Observing Cactus

I have just finished reading a great book, a lovely book, with a HORRID title, but you cannot have everything. You will understand why I have put certain phrases in Italics if you read the book, or read the bit at the end of this Blog.

I will tell a story from the book: “One of Erickson’s clients was an alcoholic. Erickson told this man a bit about the humble cactus, how the plant conserves water and can survive for up to three years in the desert without rainfall. He then told the man to go to the local botanical gardens to observe cacti.

Erickson never heard from this man again. Many year’s later, after this client had died, the man’s daughter visited Erickson to tell him that her father had been sober since the day he went to the botanical gardens.”

I was chatting to a friend from Transition Chichester yesterday and we were talking about how you get the message across, how tough it is to change how people see things, and then change their behaviour. Of course I should have known I would then find an example of how easy it is to change behaviour, one’s own or other people’s, it is easy if we only knew how to do it.

It seems to me that if we imagine that changing people’s behaviour is difficult then everything we do will be confirming how difficult it is. But if we imagine that changing people’s behaviour is easy, if only we knew how to do it, then we would be constantly looking out for the easy way and every now and then find it, and then everything would be easy.

The book I have just finished is about Metaphor. The author, James Geary, is saying we live our lives through metaphor, and by changing the metaphor we change who we are and therefore what we do.

Looking back, I remember how easy it was for me to stop smoking when I read Allen Carr‘s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. My metaphor changed. Actually, the book has a few metaphor changes and the more you change the easier it gets to stop. One metaphor he changes is that related to addiction, because you are invited to believe that the addiction is nothing, it is insignificant. I adopted this and found I had almost no withdrawal symptoms. But I think the biggest change in metaphor was seeing smoking as just ugly and smelly.

I think one big metaphor I would like to change is feeling we are still at school. That there are right ways of doing things, things we must do and things we mustn’t do, and by when and how. At work there are things that seem as if they ‘have to be done’, instead of things we want to do. Maybe we are so far away from the natural way of living that we forget that we can just be who we are, that we can just be with people and not do much. That we can just go for a walk, even without a dog. That we can get up at 4 in the morning just to see the sunrise.

I would be more convinced of the need for the school/factory metaphor if I felt that at least now things do get done, get done well and on time, but they don’t. The one metaphor that I learned from my time with some aboriginal people in Australia was that it is possible to live without the sense of owning everything, or even anything.

I think that is the biggest metaphor change the planet needs, it is an orchestra and we are only one small group of players, who all think they are conductors.

The book I referred to is called I is an Other. I think James Geary offered that title to be one of the most challenging he could find for the life as a Metaphor. But to make it a bit easier for us his subtitle is ‘The secret life of metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world.’

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4 responses to “Observing Cactus

  1. Sorry, not sure what is happening with the time line here, and I meant to say, Thanks Drew?

    So my response above comes after reading Drew’s comment. Sorry for any confusion with the time line above, the latest comments come first. Maybe I should change that?

    And to Anon, I think there are many tales about chasing tails, losing them and finding them. I think Noddy has a tale about a tail and after advice from big Ears gives the little dog some nice things and the wag in the tail comes back.

  2. But what of the worm that chases its own tale and doesn’t know she/it/he’s doing it, what about him/her/it?

  3. Thanks David, for the metaphorical response. I think one metaphor you use is most significant. ‘The point of being me’. This metaphor using the word point suggests what Daniel Dennett calls, the fallacy of the ‘Cartesian Theatre’, which is that there is someone watching what goes on, some singular you, somewhere, at some point inside. The writer Rita Carter and the Psychologist Robert Kurzban hold a view of people being multiples, or Robert puts it as Modules, there is a modular you, but its construction is a network without clear connections or boundaries. Robert notes how in Disneyland there is a good model of this in a Character called Buzzy, who is inside Bobby’s head, controlling him, But, as Robert says, ‘where is Buzzy’s Cranium Command?’
    So these new metaphors expose images of people not as having cores the cores disappear as we delve deeper.
    I think this multiplicity brings an idea of how we can switch, we can be nudged and then another me comes in and takes over for a while. The other me sits there, living and developing, but is no longer in charge. And then there is me who is some or many of these together, a multideveloper, but this is no higher self, just a different self. So now I think of people as being as an Orchestra of players, any of whom may take the lead, do the improvisation, and then drop back, but even when not playing a note all my players are me and are listening. I am both singularly and multiply me.

  4. Metaphorically speaking, if I were something else I think I’d miss the point of being me: of being present when all others are somewhere else… Which is a difficulty only assuaged by eating an apple and forgetting about everything else until I’ve finished it: indeed, only the core of me would be left after that.

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