NLP Techniques and Metaphor


Metaphor and its lessons

For centuries NLP techniques like metaphor or story telling have been used by great teachers, prophets and healers as an effective way of imparting a message or embedding their teaching.


Life is a journey. Time is a river. The door is ajar.

Jim Butcher - Deadbeat


Well told, the metaphor is a powerful way of grabbing the attention of an audience and helping them retain the lesson of the story.

The Buddha and metaphor

NLP techniques - metaphor

Many such metaphors are attributed to the Buddha

It is said that one day, after listening to their teaching and prayers, a young man joined a group of Buddhist monks.

Angry and hurt his father went to the Buddha and accused him of corrupting youth, lying, blaspheming, thieving and all sorts of other things. The Buddha listened quietly whilst the father shouted and gesticulated until finally, tired and lost for further words, he paused.

After a moment he said to the Buddha, “Why don’t you defend yourself? Why do you say nothing?”

The Buddha responded: “If you brought me a bunch of flowers and I refused them, what would happen to the flowers?”

The father said: “I suppose they would remain with me until they withered and died.”

“Exactly”, replied the Buddha. “And so it is with your words. They remain with you until they wither and die.”

NLP Techniques - More than one message in a metaphor

Sometimes a metaphor contains more than one message or interpretation. In a group of listeners, many people will have slightly different interpretations, but the message he received will be imprinted upon his memory because he will remember the gist of the story even if he does not recall the principle pure and simple.

The brain sees and interprets pictures. Metaphor is a wonderful way of helping the brain to create large, colourful images.

And if the story teller varies pitch and tone, and evokes strong feelings in his audience, then he is more effective because by bringing into play more of the listeners’ senses (seeing, hearing, feeling) the picture becomes a deeper and more vivid representation.

NLP techniques - Jesus of Nazareth and metaphor

You have only to pick up a copy of the New Testament to discover the great story telling of Jesus of Nazareth and his effective use of metaphor. 

In their gospels the apostles refer to Jesus’s stories as parables.

One of his most well-known metaphors from the Gospel of Matthew is The Parable of the Sower.

Jesus, as he so often did, went to the lakeside where a crowd gathered around him. On this occasion it was so large that whilst the crowd remained on the shore, Jesus sat in a boat and told his story.

“Once there was a man who went out to sow corn. As he scattered the seed in the field, some fell on the path and the birds came and ate it. Some fell on rocky ground where there was little soil.

"The seeds soon sprouted because the soil was not deep, but when the sun came up it scorched the young plants and because the roots had failed to mature and grow deep enough the plants soon died. Some of the seed fell amongst thorn bushes which grew and choked the young plants.

“But some seed fell in good soil and the plants produced corn: some a hundred grains, others sixty and others thirty.”

Jesus’s disciples asked him why he used parables when he talked to people. He replied that it was necessary because people look but do not see; they listen but they do not hear or understand.

NLP Techniques and metaphor - Who discerns the message?

Usually the story teller will leave his listeners to discern the meaning or interpretation for themselves, but Jesus explained the Parable of the Sower in this way. “Those who hear the message about the Kingdom of God but do not understand it are like the seeds that fell along the path.

“The seeds that fell on rocky ground stand for those who receive the message gladly as soon as they hear it, but it does not sink deep into them and they don’t last long.

“The seeds that fell among thorn bushes stand for those who hear the message, but the worries about this life and their love for riches chokes the message and they don’t bear fruit.

"The seeds sown in the good soil stand for those who hear the message and understand it, and they bear fruit in various proportions.”

How can you use metaphor?

What does the Parable of the Sower mean for you? Most metaphors are adapted and passed from generation to generation, from teacher to teacher each adding detail and relevance for his own purpose. What stories can you use to benefit your listeners, create anchors, embed your teaching and assist you to fulfil your mission in life?



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