It is has been said, “there are two things that you can count on in life, death and taxes.” In my case, there’s one more and that would be visiting Kristy’s grandmother, lovingly called Gnin in Cantonese every weekend in Monterey Park, California, where everything is in Chinese and a tall white guy always seems a bit out of place.
Gnin is going on 90 now, and if that weren’t enough of a reason to see her every week, she’s a real hoot, cute as a dumpling, speaks very little English and is brutally honest. She loves anything sweet and reminds Kristy and I on a continual basis that she’d like to see us pop out a baby soon. Fortunately for us, Kristy’s brother just had a boy so that should take a little bit of the pressure off for now.
Without fail, as if programmed into our genes like a pair of migrating African Lovebirds, Kristy and I get up early every weekend, regardless of our desperate need for sleep, in an attempt to beat the LA traffic, see Grandma and take advantage of the breakfast specials at one of the thousand Chinese restaurants in Monterey Park. Last weekend was no exception, but this time something quite remarkable happened.
Jumping on the 101 South from Hollywood, we were pleasantly surprised, if not shocked, to find very little traffic. But as we turned the bend through the heart of downtown we could see across the divide the 101 North, our usual route back home, was already bumper-to-bumper.
As if Kristy could read my mind, which I think she can at times when she’s not hungry, she uttered, “Wow! That looks like a parking lot.”
“Yes it does.” I replied.
“Maybe we’ll have to take the streets back.” She said.
“Maybe. Hopefully it will clear up by the time we head back.” I replied trying to sound optimistic.
Continuing on our way unimpeded and with a constant view of the opposing traffic, I couldn’t help but notice how easily it was for both of us to see the opposing traffic as a parking lot and something bad. The mood in the car immediately changed from a joyful “to grandmother’s house we go” to a sobering “Crap! Look at that traffic.”
Wanting my joy back, I began to wonder if I could perhaps see it another way, choose another metaphor, throw the parking lot out and replace it with something more positive.
Searching for the positive, I began to see the traffic as an opportunity for people to relax, slow down, listen to good music, spend more quality time with each other and do a little sight-seeing. I began to see each car as an oasis for meditation and personal reflection, a chance to learn a foreign language or finally reset the clock on the dash. I saw symmetry and cooperation as each car edged ever so slightly forward. I even saw it as a piece of contemporary art.
Sharing my thoughts aloud as we passed this beautiful still life entitled “Cars on a Highway,” we both began to laugh and the mood once again returned to joy. Gone was the negative metaphor we both shared, replaced by a plethora of positive ones. Traffic would never look the same way again.
The power of a metaphor, much like a 90-year-old grandmother, should never be underestimated. A single metaphor, much like a single comment from a loved one, has the power to bring us down and stop us in our tracks or raise us up to a world of unlimited possibilities. Fortunately, we have power over the metaphors we use.
Whenever I notice myself using a metaphor, I ask myself “Is this a meta-for or a met-against?” If I feel good and empowered by it, I call it a ‘meta-for’ and make a mental note that it’s a keeper and available for use at any time in the future. But if I notice any negativity around a metaphor I have just used, I call it a ‘met-against,’ let it go and set an intention to replace it with something positive and empowering.
While this may seem all too simple, I assure you it works and it’s fun, not to mention it keeps me from thinking about those two other things I can inevitably count on, death and taxes.
Copyright 2010 Rob Gruber, M.A. Life Mastery Coach