Parrots Don’t Understand

Parrots Don’t Understand

Below is an example of one of my client sessions using Andy Austin’s fun and insightful Metaphors of Movement Process.

Tale of the day:
Parrots Don’t Understand

I asked Paul what he wanted my help with and he said, “I want to get back to reading and learning, which I’ve been avoiding, I always considered myself a slow learner.”

“OK,” I said, “So what stops you from already reading and learning the way you want to?”

“I get this immediate sense of ‘I can’t.’ It’s like I feel like a little boy and I’m inside this protective covering, or shell or something,” [gesturing above his head] “and there’s like this opening ripped in it right above me, but I’m still hiding in here.”

Paul was already describing his stuck state metaphorically, so he’d already completed the first step of Andy Austin’s Metaphors of Movement process.

“It’s like I just need to grow up and out of this,” Paul added.

Paul intuitively sensed that metaphorically “growing up” might help. And growing up IS one of the solutions Andy teaches for being stuck in a container. So based on what I knew so far this sounded like a reasonable solution for a little boy trapped in a protective covering. [Note: If you come to Andy’s Metaphors of Movement training in Boulder this spring you’ll learn exactly how this growing up solution works.] I could have simply invited Paul to do this and I’m sure it would have changed his state. But it would have missed a lot and likely not done him the long-term good that came of fully exploring his metaphor the way we did. So before rushing to a “solution,” I continued to ask him detailed questions about his metaphorical experience until I could draw a clear picture of it. Here is the full metaphorical landscape that emerged:

  • He is standing with his back to the base of a cliff wall.
  • Above him is a plastic material (with opening ripped in it) suspended by two timbers anchored into the cliff wall.
  • In front of him is a void—a chasm deep enough he can’t see the bottom, and about 100 yards across. On the other side of the chasm is green grass and gardens.
  • Underfoot is concrete.
  • To his right is more cement, leading to grass, leading to a highway and traffic noises.
  • To his left is darkness.
  • Above is blue sky.


I drew a picture of the metaphor, and showed the picture to Paul and he said, “Yeah, that’s it.” Now it was clear that growing up through this little plastic awning with a hole in it wouldn’t really solve anything.

I said, “So now I’m going to just notice things about this metaphor, and as I say them you can notice what seems like, ‘Oh yeah, that fits,’ and what’s like, ‘No, that doesn’t really fit,’ and what’s like, ‘Oooh, that fits even though I wish it didn’t.’ ”

Paul laughed.

“So,” I continued, “What I’m noticing is that your back’s to a wall. You can’t back up or back out of this, but at least where you stand is concrete, and you have a firm platform here.”

“Yes,” Paul said. “It feels very concrete here. I know where I stand.”

“Unfortunately what you look forward to is a void. Where you stand now is concrete, but in front there’s nothing to support you. So you can see a lot of growth on the other side of the chasm, but there’s no way to get over there.”

“Maybe I just need to take a leap of faith.”

“Well, you could do that. It could work, but we don’t know what’s down there.”

Paul nodded, “Very true.” Then he said, “If I have wings I can just glide down to the bottom.”

“Well that would be nice, only problem is you don’t have wings.”

“Oh,” Paul said, “I just got this sense of like transforming into this beautiful red parrot and I can just glide over this void.” It was clear from his facial expression and hand gestures that he liked this idea. [For those of you who have taken Andy’s training, this is an example of what he calls a ‘boundary violation of mistaken identity.’ In the next sentence notice how I challenge this boundary violation, and you’ll see how this led to something very fruitful that would have been missed without Andy’s detailed distinctions.]

“The only problem is, you’re not a parrot,” I said. “You’re a human being.”

Paul’s head jerked back as he considered this, and then he said, “Oh my gosh, you’re absolutely right. I was just telling someone the other day, ‘I don’t want to parrot other people, I want to do my own thing.’ Wow.”

“So then what?” Paul asked.

“Well it seems you’ve had no way back, and no way forward trying to bridge this gap, but all your focus has been on the straight-forward approach, and so all you get is a void, a void, a void. [his initial stated response to learning was to avoid]. And because you’ve been so focused on what’s ahead, you’ve ignored what’s right for you, and how you might go about this in a different way.”

“I have to go the right way,” Paul said, “toward the traffic and the life. I just had this spontaneous experience of turning 90 degrees to the right, so now I’m facing the traffic and I want to go in that direction.”

“Ok, interesting. Now you’re seeing what was right for you all along but you never noticed until now. Now you’re seeing how you can go about this a different way, not as the crow flies, or the parrot, but the way that has been right for you all along.” Paul Nodded. “But before you go in this direction, lets explore a bit further where you stand now, because there can be value in fully understanding where you are now before you take your next step.”


“I’m curious, because when you were facing the void, you said there was darkness to your left.”


“So it sounds like you were in the dark about what was left for you. Who knows what’s there in the dark, without a light to illuminate what’s left.”

“Whoa, as you say that it’s lightening up, and I can see treasure there—like Alladin’s cave.”

“So now that you’ve lightened up, you can see that there’s a lot left for you. A lot of richness and value.”

Paul nodded. “Wow.”

“And so now when you spontaneously turn to the right, you’ve left a void, a void, a void, and now instead of this treasure being left in the dark, now it’s backing you up. You used to have your back to the wall, and now you have all this richness behind you.”

Paul nodded some more. “Yes, it’s like I have a sense of all the value now, of my past and my experiences. It’s really wonderful—so much treasure.”

“And this plastic overhead. It seems like it once provided a bit of protection, a bit of an awning, so maybe it used to be a good place to stand for that reason. But now it’s got this hole ripped in it, so not really doing a great job, [laughter] and it seems you’re more happy anyway being under the blue sky.” Paul nodded. “So now that you’ve changed your orientation, instead of being oriented to a void, you’re now looking forward to a way that you can take one step at a time. You don’t have to take a leap of faith here.”

“No, I already did that years ago. I don’t want to do it here.”

“If you did it would be a big let down.” [laughter] “This time you can stay grounded, taking it one step at a time. And while you may loose the concrete platform that you have now, there’s more life and growth beyond the concrete.”

“It’s almost like it’s turned into a movie now, ever since I turned to the right,” Paul said. “It’s fluid, and like I just want to continue on toward the grass and the traffic noise. Brilliant! Thank you so much, Mark.”

After our session concluded I thought of a few more idioms that totally fit the metaphor, so I emailed Paul the following message:

Thinking about your metaphor, it just occurred to me. In your old orientation you were looking forward to a huge gap in understanding. By turning to what’s right for you, you’ve left that gap in understanding, and now have clear steps you can take to get to where you want to be.

8 days later Paul wrote me:

It’s been a funny time. Excellent though. Since we spoke the concrete that I was standing on has reached further. And the motorway that was in the distance is now very much closer. It all feels safe and secure. The treasure that was hidden is now sort of discernible. Still more work to do though.

Practically speaking I am getting through a shedload of work. It feels good. I also loaded your Mum’s Advanced Language Patterns to my phone and I have listened through. That’ll take a couple more goes. Oh yes, and I also heard myself uncovering and reflecting back some presuppositions to some folk. [Language patterns and presuppositions had been one of the specific things Paul wanted to get back to learning]

10 days later Paul added:

There are other significant and positive differences Mark. The treasure that was to my left is becoming a more available resource. When I peek in that direction I know that I have learned and that I can learn. There is also a shift from being a slow learner towards being a considered learner, someone who takes time to understand fully and who can then communicate that in decent ways to others.

Five months later Paul emailed:

Briefly, there has been definitive change since we did that session. Whilst life has been exceptionally busy, the busiest I’ve ever been in all the 40 years I’ve been working, I have this enhanced sort of freedom and confidence when working. That had been missing for a while.

There’s more. I’ve mapped out a new and personally significant work-based project for 2017. The sharpening of focus is the really important piece in this. In the past there was this “big chunk” experience—I had to help the whole world sort of thing. Anything that came on my radar, I had to do something about it. You can guess where that led. Now, things are much better streamlined and indeed exciting.

Hope all’s well with you.



Find out more and register for the full Metaphors of Movement training with Andy in Boulder CO this spring.

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