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A Heart that Knows


When I attended the NLP Conference at Regent’s Park in June 1999, little did I realise that this was the first in a number of steps that would change my life. I had heard of Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling, but didn’t really understand what it was, so when I heard James Lawley talking about Double Binds I was unprepared for the effect his talk would have on me. Here was someone who seemed to understand what it was like to get all tied up in knots by one’s own thinking, and who offered hope that knotted thoughts may be able to be unravelled. I volunteered to be the demonstration subject and was soon sitting on a stool describing my metaphor landscape to the whole audience. Within three questions James had helped me to identify ‘a heart that knows’...

Five years later, in a workshop in France, ‘a heart that knows’ featured in my metaphor landscape again. In the intervening years I’d been a client of Penny and James, attended and assisted on many of their trainings and started using Symbolic Modelling with my own clients. I had indeed unravelled many of my ‘knots’, and resolved many issues, but there was still (at least) one major piece of work to be done—and France was the place to do it. Wendy Sullivan and I had arranged to attend the workshop together - I would be her facilitator, and she mine. So on July 4th 2004, I was all set for the first leg of my three day journey.

I said I wanted to emerge from the workshop knowing what direction I was going in, and having resolved whatever was holding me back from moving forward—and I knew that this was something to do with ‘shame’. And I got all this—and more.

It was as though all the symbols and metaphors from all the previous pieces of work I had done as a client were present in some form. And each word I looked up and each picture I drew was loaded with meaning. For example, the shame seemed to take the form of a brown matted mass on my right shoulder. My best descriptions of this were like a ‘hamper’ and like a ‘hedgehog’. Of course—the hamper was hampering me! I checked out the symbolism of ‘hedgehog’ and was confronted with the question: “Are you allowing others’ opinions to prevent you from exploring activities that could otherwise be fun and enjoyable?” And of course, I was. I was so worried about what I thought other people were thinking, that many times I could not seem to say what I really wanted.

The sessions flew by, and towards the end of day two I was in the garden, mapping out my symbols on the ground and standing in the various spaces. The hamper had become a rucksack and was less of a burden, but still there, nonetheless. Then I stood on the space that represented ‘heart that knows’ and it seemed as if I did know—all of a sudden—how come things were like they were. Previous assumptions I’d been making were now obviously flawed; the direction I needed to go in was clear. The word I used was ‘obvious’... and when I looked this up in the dictionary afterwards, the words that jumped out at me were ‘in front of you’. Yes, indeed the way forward was in front of me, and I had been taking the ‘safe’ path (off to the left), always afraid of what others would think.

It seemed like I’d already got my outcome, and I had another day to go… a bonus day. That evening I drew a picture to depict the way forward being in front of me and then realised that there was nothing in the picture. I thought back to the garden; there had been a tree in front of me. I knew that this was important, and by now I was so trusting of my ‘heart that knows’, that I confidently drew a tree to fill the empty space in front of me in the picture.

Before going to France, I’d been thinking about the concept of branding in relation to me and my work and had been reading a book called ‘Managing Brand Me’, which poses the question, “What do you stand for?” When I woke the next morning, I wrote that question down, then looked at my picture and wrote, “What does a tree stand for?” It was at that point that I realised the function of any symbol or metaphor is to ‘stand for’ something else. I couldn’t wait to get back to the workshop so I could look up in a symbol book what ‘tree’ stands for.

According to the book I turned to, the roots of a tree represent the ‘underworld’, the trunk stands for the earth and the upper branches reach out toward the light of heaven. And the function of the tree is to join all three worlds, to make communication possible between them. When I read these three words: ‘make communication possible’ I had a moment of pure recognition. Yes, that is exactly what I am here for.

The rest of day three was spent exploring this purpose and the possibilities inherent in it. I faltered at first, not wanting to admit out loud that I—little me - could have what seemed such a big purpose for being here… but Wendy continued to ask me clean questions and to refrain from encouragement, so I had to speak out - and it wasn’t long before I was proclaiming my intentions to anyone who’d listen! Previously I’d been fearful of others thinking I was ‘too big for my boots’; in what seemed like an instant, everything had changed. On that day I realised that ‘making communication possible’ is my ‘calling’—and I’d be ‘being too big for my boots’ if I ignored it.

Wow! What an experience! Since coming back from France, I have felt completely different. No longer frightened to tell people what I stand for, I am gaining confidence every day. Lots of things have become clearer to me and things that I have wanted for ages are starting to happen. I am continuing to explore ‘making communication possible’ and what needs to happen to turn that into a reality, and I’ve realised making communication is what I have been doing in my work for sometime now… you see, my heart already knew.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding V

Thank you, Wendy, for your superb facilitation over those three days. And thank you too, Penny, James, Phil Swallow and Jennifer de Gandt, for creating an environment where such wonderful things can happen.

Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.

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