by Martha Pasternack
How do we help our clients discover possibilities?
How do we support our clients find the doorway to solutions to dilemmas? How do we facilitate our client’s openness to the answers to their most precious inquiries? Perhaps one answer is through metaphor.
A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. I got that definition right from the dictionary, one of my favorite books. The metaphor can be a powerful coaching tool to support our clients to visualize possibility.
On a recent adventure in Florida this winter, my husband and I paddled our kayak across the Intracoastal Waterway in the St. Lucie Inlet to a barrier island. It is a narrow part of the Intracoastal inlet and very kayak worthy. We paddled 1.5 miles or 2.4 kilometers across the waterway.
It was a beautiful and very hot sultry day. The breeze was gentle and offered welcomed relief from the heat of the sun. After crossing the waterway we followed an inlet toward the interior of the island and traveled through a mangrove swamp. There were birds, crabs and fish galore. We heard chirps, tweets and mysterious rustling in the mangroves on either side of us. Think Disneyland. I decided those sounds must be alligators, or poisonous snakes or giant spiders ready to pounce. I do know that there are alligators in that area: I have seen them, but you are right if you’re thinking that I made a lot of this up and scared myself.
Anyway, here is a bit of my nautical history. I first started sailing and boating in the state of Maine in New England, USA. If we went a-ground or capsized in Maine we would be very vulnerable to drowning at the worst and hypothermia at the least. To this day I feel so vulnerable when I'm out on the water, especially the ocean. Needless to say, I could really get myself worked up about capsizing in the ocean.
Let’s go back to Florida. Even though the water was relatively calm and we were protected from the powerful Atlantic Ocean by the barrier island, there was always a risk, especially in a kayak, of rolling over and swamping the boat. In fact the kayak we were in took the wakes of bigger, more powerful motorboats nicely. However, there's never a time on a boat to let down your guard. Just like many moments in life.
The part of the Intracoastal Waterway we were navigating is very shallow just outside the dredged channel. When I thought about my fear of capsizing or tipping over in this kayak, all I had to do was look over the side of the boat and see that we were traveling through very shallow of water.
The truth is that if I got out of the boat and stood up I wouldn't even be in water up to my knees. My fantasy of drowning in deep water was completely unfounded in this particular situation. Hence the metaphor.
We don’t always see the alternatives. Getting clear about what is true in a situation is the first step in determining the next step in any situation. Seeing through the guise of the fantasy and coming to terms with the actuality of situation is paramount to empowerment.
What we see as the only way out can be an illusion. For example, we can float in the boat, swim, go ashore, or walk! We can help our clients examine what might appear as threatening or even utterly impossible by imagining what is possible. Using life’s experience and stories to invite in possibilities through metaphor can be fun and illuminating. Try it. Share what you discover with us all!
Martha Pasternack, MMC www.CircleofLifeCoach.com