I don’t particularly like the smell of roses. I can tolerate the smell of fresh cut blooms, but anything “rose scented” is to me decidedly unpleasant.
But, I love the smell of cats. I grew up with cats. There has been only one year of my life when I didn’t share a house with a cat. Growing up as a kid, our cats were members of the family with personalities as big and bold and unique as anyone else. Our current moggie, Spartacus (above), has been with us for 14 years; he’s seen the invasion of three kids and a dog all with that aloof, superior disinterest that only cats can muster. He also smells good.
Maybe the smell of a cat reminds me of simpler times when I was younger, maybe it’s associated with with the oxytocin you get from patting a cat (see Beetz et al for a nice, open access, review on this), or the pleasant calm of just sitting quietly with a friend that wants nothing more than a scratch under the chin.
My point? When I hear the phrase “stop and smell the roses”, it doesn’t evoke in me ideas of slowing down, appreciating life or taking time out for me, it just evokes memories of mildly unpleasant olfactory experiences.
However, if someone said to me “why don’t you stop and smell a cat” I would immediately ‘get it’ (but also wonder at this very strange person telling me to smell a cat…)
Stopping and smelling the roses is a metaphor, and for some a useful one, but like all metaphors it can have some problems. One of the very inherent characteristics of metaphors is that each person will interpret them differently, according to their own history and narrative – this is what makes them so powerful – for better and for worse.
Ever explained pain to a patient, telling stories about the majesty of the brain and nervous system only to have them throw it back at you with “what, are you trying to tell me its all in my head??” It might be tempting to say that “they don’t get it”, but maybe its how they’ve interpreted the metaphor of pain and the brain.
David Bolton, noister and regular contributor here at noijam has often commented on the importance of having a flexible repertoir of stories that can be performed as part of the explain pain act and David Butler is fond of talking about “meeting the patient at their story”.
How do you know when your metaphor has hit the mark? I think there are all kinds of clues. It might be, literally, written all over their face – we’ve all seen those “lightbulb” moment in others. A change of posture, a change of breathing or that feeling that suddenly you’ve connected.
There are similar kinds of clues that you’re missing the mark – if you sense these, maybe its time for a new story.
Lorimer Moseley’s book of Painful Yarns is a brilliant place to start as is The Graded Motor Imagery Handbook and Explain Pain – I’m yet to meet anyone that didn’t immediately get the Twin Peaks metaphor.
We always love to hear your teaching tales, your soothing sagas and your medicinal metaphors – spin us a story in the comments.
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