You really remind me of…
This project is a lot like…
That situation is very similar to…
Metaphors help us make sense of things. When we compare ‘this’ to ‘that’ it gives us the ability to experience something new, as familiar. But the moment we look for sameness, might also be the moment we lose our ability to experience something new in its purest expression. It seems like the act of searching for relatedness – in a relationship, project or circumstance – might unknowingly steal its potential. As a person conditioned to finding a pattern and connecting dots, there may be real value in doing the opposite. Could a tabula rasa state-of-being be more conducive to creativity, growth or depth? Is that even possible?
When I traveled to India earlier this year, our teacher asked us to resist making comparisons when tasting a new food or making cultural observations. This doesn’t seem revolutionary, but it takes conscientious restraint. When goats meandered through a chaotic urban thoroughfare, we made an effort to see that juxtaposition through new eyes, rather than revisit past trips and locales in our minds. We resisted the urge to compare monastic Ashrams in India to their cushy American counterparts, even though instant comparisons would have been easy to draw. It would also be natural to compare daily staples like chapatti, chai or Kanda Poha to other cultures’ quotidian equivalents. It takes discipline not to do this, surprisingly, especially in every day (non-exotic) settings.
I brought home an important lesson in this teaching.
Our instinct is to make meaning when faced with something new or foreign – to tie it to something we do know and understand. In fact running a successful business depends on it and signals our level of experience. Practically speaking, it creates efficiencies for others who need to understand our vision more immediately – and there’s obviously a place for this.
But maybe there’s also room to abstain from it, too. Assigning something we know, to something we don’t yet know, may have the unintended effect of removing whatever may be idiosyncratic or defining or purest about the new experience. Knee-jerk ‘labeling’ may actually limit our potential to see/grow or feel something more fully for what it really is.
Lately, I’m trying to clear this particular cache, if you will.
When a circumstance arises that makes me uncomfortable, or that I don’t immediately understand, I’m resisting the urge to narrate it – to put the expected punctuation around it as a salve to comfort or soothe what unsettles me about it.
Sometimes our own certainty is the very barrier we need to break through. Expansion – or a different kind of knowledge – could be waiting on the other side.