Jelly legs.

Eric writes: “I realized that going to the gym and walking from the front door to the locker room while carrying a heavy gym bag felt like pushing my torso through a 10 ft deep wall of jello (or another resistant medium.) That’s why I hate going. It doesn’t bother me if I go in and follow the same path to visit the massage therapist.”

This metaphor is incomplete in that we do not know what is outside of the jello or how far the jello extends, but encoded in here is more than enough information to get us started.

First off if we start with some idioms that match the metaphor:

  • you have trouble moving forwards
  • you aren’t making much progress
  • you aren’t making the progress you’d like to make
  • something gets in your way
  • it’s hard going forwards
  • it would be easy to get stuck in
  • it’s all a bit wobbly/shaky
  • you are getting set to go
  • everything is set but not much is happening

Suffocation idioms might be an obvious choice here, but because the reference is “my torso” this suggests his head is clear from the jello. So we know he keeps a clear head even when he has difficulty moving himself forwards. It enables him to focus on other things, as his head is elsewhere.

His mind isn’t set on this, and even if it was, it wouldn’t help.

If we explore the taxonomy, we have several overlapping metaphoric structures. First up we have an obstruction metaphor, it’s a wall of jello (as opposed to a pit or pool of jello) so we have an obstruction, which as you will know generally relates to a rule. Well, to be specific, it’s a primary negative injunctive, and I urge people to study Gregory Bateson’s book, “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” to know more about this kind of thing. People tend to say things like, “But I’ve heard that Bateson is too difficult to read.” Stop making excuses and buy the book and study it. Don’t read it. STUDY IT!

Anyway, back to the jello. So we have a rule that gets in the way of the man and where he is trying to get to. His strategy to seal with this rule is not to do what is right, or to seek a different direction, but rather to try and get through this. If he is looking for some kind of breakthrough, then he will be disappointed, because jello rarely breaks in this way.

I don’t know if he is normally a pushy guy when it comes to getting what he wants, but it seems that his pushiness may be the very thing that exhausts him before he reaches his destination/goal. He meets too much resistance.

The rule he faces has some flexibility and it is something that he can get through, but it is there every time waiting for him. He hasn’t found a decent way to get around it yet, so he may want to consider what is left for him, and what is right for him as well as his background and where he has come from.

And here we have a secret. This is about moving away from his background and getting ahead, moving forwards in the world, to get to a better place.

And this takes us to another taxonomy; that of contamination. Contamination metaphors are classically, but not exclusively, about shame. It isn’t being in the contaminant that reveals the shame, that actually masks it, but it is when the person is out of the material of contamination. What I mean here is that the person in the shit pit doesn’t feel the shame, but it is when they climb out of it that they experience the shame.

Shame generally requires other people to assist with it’s creation. Later, of course, this can lead to a division in identity whereby the person sees themselves, and is shamed of what they see. Thus they have learned to be ashamed of themselves.

So, I’d be bold and suggest that this person will experience a degree of shame entering the gym once they have gotten through the jello.

What we have here is an issue of identity. Guilt is about what we do, shame is about who we are.

When he stays in the background (i.e. this side of the jello), there is no shame, but this shame is revealed once he gets through the jello and out the other side.

Novice MoMers might be tempted to think of the jello as a container. It isn’t, and thus any attempt at getting the client to “grow up” will only add to his difficulties.

And there I shall stop and invite further suggestions as to how we can handle this metaphor in the comments section below. Remember – I’d rather you have a go and get it wrong than not suggest anything at all. That is how we learn.

I’ll give you a clue. I mention Gregory Bateson for a good reason.

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5 Responses to Jelly legs.

  1. Steve Green says:

    This is likely a rhetorical question, but I shall ask anyway… :O)

    Q? Does the colour, viscosity and the constituent ingredients of the immmersion solid/fluid provide any clues as to the metaphor?

    • admin admin says:

      Good question. Briefly, in answer to it, yes, it does provide important clues. This is true for all elements within the metaphor. There are two major divisions, the intrinsic qualities, as the ones you mention, and the symbolic properties. These symbolic properties can then be divided into the archetypal and the cultural, and this is where it starts to get a bit complicated and so easy to get wrong, so this is something I’ve currently omitted from the MoM changework trainings. “The Movement” will be the vehicle used to explore this territory.

      Interestingly colour is a special kind of quality in metaphor and reveals an interesting aspect of them. Metaphor is primarily proprioceptive (*tips a nod to Charles Faulkner*) and colour is rarely mentioned unless it is a specific quality, like “I’m standing on a red carpet…” etc, where the only colour mentioned is the carpet. More on this another time.

  2. D says:

    something to do with split identity? I needs to move forward to get fit. But as I moves forward, me is behind, observing I, and me is bothered by what me sees.

    I spoke to a chap yesterday who was walking distances despite great physical pain, in order to get fit after a serious loss of status and esteem. Each step was like “placing a stake in the ground” as he claimed territory in his bid to move forward from the place he is currently. He said “I am ashamed.” I was in his (slightly overweight) belly.
    Interestingly, over the last week he has become convinced that he is being followed while out walking, although others have assured him he is just being silly. :-/
    I suggested this sense of shame was the result of him being seen by the self he was trying to leave behind. And from that separation comes the sense of being followed.

  3. Karen Haider says:

    It is interesting to me that he goes through a “10 ft. wall” of jello, which unless he is quite tall means that he has to completely submerse himself to get through the wall, an unappealing scenario to say the least since he would be completely covered and dripping jello into the gym. The dripping mess would of course be noticed by everyone else in the gym.

    However, somehow the wall is absent or he gets through it without getting messy when he takes the same path to the massage therapist — the outcome or purpose being to be physically stroked, to release stress in a private room, not seen by anyone but one trusted person with whom he can reveal himself, presumably without being judged.

    The movement through the jello necessarily would be a wading type of motion; one cannot purposefully stride forward thru such a medium. This suggests hesitancy, doubt, not belonging, frustration, being cut off from the source of life (not being able to breathe while going thru the wall) and having the push through anyway. Although he says “push my torso thru” what is he standing on if it is 10 ft. deep?

    Jello also suggests that the origin of the issue is childhood; maybe mommy(comments about his body?) pushed too much “jello” onto him. Jello cannot be pushed away to make a space; more jello just fills it in.

    HIs mind isn’t set on the workout in the gym, but it is set on the relief he gets from the massage.

  4. laura says:

    I think it is interesting that he says the feeling of Jell-o is “why” he hates going to the gym.
    My question to him might be along the lines of “what would it feel like if you loved it?”
    I would like to hear his metaphor for what loving it would be! If only for my fun and entertainment 🙂

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