Active Living Metaphors

A fundamental and often misunderstood format in NLP is metaphors. Before the NLP critics ‘jump on their high horses’ and say metaphors are not unique to NLP, we all know that, so ‘get a life’.

Metaphors have been around ‘as long as Adam’, well longer if you consider the ‘timeline’ differences in evolution and biblical accounts. We could say metaphors have been around since ‘the day dot’, there goes another metaphor. What wasn’t around before the dot became a metaphor for what we didn’t know, is not relevant in this blog.

Are you seeing how metaphors ‘pop up’ in everyday language? It is hypothesized that the language of a metaphor constructs a visual image or movie in the nondominant hemisphere creating a parallel process aiding understanding and recall of what is being said. There’s a lot more going on than that when a person’s brain is ‘dancing with a story.’

So back to NLP, here are some different forms of metaphors listed used in NLP

*   Multi embedded metaphor, same story, multiple levels within the story
*   Nested loops, a chain of stories that symmetrically exit in reverse order to entry. The term nested loop comes from computer language and thus is a metaphor to Isomorphically map a verbal encounter. The term ‘computer language’ is also a metaphor well a simile actually - working as the inverse to the previous metaphor-  of a verbal expression (language) to map digitalisation in computer sciences. Nested loops ‘jumped ships’ and became a term in transformational grammar, interesting how a ‘glove fits different hands’
*   Isomorphism, one to one mappings. Isomorphisms can exist in Multi embedded metaphors and nested loops
*   Homomorphic mappings – one to multiple mapping formats. These will also feature in Multi embedded metaphors and nested loops, as the base structure of the story or alongside isomorphism, but in different stages of the story
*   Living Metaphor, which I have ‘re-christened’ active metaphor. This when the Practitioner/ trainer presents the metaphor as an activity.
*   Tasking is a form of ‘living metaphor’, where the coach sets a task for the client with enough parallel processes to give them natural access to behaviour/states which are lacking in the immediate context.  The coach uses NLP formats to chunk up and also make lateral maneuvers in the hierarchical linguistic sets to explore logical levels and types to create the activities which will be embedded in the task.

So there is a lot more to metaphor construction than just telling a random story. It is a precise intervention which when ‘carried out’ with expertise or at least proficiency has ‘deep-rooted’ effects on the recipient. Saying it another way ‘storytelling is a craft’. 

So let’s look at an example of an Active Metaphor (I prefer living metaphor).  Here is a well-known example, a great story from the Plato Socrates’ dialogues.

Plato was a student of Socrates well, much more than a student. Socrates was Plato’s mentor, role model and as a younger man, Socrates was a hero to Plato.  It’s a bit like the Grinder – Bandler dynamic.  In the 1970s, a young eager Bandler, hungry for knowledge from his teacher, was more than obliging to share his knowledge with his student. As with Plato and Socrates, Bandler and Grinder go on to be equally revered in their field of expertise.

The story goes that Socrates and Plato were walking along a beach, deep in dialogue on matters of the day, no doubt deeply philosophical in engagement. In fact, so engaged were the two great philosophers that neither noticed the tide coming in, so they were walking ankle-deep in the sea.

They stopped for a moment, fell silent with both men staring out at the horizon and in awe at the illusion of the sea and sky meeting at the very edge of the horizon. They walked out further into the sea, waist-high resuming their conversation on the theory of knowledge and Plato asked of Socrates ‘how much should I desire knowledge?’

Immediately Socrates grabbed Plato and held his head underwater. With young Plato, struggling hard to resurface for oxygen, as Socrates was stronger and pushed Plato even further below the water’s surface.

Just as Plato was about to blackout, Socrates brought Plato back above the water, with young Plato gasping and filling his lungs with as much oxygen as possible in the shortest period of time. And as Plato was returning to his normal state and breathing rhythm, relieved he was feeling comfortable again, Socrates pushed and held his head underwater for a second time, again with Plato writhing and fighting to break free. At this moment, Plato had a single goal, to breathe oxygen, to live. Nothing else mattered.

And Socrates brought Plato back to the surface, this time Plato was even more appreciative of the oxygen and his desire for it, only a few minutes back.

But it wasn’t over, Socrates really had a message to convey and just as Plato was once again comfortable, he was pushed and held underwater for the third time.

When Plato came up for air the third time, he was smart enough to move away from Socrates and ask him his intention for such an extreme act.

Socrates, looked intently in the eyes of the young Plato and said, “When you desire my knowledge as you desired to breath when underwater, then your desire is at the level for you to deserve what I can teach you’

Plato got it, and learned and learned and shared what he learned.

Now the story above tells the tale of an active metaphor where the teacher creates a direct experience for the message to be imparted and absorbed by the learner. Socrates certainly succeeded in his apparent intention with Plato.  But perhaps there was another message from Socrates, and the explicit message he shared with Plato may have been a red herring, to fix Plato’s attention just where he wanted it. Why would Socrates use such misdirection? It’s simple, so he could get more embedded messages into the mind of Plato, but under the ‘conscious radar’. Now that is clever and perhaps we will never know Socrates’ hidden intention which sponsors the higher intention of any act or behaviour.

The truth is, we will never know if the above actually happened, how could we know? We just have a handed-down tale, it is great story and hopefully you have a deep desire for knowledge because knowledge keeps us alive ☺

Michael Carroll, 2020