The Calf

My first well-remembered intentional use of the double bind occurred in early boyhood.

One winter day, with the weather below zero, my father led a calf out of the barn to the water trough. After the calf had satisfied its thirst, they turned back to the barn, but at the doorway the calf stubbornly braced its feet, and despite my father’s desperate pulling on the halter, he could not budge the animal.

I was outside playing in the snow and, observing the impasse, began laughing heartily. My father challenged me to pull the calf into the barn.

Recognizing the situation as one of unreasoning stubborn resistance on the part of the calf, I decided to let the calf have full opportunity to resist, since that was what it apparently wished to do. Accordingly I presented the calf with a double bind by seizing it by the tail and pulling it away from the barn, while my father continued to pull it inward.

The calf promptly chose to resist the weaker of the two forces and dragged me into the barn.

The Watermelon

Many years ago in the hills of Patagonia there was a village. Its inhabitants were starving. They lived in fear of a dragon that they had seen in their fields and they would not go to harvest their crops. One day a traveler came to the village and asked for food. They explained that there was none because they were afraid of the dragon. The traveler was brave and offered to slay the dragon. When he arrived at the fields he couldn’t see a dragon, only a large watermelon. So he returned to the village and said, “You have nothing to fear; there is no dragon, only a large watermelon.” The villagers were angry at his refusal to understand their fear and hacked the traveler to pieces. Some weeks later another traveler came to the village. Again, when he asked for food he was told about the dragon. He too was brave and offered to kill the dragon. The villagers were relieved and delighted. When he arrived at the fields he also saw the giant watermelon and returned to the village to tell the villagers that they were mistaken about the dragon—they need have no fear of a giant watermelon. They hacked him to pieces. More time passed and the villagers were becoming desperate. One day a third traveler appeared. He could see how desperate they were and asked what the problem was. They told him and he promised he would slay the dragon so that they could go to the fields to harvest their crops. When he got to the field he too saw the giant watermelon. He reflected for a moment, then he drew his sword, leaped into the field, and hacked the watermelon to pieces. He returned to the villagers and told them he had killed their dragon. They were overjoyed. The traveler stayed in the village for many months, long enough to teach the villagers the difference between dragons and watermelons.

The Orange

Two children are fighting over an orange.

The mother takes on the role of a judge. She splits the orange in half and gives one half to each child. Both children start crying.

Now, the mother takes on the role of a mediator and asks each child why they wanted the orange. It turns out that one child wants to make orange juice and the other child needs the orange peel in order to make a cake.

Now the mother realizes that a solution could be found only by considering what satisfies each party.

The Two Seeds

There were once two seeds living in a soil bed who both had the potential to grow into beautiful flowers. One day the first seed said to his friend, “I am going to push through this earth and grow into the most beautiful flower that I can be. Many people will be able to enjoy my beauty, and I will be happy to know that I have made a difference in this world.” The second seed thought about what his friend had said and then replied, “Well, don’t you know how hard of a struggle it will be to push through the dirt to get to the surface? And once you enter the world the sun is very hot and will scorch you. The rain will fall hard upon you too. No, I think it is much better to stay here and be safe.”
The first seed decided that the risk to enter the world was worth the struggle. So he pushed hard to reach the surface. And while it took some time, and wasn’t easy, he eventually broke through and discovered the sunlight. The sun was certainly hot at times and the rain pounded down upon him as well. But the sun and rain also helped him to eventually become the beautiful flower that he was destined to be. Many people admired his beauty and he smiled brightly on the outside and the inside too knowing that he was making a difference in the world.
The second seed, however, stayed safely in the ground content to remain beneath the surface for fear of the struggle and pain that he had imagined. Suddenly, a hungry bird landed on the ground. He dug beneath the soil, discovered the seed lying within the ground, and ate him for lunch.
It goes without saying that those of us who fail to risk and grow get ‘swallowed’ up by life… .


As you watch a plant grow, it would start from just a stem and growing leaves as it gets older. It doesn’t know what flower it will be all at once, but all the information for the plant is in the seed, so the plant will always know what to do, but only one leaf at a time.

Computers Talking

What do we have here?

Two computers who won’t talk to each other, yet they are side by side. 2 1/2 inches separate them. One has a file that is needed by the other, but ne’er the twain shall meet, right?
If it wasn’t for the fact that one file needs to pass from one to the other, it wouldn’t even matter just where they are in time in space – what links them, and makes that distance appear, is a common task that requires both to communicate.

But hey! There’s help at hand. Both are connected to the Internet. So we can send our file to the third party server. Which lives in California, on this occasion, and happens to be 5456 miles (8781 km) (4741 nautical miles) from where the two computers are sitting near London, 2 1/2 inches apart from each other.

So the file travels 5456 miles (8781 km) (4741 nautical miles) as one computer uploads it to the server, and then 5456 miles (8781 km) (4741 nautical miles) back again as the second computer downloads it from the third party location.

Now, the task has been accomplished; the journey is at an end.

And the moral of the tail?

In this case, the shortest distance between two points which were 2 1/2 inches apart, turned out to be 10,912 MILES.

And that is either a useful neurological NLP metaphor, or just simply, the story of my life …

The Frog in the Water

It is said that if you put a frog in cold water and gradually heat the water the frog will stay in the container and boiled to death. If you put a frog into hot water straight away it will jump straight out. The reason given is that the frog cannot detect the slow change in the temperature. (I’ve never tested this.)
If you take a few minutes right now to look at some aspects of your life, relationship, health, finances are there situations that have taken you over so slowly that you haven’t noticed the process. If you had no personal history and had the shock of suddenly arriving in the life you now lead what are the situations you are in that you would welcome and what are the ones you would jump away from.

The Carpenter

The carpenter, who has always had a great reputation, decides to retire. Boss asks him to build one more house. Reluctantly, he does.
Heart not in it, does sloppy job cos he wants to finish. Goes to boss, I’m done! Great. Let’s go see the house. They do. Boss says, “To thank you for all these years of great work, we’d like to give you this house. Here are the keys”. i.e. always do your best.

Don’t Do It Then

A woman goes to see the Doctor, lifts up her right arm and says, “Every time I do that it hurts”. The Doctor replies “So don’t do it then” (Tommy Cooper)

Achieving All Your Goals

He had finally achieved all his goals, not surprising, he had devoted almost all his time to them.

He had the job and the income he wanted, the level of fitness he desired and an apartment in the best part of town.

It had all been worthtwhile, the personal sacrifices, the postponement of pleasure. At last he could look forward to enjoying life.

He was so busy looking forward he did not see the truck that hit him from behind.

The Farmer

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer.

One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry
for help coming from a nearby  bog.

He dropped his tools and ran to the bog.There, mired to his waist in
black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free

Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and
terrifying death.

The next  day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the  Scotsman’s sparse
surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced
himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

“I want to repay you,” said  the nobleman. “You saved my son’s life.”

”No,  I can’t accept payment for what I did,” the Scottish farmer
replied waving off the offer.

At that moment,  the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel.

“Is that your son?'”the nobleman asked.

“Yes,” the farmer replied proudly.

“I’ll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level  of
education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is  anything like his
father, he’ll no doubt grow to be a  man we both will be proud of”.

And that he did.  Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools
and in time, graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in
London ,  and went on to become known throughout the world as the
noted Sir Alexander Fleming,  the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years  afterward, the same nobleman’s son who was saved from the bog
was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life this time?
Penicillin.  And the name of the nobleman?  Lord Randolph Churchill
…  His son’s name?  Sir Winston Churchill.

Tug of War with a Monster

Imagine you’re in a tug of war with some huge anxiety (depression etc) monster. You’ve got one end of the rope, and the monster has the other end. In between you, there’s a huge bottomless pit. You’re pulling backward as hard as you can, but the monster keeps on pulling you ever closer to the pit. What’s the best thing to do in that situation?

Pulling harder comes naturally, but the harder you pull, the harder the monster pulls. You’re stuck. What do you need to do?

Dropping the rope means the monster’s still there, but you’re no longer tied up in a struggle with it. Now you can do something more useful.

Hoe-ing a field of potatoes

Now how do you do a hard piece of work?

Bert and Lance planted a garden in Michigan for me, and I paid for the garden produce the same price I paid at the vegetable stand . . .

That’s how they got their spending money— they WORKED for it. I had a potato patch. Thirty rows —LONG rows—you know how potatoes are planted, they’re planted in hills . . . one potato, one potato, one potato . . . and you hoe the dirt UP around the base of the plant, and the potato will form underground. Thirty long rows, and to HOE them is a great big job.

How can you get two little boys to hoe a great big field?

You have them hoe row by row and the field is STILL as big …

Have them hoe a diagonal line, from here to here, and hoe a diagonal line here and across and down the middle and kept cutting that field down into little pieces, and making more and more designs, and it’s FUN to make designs.

They transferred hard work into play.

The Repairman

There is an old story of a boilermaker who was hired to fix a huge steamship boiler system that was not working well. After listening to the engineer’s description of the problems and asking a few questions, he went to the boiler room. He looked at the maze of twisting pipes, listened to the thump of the boiler and the hiss of escaping steam for a few minutes, and felt some pipes with his hands. Then he hummed softly to himself, reached into his overalls and took out a small hammer, and tapped a bright red valve, once. Immediately the entire system began working perfectly, and the boilermaker went home. When the steamship owner received a bill for $1,000 he complained that the boilermaker had only been in the engine room for fifteen minutes, and requested an itemized bill. This is what the boilermaker sent him:

For tapping with hammer: $ .50
For knowing where to tap: 999.50
Total: $1,000.00

The Priest and the Thief

One evening as the Buddhist priest, Shichiri Kojun, was reciting his sutras, a man with a knife crept up behind him.”Give me your money!” the man threatened. Without turning his head, Shichiri answered, “Do not disturb me. You will find the money in the cupboard near the wall.” And then he resumed his recitation. A few moments later, Shichiri paused and called: “Don’t take it all, though. I need to pay my taxes tomorrow.” The man returned a few coins to the cupboard and started towards the door. As he opened it, he heard Shichiri say, “Thank a person when you receive a gift.” The man called over his shoulder, “You are thanked,” and he fled into the dark night. Within a few weeks, the man was arrested for theft. At his trial, Shichiri appeared with many others who claimed that the man had stolen from them. When it was Shichiri’s turn to testify, he was asked if the accused man had stolen anything. Shichiri replied, “No. He entered my house. He asked me for money. I told him that it was in my cupboard. He took some. And then he thanked me for it.” When the man finished his prison term, he went to Shichiri and became his disciple.

Learning to Stand Up

We learn so much a a conscious level and then we forget what we learn and use the skill. You see, Erickson had a terrific advantage over others, he had polio, and he was totally paralysed and the inflammation was so great that he had a sensory paralysis, too. Luckily, however, he could still move his eyes and his hearing was undisturbed.
He got very lonely lying in bed, unable to move anything except his eyeballs. He was quarantined on the farm with 7 sisters, one brother, two parents, and a practical nurse. So how could he entertain himself?
He started to watch people and their environment. He soon learned that his sisters could say “no” when they mean “yes.” And they could say “yes” and mean “no” at the same time. They could offer another sister an apple and yet hold it back. And Erickson decided to begin to pay great attention to nonverbal language and body language.
He had a baby sister who had begun to learn to crawl. Now he couldn’t walk – he couldn’t even crawl. So you can imagine the intensity with which he watched his baby sister grow from crawling to learning how to stand up. And you don’t even know how you learned to stand up. You don’t even know how you walked. You can think that you can walk in a straight line for six blocks – with no pedestrian or vehicular traffic. You don’t know that you couldn’t walk in a straight line at a steady pace!

You don’t know what you do when you walk. You don’t know how you learned to stand up. You learned by reaching up your hand and pulling yourself up. That put pressure on your hands— and, by accident, you discovered that you could put weight on your feet. That’s an awfully complicated thing because your knees would give way—and, when your knees would keep straight, your hips would give way. Then you got your feet crossed. And you couldn’t stand up because both your knees and your hips would give way. Your feet were crossed—and you soon learned to get a wide brace—and you pull yourself up and you have the job of learning how to keep your knees straight—one at a time and as soon as you learn that, you have to learn how to give your attention to keep your hips straight. Then you found out that you had to learn to give your attention to keep your hips straight and knees straight at the same time and feet far apart! Now finally you could stand having your feet far apart, resting on your hands.

Then came the lesson in three stages. You distribute your weight on your one hand and your two feet, this hand not supporting you at all. Honestly hard work-allowing you to learn to stand up straight, your hips straight, knees straight, feet far apart, this hand [right hand] pressing down hard. Then you discover how to alter your body balance. You alter your body balance by turning your head, turning your body. You have to learn to coordinate all alterations of your body balance when you move your hand, your head, your shoulder, your body—and then you have to learn it all over again with the other hand. Then comes the terribly hard job of learning to have both hands up and moving your hands in all directions and to depend upon the two solid bases of your feet, far apart. And keeping your hips straight —your knees straight and keeping your mind’s attention so divided that you can attend to your knees, your hips, your left arm, your right arm, your head, your body. And finally, when you had enough skill, you tried balancing on one foot. That was a hell of a job!

How do you hold your entire body keeping your hips straight, your knees straight and feeling hand movement, head movement, body movement? And then you put your one foot ahead and alter your body’s center of gravity! Your knees bent—and you sat down! You got up again and tried it again. Finally you learned how to move one foot ahead and took a step and it seemed to be good. So you repeated it—it seemed so good. Then the third step —with the same foot—and you toppled! It took you a long time to alternate right left, right left, right left. Now you could swing your arms, turn your head, look right and left, and walk along, never paying a bit of attention to keeping your knees straight, hips straight.

School is Boring

Fascinating Bordom

When I was a ten-year-old, I once confessed to my Dad, ” School is boring.”
He said, “What?” – acting as though he hadn’t heard me. So I repeated, “School is boring!”
His eyebrows rose with a concerned and slow “I see.” With his hand on his chin, he stared into space for a moment, and then as if struck by a meteor from inner space, he suddenly shot back, “How many kids in your class?”
“About 30.”
“And how old are they?”
“They’re ten, like me.”
“Thirty kids, all ten years old – wow!” and he stared into space as if some miracle had happened.
“What?” I begged. I couldn’t imagine what was so magical about 30 ten-years-olds.
“Well,” he said, pausing just long enough to make sure I was interested, “30 kids, each ten years old, that makes 300 years total. Three hundred years worth of living, in the same room, at the same time. Each person so different, with thoughts and beliefs and ideas. I mean, just trying to imagine what each one had for breakfast is amazing! Or what each one is thinking at any moment! Imagine if thoughts could be heard, wow, you could hear thirty thoughts at the same time! I wonder what secrets they all have. I wonder what they dream at night?”
At the ripe old age of ten I’d had ten years experience living with my Dad. So I already knew he was a little different from other Dads. My response was to roll my eyes and walk away.
But the next day in school, I couldn’t keep from from wondering what all my classmates had for breakfast, what they had dreamed about the night before, what made them the way they were, and what they were thinking about when the teacher was talking. School didn’t change, but my perspective and behavior did. Suddenly going to school was more like going to the zoo. Everything became fascinating.

The Cellar Door

A child is told to keep clear of the cellar door and above all never to open it because what is behind is frightening and dangerous. When she is a bit older and her parents are elsewhere she decides to open the door and look for herself. She is scared but determined to be brave and as the door opens she sees….green fields, other children playing and the sun shining.

Good Strong Blood

Dr. Erickson describes handling an incident with his son Robert to illustrated how to deal with children in pain. Robert fell down the back stairs, split his lip, and knocked his upper tooth back into the maxilla. He was bleeding and screaming with pain and fright. His parents rushed to him and saw that it was an emergency. Dr. Erickson writes,

“No effort was made to pick him up. Instead, as he paused for breath for fresh screaming, he was told quickly, simply, sympathetically and emphatically, ‘That hurts awful, Robert. That hurts terrible.’

“Right then, without any doubt, my son knew that I knew what I was talking about. He could agree with me and he knew I was agreeing with him completely. Therefore he could listen respectfully to me, because I had demonstrated that I understood the situation fully.”

‘Then I told Robert, ‘And it will keep right on hurting.’ In this simple statement, I named his own fear, confirmed his own judgment of the situation, demonstrated my good intelligent grasp of the entire matter and my entire agreement with him, since right then he could foresee a lifetime of anguish and pain for himself.

“The next step for him and for me was to declare, as he took another breath, ‘And you really wish it would stop hurting.’ Again, we were in full agreement and he was ratified and even encouraged in this wish. And it was his wish, deriving entirely from within him and constituting his own urgent need.

‘With the situation so defined, I could then offer a suggestion with some certainty of its acceptance. This suggestion was, ‘Maybe it will stop hurting in a little while, in just a minute or two.’

“This was a suggestion in full accord with his own needs and wishes and, because it was qualified by ‘maybe it will,’ it was not in contradiction to his own understandings of the situation. Thus he could accept the idea and initiate his response to it.”

Dr. Erickson then shifted to another important matter. As he puts it:

“Robert knew that he hurt, that he was a damaged person; he could see his blood upon the pavement, taste it in his mouth and see it on his hands. And yet, like all other human beings, he too could desire narcissistic distinction in his misfortune, along with the desire even more for narcissistic comfort. Nobody wants a picayune headache: since a headache must be endured, let it be so colossal that only the sufferer could endure it. Human pride is so curiously good and comforting! Therefore, Robert’s attention was doubly directed to two vital issues of comprehensible importance to him by the simple statements, ‘That’s an awful lot of blood on the pavement. Is it good, red, strong blood? Look carefully, Mother, and see. I think it is, but I want you to be sure.’ ”

Examination proved it to be good strong blood, but it was necessary to verify this by examination of it against the white background of the bathroom sink. In this way the boy, who had ceased crying in pain and fright, was cleaned up. When he went to the doctor for stitches the question was whether he would get as many as his sister had once been given. The suturing was done without anesthetic on a boy who was an interested participant in the procedure.

Words of wisdom from the Hodja

Once long ago, the Hodja stood in his pulpit and looked out at his congregation. They were filing slowly into the mosque, ready for prayer and wisdom. The Hodja shook his head in wonder as he watched them. He wondered why they seemed so eager to hear his words.

As the congregation settled down, all eyes turned to face the Hodja.

He looked at his people and said, ”True believers! I ask you, tell me please if what I am about to say to you, you know already.”

The congregation was silent, for they were not certain they had understood the Hodja’s question. At last they stood and answered, altogether, ”We do not know what you are about to say to us. It is impossible for us to know.”

The Hodja sighed. ”Ahh, then, what is the use? What use would it be for me to speak of a subject unknown to you and unknown to me?” And with these words, the Hodja descended from the pulpit and walked out of the mosque.

The congregation sat for a long while, thinking over the Hodja’s words of wisdom. They offered their prayers and then rose and returned to their homes. The whole week long, they spoke of little else but the Hodja’s words.

The next week, the congregation was larger than it had been the week before. Everyone wanted to hear what the Hodja had to say, for word had spread of his wisdom. Again the Hodja watched his congregants enter the mosque. He could see the anticipation in their faces and in the way they walked quickly to their places.

The mosque was nearly full. The congregation looked up at the pulpit and the Hodja began. ”True believers, tell me, and tell me truly, if what I am about to say to you, you already know.”

This time the congregation was ready for the Hodja’s question. They wished with all their hearts to hear the Hodja’s words, and so, without hesitation, they rose and called out as one, ”Yes, Hodja, we know what you are going to say to us.”

The Hodja sighed deeply. He raised his head high. ”Then there is no use in my wasting precious hours in speaking to you. There is, you will agree, true believers, no sense in telling you that which you know already.”

Once again the Hodja descended from the pulpit and walked out of the mosque. The congregants offered their prayers and looked around at one another. Every congregant had questions in his heart and on his lips. Still, all remained silent for a long time. At last they rose and returned to their homes.

The whole week long people spoke of little but the Hodja’s words.

The following week, the Hodja stood again in his place. This time the mosque was overflowing. The air inside was thick and hot with anticipation.

”Oh, true believers,” the Hodja began, ”I ask you to tell me, and tell me truly, if what I am about to say, you already know.”

Everyone in the congregation had rehearsed for this moment. When the Hodja stopped speaking, half the people rose. ”Yes, Hodja,” they called, ”we know what you are going to say to us.” And then they sat and the other half of the people stood and said, ”Hodja, how could we ignorant people know what you would say to us? It is you who are wise.”

The Hodja looked solemnly out at the people. He looked at the first group — the people who knew what he was going to say. He sighed. He looked at the second group — the people who had called themselves ignorant. He sighed more deeply still.

”A fine answer, my people,” the Hodja said softly. ”And now I know precisely how to help each and every one of you. Listen closely, true believers.”

Everyone leaned forward.

”The half of the congregation who knows what I am going to say will now tell the other half exactly what that is. For this you have my blessing.”

With that the Hodja nodded solemnly and descended the pulpit. Slowly he made his way out of the mosque.

Afterward the people spoke of the great Hodja’s wisdom. The people who said they knew nothing sought the knowledge of those who said they knew everything. There was no need for anyone to trouble the Hodja. And that was ”hak,” as the people said, or, in our language, that was truly just.