The practice of the bard is legendary � able to recall history, recount tales of heroes and bring justice through poetic retribution to the unjust. Many of us today entertain with stories, poems and song. We are a bardic people, it is intrinsic to our cultures, and our experience would be much less interesting without our word-smithing.
The very presence of the Bard within the t�ath (tribe) was good reason to act with honour: no-one wanted too many tales of their inadequacies retold around the fire. That said - the laughter generated by the satire has a powerful healing effect for the individual and the t�ath. And, of course, those who acted with great bravery or skill had their praises sang; their reward � the admiration and gratitude of the bard and Tuath. The cycle of bardic justice might continue if a praised individual let the praise fill him with arrogance and acted ignobly � the satire might
once more be of him.
This bardic tradition is still with us. I am sure we can all think of an occasion! And the power of laughter is still a great healer. In our lives, it is important to laugh, raise smiles and craic but not to indulge in outright mockery too easily or too often. Satire might be most effective when it is used with some discretion � rendering and preserving its power.
Our innate learning of words is a magic of its own. Steven Pinker proposes in �The Language Instinct� that our ability to learn language very easily occurs once the larynx has dropped and begins to diminish by age 5, presumably because it has served its function, making for a more studious and drawn out process of learning new languages later in life.
Our spoken languages facilitate our abilities to learn and develop. Our complex minds hold historical, analytical and decision-making functions as well as the underlying processes of body function, growth and repair. Within our interactions, we use language to express and understand the esoteric experiences of emotion. It is of no surprise that the wonderful communication tool of our times, the computer, is modeled on our own minds; the CPU/processor providing analysis/calculations to be held in its memory (RAM), underpinned and fed from its long term storage of disk. The computer is instructed by a variety of languages: languages that are designed and written by us. Of course, language plays but one part of our experience. Our senses dance in a complex pattern of taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight.
Language performs a rather powerful role within our experience: our experiences and culture proving the frame for the beautiful paintings that we paint. Looking back once more at our bardic ancestors, we might conclude that these masters of the word had the skills to understand and apply this rich tapestry and language of mind.
Some years ago I discovered the practices of Milton H. Erikson, an innovative psychologist who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. Erikson had a gift for understanding people and their minds. In his practice of talking therapy, his experience revealed that the subconscious mind is always listening. He also felt that we all frequent trance states on a daily basis and he encouraged these states in his clients. He had many therapeutic successes and wrote prolifically on his work and experiences. The natural talents of Erikson have been followed up and developed by many others. Bandler and Grinder studied his techniques in detail: Erikson�s natural abilities and techniques proving a solid basis for the development of Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Based on empirical evidence, Bandler and Grinder found that they could in essence re-program their patients for therapeutic cures. Through powerful techniques, they found that it is not just what is spoken but how it is spoken is important: our language proving the key to unlocking the complex imagery of our minds.
This school of talking therapy is wide ranging and has found uses beyond the medical professions into business: marketing being an important area of concern. The ability to not only sell products but change attitudes was and is very appealing to the industrialist. Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud�s nephew, had a huge impact on North America and can, at least partly, take credit for the transformation of the worker into the consumer: a task assigned by the industrial pioneers who evolved the mass production of identical products into the shorter run of a wider range of more individual products, and appealing to our every sense of identity and function of ego. Since then, the profiling and study of people as consumers (to guarantee sales) has become the mainstay of product production that we all recognise today.
One example and technique of this school of talking therapy is easily definable and understandable: the process of matching or mirroring, where the therapist matches breathing pace and physical movements of a patient to create rapport and instigate the beginnings of trust and light trance state. Part of this matching might include the discovery and adoption of the patient�s modality. Modality is most simply described as �which sense we favour�.
Listening to the client�s speech, and other indicators, the therapist will listen for metaphors that relate to senses. Sentences such as �I feel that you�re being hard� may indicate a favour to touch, �I see what you mean� indicating sight, etc. A therapist will look for emphasis or patterns with these metaphors which may reveal a sense that is associated with a particular subject or experience, or emotion. Having gained this understanding, the therapist can use the same sense modalities to build further rapport and trust. Try listening out for these phrases in everyday conversations.
These techniques form a vast school of therapy. Works on these subjects make interesting reading and enquiry. For the purposes of this essay, I am drawing attention to the contemporary power of language, its applications and techniques. The skilled poet or story teller carefully forms her sentences to engage us in her imagery and often imparts wisdom or knowledge. The ancient arts have found expression in writing and radio; we engage this media with the process of transforming the spoken or written word into internal visual images. We are particularly drawn to
film screening and television broadcast as they mirror our own internal imagery. Our internal movies (and the internal and external soundtracks that accompany them) are an everyday experience for us. These visual media guide our vision without that internal translation, leaving us to interpret the carefully written subtext and character development.
Within everyday life we speak to one another, detailing experiences and asking questions of one another, to help us understand our shared experiences as well as deal with the emotional responses that our experiences evoke. Our language makes use of a complex interaction and application of grammar, vocabulary, metaphor, analogy and simile as well as a myriad of expressive devises. Our rich language can communicate the mundane and esoteric: sometimes easily understood and sometimes not. Metaphor and analogy are of particular interest to us: the key aspect of metaphor being the transference of a word or idea from one context to another. The Greek philosophers used a fairly wide notion of analogy � defining it as shared abstraction � analogous objects not necessarily sharing a relation but an idea, pattern, attribute or function.
Earlier in this essay, I drew an analogy between the mind and a computer. Of course, our minds and computers are not alike in every way. They are more obviously different in many, many ways, but an analogy offers a simplified view of an idea or process. The triads we are familiar with provide an excellent example of analogy. Presented in threes, we can explore the relationships and interconnection between our experiences. E.g. Three signs of wisdom: patience, closeness, the gift of prophecy.
Our use of metaphors can be rich. The many story tellers and bards employ it with much skill. We discern and applaud the bard who uses metaphor in novel and imaginative ways. One example (of very many) in our ancient tales is the metaphor of �kissing the hag� in the context of leadership. The king or chief is said to have �kissed the hag�. Metaphorically, it can reveal the difficult leadership responsibilities and find them repulsive. Having overcome the aversion or revulsion of leadership, the just and successful leader finds the hag transformed into a beautiful woman. This metaphor seems to have survived as the �frogs into princes� children�s tale. It was also used by Richard Bandler as the title of a work on NLP. Transformation is the key concept within discussions of metaphor: the play on spelling into Trance-formation revealing a key technique used in its effect. After all, we have all heard of and experienced the spell or trance state that the skilled bard holds over her audience.
The use of metaphor has found distinction within the therapeutic practices of modern psychology. Therapeutic metaphor is employed in borderline personality disorder as dialectical behaviour therapy. In a community without lawful satire and rich metaphor, those of us who are troubled with psychological problems turn to therapists who are skilfully applying the ancient arts: the healing powers of the bard being revealed.
We can see the potential that language and its skilled use can accomplish. Such power however can be misused. Our day to day media comes under the criticism of being �dumbed down� on frequent occasion. Is it the lack of rich metaphor and transformative effects that we miss? I might argue that it is - Our minds having gone through a constant process of transformation, as we explored the many experiences through our languages.
This brings us to a contentious and much discussed aspect of our culture: violence and its portrayal and the language that surrounds it. Many cultures and people use violent metaphors on a daily basis. Expressions such as �head above the parapet; in the line of fire; shot down in flames; your round; marching into the office; the aims and targets of this project � all transfer modern or ancient experience of warfare into mundane non war experiences and frequently used in many English speaking cultures. Whether or not the speaker or writer realises it, they are invoking language with its origins in physical conflict. Our violent and warlike nature as people has obviously impacted our culture and influenced us. In considering the effect of such violence-based metaphors, we must look at their use and effectiveness. One analysis can lead us to believe that such expressions can have the wisdom and lessons of survival during and of war contained within: these expressions educating and passing down easily understood concepts to each generation. Of course, much literature, art and poetry also describes and illuminates us of these experiences.
In our relatively peaceful times, one could argue that the invocation of war in such ways might evoke and encourage defensive or even offensive thoughts, albeit on a subconscious level: these thoughts being unnecessary within the usual day-to-day experience of family and work. Of course as humans we do have the need on occasion to summon our hatred or anger for just means; I am advocating that in day-to-day life we need not encourage those emotions inadvertently. Many of us partake of martial activities, some of us as warriors on the re-enactment field, others in the ring or Dojo, other give battle in the area of activism. Many of us �fight� to overcome challenges in our lives. So it is certain that the language of battle, violence and war is still very much part of our cultures.
I have spent time removing these expressions of violence from my vocabulary � unless specifically relating martial activity � and generally speaking I have felt better for it. Within the work environment, which can be competitive, I have replaced such expressions with more accurate language. I found that metaphor in everyday speech more often serves as a short cut to accuracy, assuming those we communicate have the same understanding of the metaphors we use. This may not be a bad thing, although the pace of many of our lives can lead to stressful states of doing, along with other unintended effects. Over use of metaphor as a short-cut seems to ignore the context of transformation and the possible subconscious results. This misuse may not have dramatic short-term manifestations, but may have longer term consequences. Thus the transformative properties of the differing contexts allow one area
or topic to transfer into the language and activity of another.
That said, usually at the root of violence and wars are ideas or ideologies: religion and politics being a motivating pretext in many conflicts. From our experiences in relative peace, however, we still see the competition of ideas and ideologies. We all enact to some extent our ideals and defend ourselves from other competing philosophies. One might argue that the relatively peaceful selection and discernment of ideas that take place internally is, in fact, driven by our own logical and emotional responses to and within our experience.
Violence in language could be seen to replace violence in action: But many of us consciously choose to avoid physical violence. Do we take the same care to avoid metaphorical violence? The resolution of our own internal conflict can bring us peace and harmony. Our inner harmony will radiate light. Our light will illuminate the way for ourselves and sometimes others. We can expedite this process by careful use of language. Accurate speech and thinking, as well as careful choice and application of metaphor, can help alleviate the mind from confusion.
In these terms we might consider more careful use of our metaphors. Are they our own? Do they belong to our community? Do they serve well the use we make of them? Can our metaphors be misconstrued? In effect, a metaphor can be a spoken picture: a new or unusual metaphor requiring us to visualise the idea to glean the meaning. Common metaphors may not require that visualisation but create an instant understanding. But does this instant comprehension mask or desensitise us to the underlying imagery? And what effect might that underlying imagery have on our own mind and that of our reader or listener?
The title of this essay might evoke the image of a Bard or poet working at an anvil, heating and forming words over it. It might evoke the idea of the poet simply taking time and care to craft her words, or it might simply reveal our own process of forming words on the page or responses in conversation. With the power of words and language revealed, might we realise the rich and effective tool of communication and use its complexity and simplicity to
communicate our knowledge in the most interesting and productive way? Every word and sentence: the art and magic of the Bard within.
Math, Drui Dalta