The Mindfulness of Images and Words

June 6, 2012

“Marc, we have a lot of balls in the air.” This was a statement made recently by one of my co-workers. This was said in response to a number of projects that I had recently initiated and that he was now managing. 

I suggested that we try on a different image to describe our work. Instead of lots of “balls in the air”, what if we view our work as “planting many seeds.” These are just words and images. The activities are the same, and yet the first description sounds frantic and stressful. The second description and image used to describe the same activity, sounds calming, intentional, and optimistic.

I did not want to dismiss the concerns he was raising. We have initiated many projects and it is important to me that we have clear priorities, that we are aligned, and that we have the time and resources to meet our goals. And, replacing one image, a feeling of franticness, of juggling, of stress with another, more calming image had a clear and immediate impact.  When I mentioned that I wanted us to plant some more seeds we could laugh, stretch, and more easily move toward working more effectively.

I think we often underestimate the power of our words and images we use to describe what we are doing. I was meeting with a coaching client not so long ago who told me during an early morning meeting that “she was going to have a horrendous day.” I looked at her and said, “Oh, really?” She described a day that she had overscheduled, with no time for breaks, or exercise, or meaningful conversations. 

As we unpacked this, it became clear that she had scheduled her day without including how she might take care of herself, and work most effectively and optimally. What might an engaged, productive, and nurturing day look like?

Mindfulness practice includes paying attention to the words and images we use. Not only in describing our work, but in how we speak to ourselves. I cringe when someone tells me they are “running around like a chicken without a head.” Ouch!  Really?  Please, don’t do that to yourself.

Part of my own practice, in my coaching work, and in my life is to pay attention – what words and images narrow the possibilities and what words and images open me, create more clarity, bring my work and life alive. I think of one of my favorite lines of poetry, from the poet David Whyte:

“Anything or anyone

That does not bring you alive

Is too small for you.”