Category Archives: metaphor
On one of my walks last week I came upon this small hill at the same moment as a girl—about 4 years old, I’d say—and her dad. They had stopped their bicycles, and they stood at the top of the slope looking down. I eavesdropped:
Dad: You can do it, honey.
Girl: It’s too high.
Dad: Give it a try. I’ll be right behind you.
Girl: I don’t want to. It’s too high.
Dad: Would you like me to go beside you, at the same time?
Dad: Okay then. Just give it a try. If you do it once, it will be easier next time.
Girl: Ooooh . . . kay . . .
The hill measured about 25 feet in length and had a grade of maybe 20 degrees. To my eyes, to her father’s eyes, to the eyes of anyone who would have passed by at that moment, it seemed a small thing. When she looked at it, she saw Kilimanjaro.
She stared her mountain down and mustered courage. She pushed off hesitantly, guided her bicycle to the grass beside the asphalt path—to cushion her fall if she fell, I assume—and slowly rode down the slope. She stopped at the bottom and looked up at her father.
Dad: You did it!
Girl: (in a disgusted tone) Yeah. On the grass.
Dad: That’s okay. It’s a good start.
This brief interlude seemed to me a microcosm of what people of all ages go through over and over again. New challenges come up in our lives. They scare us, so we try to avoid them. Sometimes we never overcome the fear, and we live our whole lives taking routes around small hills that we see as big mountains. If we’re lucky, we have someone beside us to encourage us to conquer the feat and to celebrate with us when we complete it.
Don’t we all make new challenges greater, larger, scarier than they really are? Don’t we all start slowly, on a safe route with cushioning in case we fall? And don’t we all diminish our successes?
I have this card posted on my fridge:
Like the father of that little girl, this card encourages me to give things a try, so I don’t spend my life taking routes around small hills that look like big mountains. All the good stuff lies on the other side of challenges that seem scary at first.
“Just focus and feel the strength of getting through. There’s something to be said for that.” —from Waiting for the Karma Truck
On Canada Day we made the 5-hour drive from our cottage to our home through a non-stop torrential downpour of rain. I mean torrential: windshield wipers on high, barely able to make out the road ahead, rivers of water running on the road, tires planing, and occasional washouts.
The weird thing was, all around us in other parts of our province, the sun shone. We texted back to my brother-in-law still at the cottage: “How’s the weather back there?”
“Beautiful,” came his response.
We texted ahead to our friend in Ottawa where we planned to have dinner that night. “How’s the weather there?”
“Beautiful,” she wrote.
As my husband did the white-knuckle drive we murmured, “Surely we’ll drive out of this soon,” and “Can you even believe it is raining this hard for this long?” But no, the rain was relentless. Only when we changed directions about 45 minutes outside of Ottawa did we escape the clouds.
The experience put me in mind of a recent post on the blog Waiting for the Karma Truck, “Let’s Hear It for the Fog.” In the post, the writer describes how she celebrated a recent journey through the fog as a reminder to live in the moment. You can’t see too far ahead, so you just deal with what’s at hand. Looking in the rear-view mirror is a waste of time.
She writes: “It isn’t the clarity at the end of the journey that I celebrate though. It’s the process of moving in the mist.” Metaphorically, the mist, or snow, or torrential rainstorms we must navigate from time to time can mean anything that overwhelms us and obliterates our ability to see anything beyond survival of the moment. When those weather systems move in, you might hear yourself saying things like, “Surely we’ll drive out of this soon,” or “Can you even believe it is raining this hard for this long?” You might find yourself reaching out to others to ask what their weather is like. When you hear that it is sunny where they are, you will know there’s hope that someday a change in direction will take you there too. All you can do is hang on with white knuckles and celebrate the focus. As she says, “. . . it is in those moments of uncompromising concentration, priorities get distilled to the most fundamental.”
I’m not sure of the name of the writer of the Waiting for the Karma Truck blog—I’d love to give her credit! Have a look. There are interesting insights there.
How many people do you know who are “solid as a rock”? Steadfast and unshakeable, they inhabit a predictable place in the universe and provide reliable support when needed.
That’s good, right? We admire those people and want to be like them, except when our soul calls out for growth and action, or empathy. In those cases the resolute and stoic permanence of rock only frustrates.
When we crave growth, birth and usefulness, we might choose to emulate people who live like trees. Trees breathe, clean our air, nourish us with the fruits and nuts, and give us shelter and beauty. The liveliness of trees sustains us.
That’s good, right? We admire the active community roles of those people and want to be like them, except when we feel stuck in one place and our soul cries out with a need to move on. In those cases the rootedness of trees exasperates.
When we need to flow, we look to water people for inspiration. Water doesn’t like to stay in one place. It seeks movement and shapes the environment to achieve it, wearing down rocks and landscapes through its persistence.
That’s good, right? We admire the achievements and perseverance of those people and want to be like them, except when our soul screams for rest in a place of solid strength. In those cases, the ceaseless flow saps our resources.
I choose all of the above.
I clamber out of crashing waves, stretch out full on a flat stretch of Canadian shield granite, stare up at the shelter of spruce branches growing toward the sky. The trees breathe with me as I recuperate and prepare to dive into the waters again.
The climactic conditions this spring where I live in Ottawa, Canada, have led to an unusual profusion of maple tree seedlings. Every avid gardener I know has grumbled about the high number of baby maples sprouting in flower beds, between interlock, or throughout lawns. I let the crop in my back yard grow to demonstrate:
It got me to thinking about maple trees and people.
We Canadians are known for maples, and in my neighbourhood, I’m surrounded by all varieties. The silver maple in my backyard towers tall, spreads wide and turns such a vibrant yellow in the fall that the sun’s reflection into our home makes it look like our lights are on full. A sugar maple in the park behind our house turns a stunning crimson red. If we tapped it we could make sweet maple syrup to feed ourselves. Down the street a couple of houses, two maples have orange/yellow leaves in the fall. The children that live in the house rake them up into huge piles and then jump in them. “Whee!”
But the Manitoba maple down the street is not my friend. My neighbour calls it a “weed maple.” I tear out unwanted baby Manitoba maples all summer long. And the maple across the street doesn’t turn a beautiful colour in the fall. Its leaves just shrivel up and drop; it makes work for other people without providing any beauty first.
I know some people like that.
I know some people who make work for others without giving anything back. I know people who spread unwanted messages out to the world that others have to try to avoid. Usually it’s impossible to avoid them all, so people need to pluck the invasive “seeds” from their lives.
I know people who tower tall, spread wide and shine with such brilliance they make us feel like the lights in a room are on full. I know people who glow with unusual beauty and who feed others. I know people who, just by being who they are, make life fun.
I like that our Canadian flag features the sugar maple: the plant, like our country, is both beautiful and useful.
What kind of maple are you?
“A bitter cucumber? Throw it away. Brambles on the path? Walk around them. That is sufficient. Do not go on to say: Why do such things exist in the world? or you will be laughed at by a student of nature just as you would be laughed at by a carpenter or a cobbler if you criticized them because you see shavings and scrapings in their workshop from things they are making.” —Marcus Aurelius in The Meditations
Our van needs a new muffler—an unforeseen expense. I need to make an adjustment to our income tax, which I filed months ago with a happy brush of the hands saying, “There, that’s done.” (Not so fast!) Our plans for the weekend have been on-again/off-again because of erratic weather forecasts, so today we’re scrambling to prepare for a last-minute change in plans. I want to take a picture of a cucumber for this post, but I ate the last one yesterday.
At every turn, I come across brambles in my path. “Why can’t things just be easy?” I wonder. “Why is there always something?”
I turn to Marcus Aurelius to stem my irritation. After all, I don’t want students of nature to laugh at me. All of the brambles I walk around are (a) not really any big deal, and (b) shavings and scrapings from things we are making. We have a van (Hallelujah!), so we need to maintain it. We live happily and comfortably on our income and pay some of it to a stable government that helps to maintain our society (Hallelujah!), so we need to steward it responsibly. My son participates in a sport he loves (Hallelujah!), so we need to flexibly make that work for him. And I really enjoyed that cucumber.
Thinking of the events of my life in this way make it easier to navigate those brambles.
Do you have any brambles on your path today? Are you feeling a little frustrated by them? Do you want to ask: “Why do such things exist in the world?”
It’s probably because there’s something really wonderful growing right beside them.
If you describe yourself as “spiritual but not religious” you might not be doing yourself any favours.
According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, people who attend a religious service at least one a month have a lower risk of depression. People who simply identified as spiritual but didn’t participate in the life of a faith community didn’t enjoy the same benefits.
The study suggests, and I agree, that regular deep connection with people in a way that goes beyond the surface social interactions of, say, a book club or a spin class keeps our spirits up. Many people say they can just as easily feed their spirit during a a walk in the woods, or while painting, or while singing or dancing, and this is true. What you don’t find during those same activities is challenge and growth, and without challenge and growth the spirit connection quickly grows tenuous, and a tenuous spirit connection leaves plenty of room for the dark stuff to creep in.
The Easter story is a challenging one for lots of people. I get that. Many people struggle with the concept of resurrection, so it’s a difficult time to suggest to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd that participation in a faith community might be a good idea. But faith communities need people like that to challenge them and to help them grow. They need people who seek spirit but who choke on the many things that religious groups do wrong to walk in the door and say, “You know what? I like this, this and this, but this, no that’s just not acceptable.”
That way the relationship becomes reciprocal. Faith communities take on the challenge and grow, and the spiritual find the community they need to maintain and grow a strong spiritual connection. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will treat women as equals. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will honour all love-based marriages. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will value questions and doubts as seeds of growth.
In fact, maybe the best time to start might be Easter weekend, in memory of a man who was an outstanding example of a religious doubter and questioner.
Jesus dramatically turned the tables on the unacceptable religious practices of his day. Maybe we can, too.
Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. http://publications.cpa-apc.org/media.php?mid=1499