Get a load off my chest: Body-related metaphors and inquiry

Metaphors are images in my mind, and they can be taken as true or not.

To the extent they are taken as true, they influence my view, feelings and life. I perceive, feel and live as if it’s true.

And that’s true for body-related metaphors as well.

I have a weight on my shoulders. Cotton in my head. Butterflies in the stomach. It was as getting a knife in the stomach. I want to get a load off my chest. I feel lighter. A weight lifted from me. 

An experiment

This morning, I noticed my mind felt a bit slow, and was reminded of the cotton in my head metaphor. As an experiment, I labeled it cotton in my head and intentionally solidified the experience. How would it be if I take the story of cotton in my head as true and real?

I noticed the sensations that made up the experience, and then the image that went with it. The feeling of cotton in my head seems entirely made up of (a) certain sensations in my head area, especially a slight pressure/tension at the temples and forehead, and (b) an image of wooliness or cotton in and a bit around the head. Outside of that, I cannot find it. It’s quite funny, in a way, how it’s only sensations and an image that create the experience.

I have explored this before, with this and other body-related labels, so cotton in my head doesn’t feel real or solid anymore, even when I don’t intentionally investigate it this way.

Before investigating, the experience of cotton in my head and other labels – including the more basic ones of pain, hunger, dizziness and so on – seem quite real and solid. I have stories of what it means, and tend to take these as true as well. When these metaphors and labels are investigated – perhaps several times and over time – they don’t seem so real, true or solid anymore. It’s clear that it’s made up of a set of sensations, and – if it even comes up – a label. The label may come up only when it seems helpful, for instance in conversation. And even then, it’s not taken as true.

With this, the stories of what it means tends to fall away as well. And it can also be helpful and interesting to investigate these. I have cotton in my head, and that means…. (I won’t function as well, I will have to avoid mental tasks). I have cotton in my head, because…. (I have cf, I didn’t sleep well). 

Beliefs creating sensations

Another aspect of this is how beliefs seem to create some of the sensations behind these body-related metaphors and labels.

I believe someone will get angry at me (and that’s not good), so I feel a tightening of my chest, and don’t breathe as fully or freely. And it can feel like a load on my chest.

Beliefs: He will get angry at me. It will be uncomfortable. I won’t like me. I need him to like me. I will lose respect.

I believe I am not up to an important task, so my shoulders tense up, and I may say – and experience – that I have a load on my shoulders.

Beliefs: I am not up to the task. It requires too much of me. I won’t do it well. It’s an important task. People will judge me for it. I will lose their acceptance, respect.

I believe she hurt me, there are sensations in my belly, and I tell myself it feels like a knife in my stomach.

Beliefs: She hurt me. It’s unfair. What she said is not true. She is irrational, wrong. I lost something important.

Three avenues of exploration

So there are three avenues of exploration here.

(a) I investigate the metaphors and labels themselves, especially in their sensation and image components. How is it when the label/metaphor is taken as solid and real? What happens when it’s recognized to be composed of simple sensations and an image?

(b) I investigate stories about the label/metaphor. To identify some of these stories, I can use these sentences: I have cotton in my head, and that means….. I have cotton in my head, because…. And then take the stories that came out of them to inquiry.

(c) I can investigate beliefs behind and creating the sensations. What fears do I have that may be behind these butterflies in my stomach? What’s weighing on me in life? What did she do that gave me a feeling of a knife in the stomach, and what does it mean for me? 

The first one (a) is, for me at least, usually a sense field exploration. The two next ones (b, c) are ones I take to The Work.



– metaphors, body related ones – weight on my shoulders, cotton in the head, butterflies in stomach
– often sensation + image, taken as true or not
– when taken as true, appear real, solid, and have stories about what it means – good to explore, notice

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