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The Power of a Metaphor

A mentor once told me he can tell who the leaders are because of the arrows in their back. It’s a grizzly metaphor to visualize.

I practice metaphorical learning. Take a catcher at a baseball game. My discernment is like a catcher. I choose what to accept or deny by gesturing with signals understood by the pitcher. Then I wonder who the pitcher is. I guess the pitcher is life with its various fast balls, curve balls and the like.

When my daughter was born so terribly ill back in the 80’s, I had been living a typical life for a young heterosexual, white privileged couple raising a family. We had friends and acquaintances with a busy social life. Our world cracked and collapsed disintegrating into pieces. Our so-called friends sifted down to one couple strong enough to handle our devastating news. The rest was sorted like deadwood.

When I came out as a lesbian 20 plus years later, I felt like a peeled banana revealing my authenticity. I was finally ripe and ready to discover my true self. This awareness changed my life.

When my children went off to college, I experienced an empty nest and felt adrift. This painful emptiness warranted me filling it with beings I could care for. My remedy was poodles -- three colorful poodles, cream, red and black. I called them my Neapolitan Pod of Poodles. They became my vanilla, chocolate and strawberry family.

As I embark out into the pandemic world, I see myself masked and prepared to complete the needed tasks and beamed back into my sanctuary of safety.

As I age, I want to stay present to the aging process and enjoy the fruits of my wisdom. I want to laugh along with my body’s changes and gentle myself through the surprises.

Metaphors help me understand life’s painful lessons and blessings. In my opinion, emotion is the key ingredient to the power of prayer. If I connect at a deep level and feel an emotion, what I express in prayer seems to travel faster to my source than using mere words. Using metaphor deepens the meaning of my words to help define my emotion.


By Shirley Riga 2000 (see Apr 29 blog for earlier version)

My strength I carry in my tall

Thick walls of stone.

I weather the hottest heat and chilliest cold.

I stand as witness to the lives of people,

animals, energies that pass by me,

over me and on me.

I reach high to heaven and am made

Up of the very essence of mother earth.

I am majestically beautiful and

Starkly abundant in my stature.

I carry within me memories of days

Long passed and futures to come,

Yet represent the presence of what is.

Participants Reflections:

  • Thank you for the reading. The part that really spoke to me was the metaphor of the catcher. I’ve always loved baseball. I grew up with it. The catcher was my favorite. I imagined myself as the catcher. And when I did that this morning in the meditation, I immediately felt like a juggler, like I wasn’t catching the balls. I had a difficult morning. I was out twice dealing with balls that fell the first time. On the way, I lost my phone, lost my purse, found them both. I was overwhelmed with balls this morning. It all worked out. Just focusing on the catcher really helped ground me. Not only catching the balls, catchers have a certain power asking for certain pitches. That was empowering to realize that there may be a lot of balls out there, but I have control over which ones are coming to me that I’ll catch. It was very helpful. Thank you.

  • I was a catcher. It’s true, it’s an interesting position. I was reminded of my favorite catcher Lawrence P. Berra, or Yogi. His profound insight was, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it."

  • I was thinking of the other day about perceiving things as difficult or challenging (see Oct 31 blog). If you perceive things as difficult, you fall into despair and you feel like getting into a fetal position. Today, when you talked about a mountain, I went to the yoga mountain stance. And that is a stance where you can deal with anything that’s challenging because you are erect, standing straight, your head is high, your core is strong, you are balanced on both feet. Everything is aligned so it is possible for energy to come in through your head and go completely down and ground you. I thought that’s a wonderful image and a way to be in the world right now. It’s challenging, and practicing that is great.

  • I was struck with the image of the banana in that it has to be ripe and ready. My husband likes green bananas. On occasion, I’ve gotten them so green, I could not peel them. The metaphor is terrific. It speaks to timing and awareness of where we are and what we are ready to reveal to ourselves and what we are ready to take on. So here is to ripe bananas.

  • Thank you everyone for your reflections. What a rich community and conversation. The first thing I heard was the leaders with arrows in their back. What struck me about that was one would think the leaders would have arrows in their front. But the arrows in the back, I applied it to myself. So many times when I want to move forward, I feel like parts of me want to stay comfortable even in the dysfunction because it is familiar. And what is forward is unknown and can be scary, maybe even threatening. It was a wonderful analogy for me, sometimes even as the leader, I need to not so much blindly charge forward, but reach back and attend to what I need to attend to with the troops and what they need. You spoke of losing your daughter and coming out. One thing I recognized when my husband passed and I became a widow, there was a word to describe what I went through, a word to describe me. Not long after, two dear old friends, one lost a sister, one lost a son. It was disheartening to me that our language does not have a word to describe that. For someone who went through the loss of a daughter, of coming out, who went through the pain of rising up and becoming a healer, I honor you and everyone in this group for the courage you all show.

  • Thank you everyone. I think what gives me the most was in the beginning when you talked about the people that stood by you and those that peeled away like deadwood. Part of my journey right now is discovering what is holding me back from opening my heart and truly loving those who are clearly in front of me and have their hand out. I notice there’s a place where don’t let them get close. And that visual you created helped me to realize that I have some other tools that I can grab. What came up for me was there is a phrase ‘take these tools and use them in your other affairs.’ But all of a sudden I got this image that I can just love them for today. I can stop trying to make it so complicated that I have to have this giant open heart and have to love everyone. What I can do for today is open my heart to anyone that my higher power puts in front of me. That’s going to be important over the next two days because I’m helping my husband with the election. I am going to have a lot of people in front of me who may not agree with me and who may be acting out of their own fear. So I’m going to hold in my heart for the next two days—I am going to love whoever my higher power puts in front of me. Thank you.

  • I want to acknowledge this idea of naming things. Thank you for your reading. There are metaphorical words like I am mountain—that’s a powerful metaphor that explains something. And the catcher is another metaphor. And then there are real words. One of the problems I had for much of my adult life before same-sex marriage, there was no word to describe who my partner was. The word partner was too business-like, the word lover was too intimate. It wasn’t until I could say my spouse, my wife, that there was a word to describe the relationship. It’s so powerful to have those words, whether they are metaphorical or real, because they define, they instruct, they help us communicate.

  • Years ago, I worked for a boss who wasn’t feeling good one day. He said “I felt like I’ve been pulled through a knothole backwards.” It’s stayed with me, I use it because it is such a truth, it’s like life right now.

  • This is hard for me to say. You talk about the audience and wondering what people think. I know you are all kind. Today is my birthday. My family member has gotten so progressively ill and hasn’t remembered my birthday for the last two years. And I know he won’t remember today. It’s not that I want a lot of fanfare. My own mother was a narcissist and demanding. I’m the exact opposite. I know he won’t remember. It’s not that I want gifts. It just makes me sad that he’s got so much pain that he can’t remember. And if he knew, he would feel terrible because he is kind and loving and devoted to me. Thank you.

  • Know that you are loved and welcomed into this community. Give yourself a hug, play with your kitties. Remember to breathe. Thank you for leaning on the power of this community. It helps us get through whatever we are dealing with. I feel the love. Let yourself smile with the reality that you are loved.

  • Years ago, I was at a job. I wouldn’t criticize or talk about other people, but I was honest about my living situation. And I got criticized for it. It’s so nice to feel comfortable here.

  • I wish everyone a gentle day. Treat yourself as if it is your birthday. We deserve to have kindness in our lives. Treat yourself to a treat, even if it’s your own hug, or lean into your pet, or put your face up to the sun, let the comfort in. I celebrate each of you today.

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