, what is waiting for you in this episode?
What is the next step on the path of a purposeful life?
Before we go there, I’d like to ask you a question.
What did you notice when you asked yourself the question, “When you feel really good, what is that like?”
Did you get a metaphor straight away?
Did you shake your head at the question?
Did you find it and the following questions difficult?
As mentioned, although they can seem quite banal, these questions are a lot less simple than they appear at first glance. They have been honed for a specific task: to get people exploring with as little interference from the questioner as possible.
And like with anything worth doing, they take some time to get a hang of. It takes time to understand how these simple questions (What kind of…? Is there anything else about …?) can actually have a deep effect on not only our mind-set, but how we actually feel. The questions are very simple, the process is not.
Just for a quick reminder, these questions have been used for a several decades now for helping an unknown amount of people (a good guess is close to millions) get into contact with their internal resources to live a life that they concoct through an inexhaustible creativity.
You’re not alone.
You’re not a guinea pig, for in as far as you know, except for the fact that you are using these questions through a worksheet instead of having, me for example, take you through them.
The reasons for this are simple and very much on point with this newsletter.
1). The goal is to see how this can be used to reach far more people than one person could do 1 on
2). The desire for more purpose in your life does not mean that you are broken. You don’t need fixing. Not everyone needs to go to a therapist/coach or facilitator, nor should they feel they have to.
3). The focus of this newsletter is specific and is a trip down a very specific path with a specific orientation and the exercises provided are framed towards that, for you to do and experiment on your own.
4). …To come. Suspense. We’ll be looking at this one today…
Of course, I’m here and accessible to answer any questions. Some people prefer Skype/Zoom, others prefer email. Reach out with your question(s) and I’ll reply and/or we can even set up a meeting.
Concerning when things are not as easy as we might like, yesterday I was reading the Daily Stoic newsletter which I receive. Stoicism is very popular today, like it was way back before the 3rd century.
The particular newsletter in question was entitled “It’s Ok to Struggle.”
Or in other terms coined by Thomas H. Palmer (according to phrases.org.uk (https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/5/messages/266.html) in a maxim used to encourage American schoolchildren to do their homework, he wrote in his ‘Teacher’s Manual’ in 1840: ‘Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’
As it turns out, this maxim is about more than just it may take time to succeed. According to the Daily Stoic’s newsletter, failing at first might be a huge advantage, in the long game.
It cited research done by Cornell University which focused on grant application for the National Institutes of Health. Those who applied and just narrowly missed getting funding compared to those who just succeeded in receiving funding, over a ten year period following their first submission, had much higher impact than their “near-win” counterparts.
Not succeeding at first can be an advantage.
It puts us in a situation of necessity that can push us into a double win.
How a double win?
The article continues with a big first win.
Coming up short, getting stuck, getting passed over—this can be fuel. That’s what Marcus Aurelius was saying when he talked about the impediment to action being an advancement to action, how the obstacle can be the way.
In any endeavor—creative, business, or grant proposals—we rarely achieve the result we hope for on our first go. Many great artists, entrepreneurs, and scientists have all admitted some version of Einstein’s, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” We must adopt and keep that mindset.
We cannot let one obstacle, one “near-miss” turn us off the path. Keep at it. Persist. Resistance is futile.
The double win is that it gives us a positive-feedback opportunity.
When Nobel prize physicist Feynman didn’t understand or have a good grasp of something, he developed an entire learning strategy.
He is famous for saying that if you want to learn anything complicated, imagine you are teaching it to a 6th grader.
One way to get good at something: Teach it.
Teaching (or guiding someone through an experience) not only helps your own understanding, it helps others, which in turn helps you. (or
I repeat. Helping others, helps you.
In the article “Altruism and Well-being” found on the https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/a/altruism-and-wellbeing website, one benefit among many found by helping others is…
People who give to others have better life adjustment overall and tend to see life as more meaningful. Altruism is associated with better marital relationships, a decreased sense of hopelessness, less depression, increased physical health, and enhanced self-esteem. Acts of altruism may also neutralise negative emotions that affect immune, endocrine and cardiovascular function.
Now the online Cambridge Dictionary defines altruism as;
the attitude of caring about others and doing acts that help them although you do not get anything by doing those acts.
So by strict definition, altruism means you’re not personally getting anything from acts that help others.
But in reality, although it is not the main motivator, we do gain personally, and directly, from helping others, as a byproduct.
“That’s when true happiness descends upon you. You’re in the right place at the right time. You’re doing what you should be doing but in a manner that expands your capacity to do even better things in the future.”
– anonymous clinical psychologist who I won’t cite here for fear of reprisal, I like his clinical analysis, not some of his politics. Email me for details.
One of the quickest paths to having a meaningful life full of purpose is helping others.
These acts can be called something else. They can be called acts of kindness.
The great Leo Tolstoy had something to say about “acts of kindness” and their impact on life’s meaning and purpose and he spent nineteen years saying it.
In the very inspired and amazingly well-researched newsletter Brain Pickings by Maria Popova subtitled “an inventory of the meaningful life,” talked about this in her article on the 28th of July.
Maria is a Bulgarian-born author who, besides her own important writing, does an amazing job of collecting what literary giants have said on the theme of meaning and life. It’s quite an endeavor and her work is so impressive that I donate monthly.
I’ll quote the newsletter here.
In the middle of his fifty-fifth year, Leo Tolstoy (September 9, 1828–November 20, 1910) set out to construct a reliable springboard for these moral leaps by compiling “a wise thought for every day of the year, from the greatest philosophers of all times and all people,” whose wisdom “gives one great inner force, calmness, and happiness” — thinkers and spiritual leaders who have shed light on what is most important in living a rewarding and meaningful life. Such a book, Tolstoy envisioned, would tell a person “about the Good Way of Life.” He spent the next seventeen years on the project.
After copying out two kindness-related quotations from Jeremy Bentham (“A person becomes happy to the same extent to which he or she gives happiness to other people.”) and John Ruskin (“The will of God for us is to live in happiness and to take an interest in the lives of others.”), Tolstoy adds:
“Love is real only when a person can sacrifice himself for another person. Only when a person forgets himself for the sake of another, and lives for another creature, only this kind of love can be called true love, and only in this love do we see the blessing and reward of life. This is the foundation of the world.”
“Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.”
(I added the bold text for emphasis).
And finally he says…
“Kindness enriches our life; with kindness mysterious things become clear, difficult things become easy, and dull things become cheerful.”
Is this not what we are looking for?
Don’t we want difficult things to become easy and dull things to become cheerful?
Remember, people with purpose enjoy themselves more, and it only takes a little more effort, which pays for itself in dividends.
Step 1 on our path to Purpose was developing our access to palpable well-being.
Step 2 is helping others do the same. (I’m here to guide you.”
We don’t need to seek random acts of kindness that might feel haphazard and not always easy to accomplish. Although looking for those opportunities daily can lead to fulfilling spontaneous moments, there is also a more planned approach we can take.
And by taking this approach we will also be helping our own practice and understanding.
Have you guessed yet? It’s reason #4 for why we’re using a worksheet. I said I’d get to it. Here we go.
Reason # 4
4). We’ve got a format which will allow you to practice with others and help them experience the well-being of feeling good.
And as we’ve seen. Practicing with others will help your own understanding while providing you the opportunity to help someone else experience a true gift; a true gift because you’ll be leading them to something that they’ll create. That is a gift. It’s one that will be rewarding to you as well.
How’s that for a plan?
So pick someone who you know fairly well, someone who will be indulgent and open to you leading them to an experience.
That might sound frightening.
I’ve been there and I get that.
I would be lying if I said my first attempt at taking someone else through an experience was a success. Way back in the day I was doing a self-learned hypnosis course. It wasn’t very good and I didn’t know it yet. I had a good friend who accepted that I try it on her, and the result was less than what I had hoped. But you know what? She didn’t think it was a failure at all. She actually liked it.
Trying that was a lot harder than what I propose we do.
What I propose we do is something that I’ve seen a group of people a lot less fortunate than most of us, with a lot of self-doubt and feelings of not being useful, accomplish with aplomb, and feel great doing it as they saw total strangers find something which they found useful and feel pretty good.
More on that project later. That’s just to say that this is well in your capabilities. I can say that because I’ve seen it in action, with non-experts. And those non-experts found a true sense of purpose doing it. And they did it with complete strangers at a tourist attraction who had other things on their mind.
We’ll be doing this with people who we are comfortable with, people who are lenient and willing to give us some practice. They’ll think they are doing us a favor, and they’ll go away with a gift of their own creating for their trouble.
And you’ll be creating a positive-feedback loop for yourself, one that you can replicate and get better at.
We’ll start with a frame. A frame is a word we use to mean that we are going to set the situation, it won’t be haphazard.
We’ll chose someone as mentioned and then ask them if they can help us out by letting us help them feel a bit of well-being.
That’s the first frame. You’re asking them for help, but help in helping them. You’re not implying that they need help, but they should be able to agree that everyone can feel a bit more of well-being in their life. Everyone.
Write down what they say in response to the questions (following the sheet I’ll provide here.)
Afterward, write down what the experience was like for you. Where was it easy? Where was it less easy?
Send those thoughts via email to me.
Did the person give resistance, where?
If there is resistance, tell them this is only an exercise. Remind them that they are doing you a favor, and by doing this favor, they might just learn something about themselves.
For some context, here is what I experienced when I decided to try this very thing in a context that was much more difficult than what I am proposing you do here. Granted I had some experience already, but nothing that prepared me for would happen.
In 2015, I had been studying Clean Language which is a communications protocol that was developed by New Zealander David Grove while he worked with trauma patients. I’ll go more into the specific technique and how it came about later. All you need to know now is that the questions in the exercise from last time are in part from that technique.
I had learned Clean Language for my practice working with individuals. I was helping people deal with situations that they didn’t like and wanted changing and others who had projects for which they wanted more clarity and coaching.
Regardless of the request, either to change something they didn’t like, or improve a situation they did like, whatever they found, came from them. I was just their like a guide in a museum, pointing my flashlight at things that they saw which helped them develop what they were looking for more clearly.
I thought maybe this was something that I could do to a larger public and have an impact in my community.
I was on good terms with the director of a government run meal center in my local city. I pitched him my idea of doing group sessions for the users of the center. He loved the idea and put me into touch with the lead social worker. We met and I told her what I was planning and she got on board.
I told her upfront that I had no idea if this would work, and that I had never done it in a group before. There were guarantees that even if people did attend the workshop that they would get into it or that it would even “work”. She thought it was worth trying and promised to talk to certain people who she thought might be open to it to see if they would come.
The day arrived and I have to admit that I was nervous. I had 3 fears.
1). I had no idea if they would understand what I meant about metaphors and if that would interest them.
2). I had no idea if I would be able to get them to concentrate on something other than their problems.
I should perhaps explain this. Having already spent time at the center, and others before, playing music, singing carols at the holidays, and other, I had noticed that, well like a lot of people, these people too liked to talk about their problems. And in fact, as it was not only a meal center, but also a place where they had access to social workers, they often did just that.
And although we can definitely deal with problems using Clean Language, I wanted to try a group session and I did not want to do individual therapy in a group setting. What I wanted we will see in a minute.
3). I had no idea if they would listen to each other. Empathy is not common currency on the streets either. That does not mean it doesn’t exist, nor that the marginalized have no empathy, they do, they just have to be very careful how they dish it out.
This is also why I didn’t want it to become a session where people aired all of their problems. I felt they did this fine without me.
The day came and twelve people were in the designated room sitting in chairs in a circle, plus the social worker and a psychologist she had invited.
I started by talking a bit about metaphor as I did in the last mail. I talked about how metaphors can help us talk about things that might not be very clear for us and talking about these metaphors help them come a live and palpable to become powerful resources to get what we are looking for.
There were only two rules. I would be asking the questions, and we’d go one person at a time.
Everyone seemed fine with that. So, with my heart beating somehow higher than it normally did, like up in my throat I started out with the question which I addressed to the group.
“When you are feeling really good, what is that like?”
There was a reason I had decided on this question, well before ever thinking of doing this newsletter.
These people were given food, most of them had some sort of shelter, they were getting a stipend of some sort from the government, they had access to social workers and even some cultural events. The center was a busy place which did its best to be a vibrant place for those who frequented it.
These people had their problems listened to, attended to if possible and in general could get things off their chest.
My bet was that they rarely were asked what it was like when they felt good.
And it is true, they did look at me askance. So I repeated my question. I scooted my butt to the edge of the chair and looked at them with all the confidence I didn’t have and eyed the group.
“When you are feeling good, what is that like?” I said, nodding my head in encouragement. “Anyone?”
Time seemed to slow down just like in the movies. No one was going to answer. This was going to drag out until I would just shrug and the social worker would come over to me and pat my shoulder and say, maybe we’ll try again, things like this take time, and she would be right.
“That’s easy. It’s like I’ve got a spear coming out of my chest!”
I couldn’t believe it. Someone was answering. A girl in her mid twenties, looking a bit rough, street wise, was looking at me. It was not a response that I could have expected. But it is not for us to judge what metaphors people use. And here was a metaphor, given to me on a silver platter.
It went like this.
Woman – That’s easy. When I’m at my best, it’s like there’s a spear coming out of my chest.
Me – What kind of spear?
A hard metal spear.
Is there anything else about that spear?
Yeah, it’s shiny. And it’s strong.
Does that spear have a size?
Yeah, it’s about this big around (she makes a large circle with her hands at her chest level)
What direction does that spear go?
Ah, well that’s the thing, it’s in my chest and goes up to the sky (she points towards the ceiling at a 45° angle). Because when I’m not doing well, it comes out my back and sticks me to the ground.
And that spear is made of hard metal, and shiny and strong, and it’s in your chest and it goes up to the sky…
Yeah! (she’s sitting on the edge of her seat, back straight, feet firmly on the floor, shoulders back, smiling.)
And you can feel that now?
Totally like what?
It’s great, I feel strong…
And it’s great, and you feel strong, what kind of strong?
Strong like I can do anything, nothing out there can touch me.
I looked around at the rest of the group to see how they were reacting to all of this. I saw heads nodding. Everyone was listening.
After I made a point of adding that all of that was her creation, I was just asking the questions, she was doing the work…and so she could bring it back whenever she wanted…
…I turned to the others again with the same question, “When you’re at your best, what are you like?”
‘I’m like a bull…” someone in the circle said.
And we were off again. I spent about 5 minutes per person and everyone in the room participated.
It was an amazing experience. Neither the social worker nor the psychologist who had come to listen could believe the response. Nor could I.
It became a weekly thing for an entire summer and then a smaller group showed an interest in learning the technique themselves so we started a program teaching them how to do this with others. Out of 6 people trained, 2 still do Clean Language and all of them said it had a great impact on them.
The social worker also took a program to learn with other coaches.
This is proof that this technique is accessible. It is a great way to help others.
Now we are not becoming coaches here. There is more to this than the two main questions I’ve shown you, BUT these two questions can already get you giving people a taste of what it is like when they are at their best. And that is a gift.
Having an impact is a large part of living a purposeful and meaningful life.
During the time at the meal center, one of the recurring statements I heard was that they no longer felt useful. Again, they were fed, had shelter, support, but they did not have an impact on their community. This technique helped them do that.
It can help you too.
So let’s look at what was going on.
If you’d like, you’d get real benefit from scrolling back above and re-reading the short exchange between the young woman and myself.
What do you notice?
I am using 2 main developing questions (Questions that develop the persons metaphor -or image. You did this exact same thing last time with the exercise.
What kind of (word)?
Is there anything else about (word)?
I’m asking if there is a size or shape to the metaphor – or image.
Does (word) have a size or shape?
I’m trying to locate where it is, if it’s inside or outside the person, and where exactly
Where is (word) in relation to you? On the inside or outside? Where exactly?
In the example given, she shows me with her hands where it is, so I don’t need to ask.
Also, if you notice, I’m repeating her words. This is called mirroring and is used even by the FBI in hostage situations. When people hear their own words (not paraphrasing, but the actual words they used) it sends a message that we are similar. We are programmed biologically to relax when around those who are similar to us. This is a quick way to get someone to relax. It also reinforces the positive traits they are describing, as they hear them said back to them. It also makes it clear that they are being heard, truly heard, without judgment or commentary. You’d be surprised how this is a first time experience for many.
All of this is just to help the person get into contact with their metaphor/symbol/image. When done in this manner, they can become psycho-active, meaning they really feel it. That is changing their state to a positive state of well-being. One that they can get back to on their own.
I also asked her to draw her spear, or write it down, and put it somewhere she could see it often.
Important: This is only a trial. There is nothing that can go wrong. You are helping someone
explore. Have fun with it.
There is only one precaution. Only use these for positive images/metaphors/symbols, or what have you. As the goal is for this to become palpable, we don’t want to develop a negative trait because that could become uncomfortable for the person.
Now, the young woman in the example came up with a spear as a symbol. But it was obvious that this was something positive, even if it sounded a bit violent to me. We are not here to judge what they come up with. As long as it’s positive for them, we can go with it.
Let’s remind ourselves why we are doing this.
If you want to get good at something, teach it.
There are few things that feel better than the sense of purpose that comes from helping others.
Now you might be feeling like I’ve tricked you. You might feel that you didn’t sign up for this. You might feel like you were planning on just trying this at home, in the privacy of your private space.
You might have planned to take this at your own pace, if at any pace at all, and just see what happens.
And yes, you can totally do that.
But Purpose doesn’t really work like that. Or not easily at least.
Maybe you’re heart is starting to beat faster now, and you’re starting to feel like this might be more than you asked for…
… Well at least you’re not bored.
Isn’t it a bit presumptuous to think that we can help others using a technique we have hardly gotten under wraps ourselves?
Isn’t it presumptuous to think that we can garner our own Personal Purpose just by working on our own good feeling and helping others find it too?
But at least we’re not bored.
If I can do this, anyone can. 3 people from the meal center did this with mutiple people each at a tourist attraction where people were not necessarily predisposed to answer questions from a stranger. They did accept. And they liked it. They drew pictures of their metaphors to take home with them.
If I can do this, anyone can. 3 people from the meal center did this with multiple people each at a tourist attraction where people were not necessarily predisposed to answer questions from a stranger. They did accept. And they liked it. They drew pictures of their metaphors to take home with them.
This is possible.
The worksheet (+ example) from last week is attached for your convenience.
Hit reply and let me know how it went.