The Magic of Symbolism & Metaphor

November 3, 2021

Learning from Apple Juice - A tale told by Thich Nhat Hanh – Buddhist Monk and Teacher

Viet Nam was at war.  A monk left the war zone and moved to France where he could help others who fled the war by caring for the children whilst the parents went about creating a new life for their families.

One day, the monk was caring for a group of young children.  It was a warm day and after playing for a while, the children were thirsty.  The monk had a bottle of delicious home-made apple juice.  As it was home made from real fruit, there was a lot of sediment in the bottom of the bottle.  The monk poured 5 glasses of juice for the children.  The last glass and most of the sediment went to one of the little girls.  Upon seeing that the juice was so murky, the little girl decided that she didn’t want it after all and left it to go and play.

After playing with her friends for some time, the girl became thirsty again and returned to the house to get a drink.  She went to the sink and tried hard to reach the tap for some water, but she was too small to get it to work.  The monk found her desperately stretching towards the tap.  He asked what she was doing and she replied that she was very thirsty and needed a drink.

The monk suggested that she try the apple juice from earlier.  He had saved it for her.  The little girl was just about to say ‘no’ when she noticed that the juice in the glass was now crystal clear.  Surprised, she thought that it must be different apple juice.  The monk explained that it was the same juice and that when it had the time to sit still for a while, it naturally became clear because the sediment had chance to settle.

The little girl drank the apple juice and it was the best she had ever tasted.  Turning to the monk she asked, ‘Uncle monk, does that mean that the apple juice was meditating?’.  Smiling, the monk replied that the apple juice was not exactly meditating, but that we could learn even from apple juice how to centre, settle and become clear.

If you’ve ever chatted with someone who has learned NLP to a great standard, have you noticed that they speak and think slightly differently to other people you speak with? Their language is used differently and it has a profound effect on you as you listen. Why is that? NLP is all about the language you use to yourself and to others and how that language creates powerful internal representations at the unconscious level which in turn affect our emotional state, our physiology and our behaviour.

Consider for a moment that every time you speak, you have an unconscious impact on the way someone feels. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if every time you speak you could have a positive and useful impact on the thinking of not just yourself, other people too!

The reason for sharing the delightful opening story with you is that part of the linguistic content of NLP is communication through the elegant use of stories, or metaphors. We find stories so utterly compelling because our unconscious mind, the architect of all our learning, change and behaviour, responds rapidly and strongly to metaphor and  symbolism.

The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another.

Metaphors are comprised of a number of interrelating components called symbols. Whilst we may never fully explain a symbol’s meaning, we can still know it is significant for us and the more its symbolism is explored, the more its significance emerges.  

Symbols with unique personal significance connect people to their personal history, their spiritual nature, their sense of future and the hidden aspects of their life.

Much of our everyday language and thinking is metaphoric.  Metaphors allow people to express and give form to complex feelings, behaviours, situations and abstract concepts.  Most metaphors make use of the material world to describe the abstract.  Symbolism means we can connect with a pattern that has personal significance.

Imaginative symbolic expression is seeing objects and events in your mind’s eye, the hearing of sounds and internal dialogue and the feeling of emotions and other sensations, which together create a personalised virtual reality.  By noticing, respecting and working with this reality, we can help ourselves and others to discover the metaphors they live by and to make incredible changes to their thinking and their reality.

Metaphor and symbolism are just a part of the fascinating and joyful journey into our conscious and unconscious use of language that we study during our Enhanced NLP Coach Practitioner Certification Training. Image yourself sitting in our Practitioner Training and suddenly creating a compelling new metaphor that will change your thinking and renew your passion and zest for life, now that’s exciting, isn't it?

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