In my work with my clients I constantly use metaphors. I do this on purpose. It is deliberative because it is effective. It is an essential part of the therapeutic process. It is about changing brains. When our brains change, we can change our behavior which is the reason clients seek out therapy to begin with.
And incorporating the visual system in the therapy process is one of the best tools for changing a brain. It is not unlike poetry. For me, the best poems contain imagery. The words contain pictures and the pictures put me into this other world within the poet’s mind and we can live in there together and have this experience that can be transformative. Music, art, film, dance – any of the creative arts can have this mood or mind or life-altering effect.
And since my only tool is language, I use metaphors. One of my favorites is the “life-is-a-card-game” metaphor. It is quite useful. When we play cards, we are in the moment. We are here and now. We can’t focus on the last game or the next game. We must focus on this game. This allows me to illustrate the importance of not living in the past or the future and not obsessing about things we cannot change or control at this moment.
In a card game, you only have a few cards in your hand. They may be good or bad but they are what they are and they are limited. You can play a good or bad hand well or poorly, but you must play. You are responsible. This is your life, no one else’s. To play effectively, it helps to stay calm and think. Really see what is in your hand. What do you actually control? There are things in your life that you do not want but there they are in your hand, looking back at you. It is your turn. What will you do?
Also, there are cards you want that you do not have. What are you going to do? Refuse to play because your cards are crummy? Steal cards from someone else? Cheat? Or will you play by the rules? Will you be mature, responsible and wise? Are you willing to lose? It could happen. Then what? Another hand, right? How do you handle losing? Do you stay in the game or try to quit?
Life is a mosaic. It is always changing. Each day we have cards to play and our goal is to do the best we can with what we have and what we don’t have. No matter what, we are gambling. Are we gambling to win or gambling not to lose? Are we giving it our all or are we playing it safe? Are we acting foolishly or are we being careful and clear?
Life gets simpler when we realize we only have a limited set of options. We are too often worried about the cards we used to have or might have and lose sight of the cards we do have. The more we focus on what we cannot control or change, the less we focus on what we have in our hands. We are more powerful than we realize.
Sometimes we can see life like a chess or tennis game. Stay on your side of the net. Don’t play other people’s cards for them. Don’t take their turn for them. Stay in your lane. Breathe. Be here. It is okay to be here and to be you and to have this and not have that. When we play cards, we take turns. At times we must pay attention, observe and learn. And when it is time, we must act. And then more observation and learning.
Playing cards should be fun. We can laugh while we play. We can enjoy our relationships, the people we play with, our friends and loved ones. We notice how they play and try not to judge. We accept what we cannot change and avoid being critical and blaming. It’s just a game. Be careful to not take it too seriously. The important thing is to be loving. Be kind. Be light. But pay attention. When it is your turn, be ready. Don’t be rude. And if you make a mistake, admit it. Be willing to laugh at yourself. We can’t expect to have perfect cards or to always win. It is a joy to be here playing this game with you.
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 25 years. He believes in magic and is a Sacramento Kings fan.