Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters


Wisdom Wednesday: Mindfulness and the Metaphors We Live By

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

It’s Wisdom Wednesday! In a previous entry, I discussed how the Buddha loved to teach with metaphors. Each Monday I present a new metaphor for your enjoyment, education, and inspiration. For previous metaphors see the entries on Teach a Horse to Sing, Being Comfortable Being Out of Balance, Everybody Needs a Tap Code, and “Her Belly May Be Full But Her Spirit Will Be Empty.” 

Today, I’ll talk about the wisdom inherent in metaphors. Robert Frost warned, Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had
your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.” 
And metaphors are not just colorful devices to spice up language, they are a fundamental part of how we speak and think. Whether we realize it or not, we are using metaphors all the time. 
In one compelling example, the late psychologist Julian Jaynes discussed how the verb ?To
be
comes from the Sanskrit bhu that mean to grow or to make grow. “Am” and “is” evolved from the same root as the Sanskrit asmi that mean to breathe. He concludes, “It is something of a lovely surprise that the irregular
conjugation of our most nondescript verb is thus a record of a time when man
had no independent word for ‘existence’ and could only say that something
‘grows’ or that it ‘breathes.'”
This, of course, is fascinating to me because breathing is the foundation of mindfulness meditation practice.

Emily Dickinson tells us:

BCBS_Buddha.jpg

A WORD is dead            

When it is said,           

  Some say.           

I say it just           

Begins to live                

  That day.

She is right. The words we utter to each other and in the privacy of our own minds matter, and can make the difference between happiness and misery.

Everything we see, feel, hear, and understand is filtered through the metaphorical structures of our minds. There are very few experiences that are not colored by metaphor. The linguist George Lakoff suggests that all of our concepts are formed by the frames and metaphors shaping our brains. 
This includes the concept of self. While he cautions the media plays a large role in forming our political opinions, our internal “media” provides a powerful form of self-indoctrination. 
Mindfulness can help us to become aware of how we may be indoctrinating ourselves with certain “political” views about ourselves. For example, mindfulness can help us to see where we are making our sense of OK-ness contingent on what other people think of us or how certain things go, neither of which we can control. With that awareness we can make choices about what words we believe about ourselves.  
Here is an example from my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness. It’s metaphor 43 called “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”

We’ve all been admonished not to believe everything

we read–after all, the press is fallible and marketers

are always selling you something. The best approach

to the written word is to develop a healthy skepticism.

But what about the cogitated word?

I’ve seen a bumper sticker that neatly sums it up

for us: “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.”

If we validate thoughts as truths simply because

they originate within our own skull we’re going to be

in all sorts of trouble. What might it mean to recognize

thoughts as just thoughts and develop a healthy

skepticism toward them, without mistaking our

thoughts for Ultimate Truths? Is there a way to do this

without becoming cynical or debilitated?

We can start with the mental objects that have a

negative flavoring, the ones that are critical in nature.

When they arise, first ask, “Is there any important feedback

for me here; is there something for me to learn?”

If so, identify that important feedback, say “Thank

you” to the critical thought, and move on, integrating

that feedback to the extent that it is useful and possible.

Often, however, there is no useful feedback or corrective

action to take, such as when you are dealing with

a generalized criticism like, “I am no good.”

Mindfulness practice will help you to become

“suspicious” of these thoughts and less sucked into

their negativistic stories. It takes some practice and

time to develop the sensitivity to recognize the feeling

flavor of what I call the strident self–the inner voice

screaming thoughts and hawking them as the final

words on all matters.

With mindfulness practice, you can bring a degree

of distance and incredulity to such interior utterances.

You can smile and ask patiently, “Says who?”

Thumbnail image for Wild chickens revisions 3.jpg

I’ve collected 108 these metaphors for mindfulness in my book that was published last year by Wisdom Publications. Some of these metaphors are classic Buddhist teaching metaphors and others I’ve invented or adapted myself using images from among other things modern technology and, for those of you who know my work already, Star Trek. 
Sign up for the Exquisite Mind Newsletter and receive a five chapter excerpt from the book. 

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I invite everyone to check in on Mindfulness Matters everyday. My general posting schedule will be:
    • Metaphor Mondays
    • TED Tuesdays (mindfulness-inspiring talks from the TED conferences)
    • Wisdom Wednesdays
    • Teachers and Talks Thursday
    • Free From Friday
    • Science/Sport Saturday
    • Stress Reduction Sunday
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Together through mindfulness we can live an awakened life, improving our own lives and the world around us. I am heartened to have you on the journey with me.
With blessings and gratitude,
Arnie. 


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