A metaphor for the relationship between control and suffering


I often share a metaphor with my clients who find themselves in a time of suffering stemming from environmental conditions that are mostly or entirely uncontrollable.

This Metaphor is most applicable in the context of caring deeply for an individual who you cannot control… an individual who is suffering themselves or bringing you significant suffering.


Our life is sail boat with no engine

 There are times when the sea feels predictable

The currents are known – they are usable or avoidable

The tide can be understood

The weather is gentle and the wind comes steadily from a single direction

The sun warms in the morning and the soft waves roll us to sleep

Everything needed is stored safe, warm, and dry

The rudder and sails can be controlled to match life with desire

Intention is very close to reality

We feel in control of our environment

Life brings storms

Unpredictable wind, rogue waves, partially submerged rocks and dangerous debris

Sails get ripped, control over movement is lost

Water pours in dampening assets and stealing heat

Wood bends and cracks

We see the rocks on the coast and understand mortality

We cannot control the outcome

We are left with only the ability to bail out the boat, to steer into the waves, and to repair what we can

Willpower is admirable – suffering is not anyone’s fault

Efforts to survive chaos display character

Acceptance gives quiet in the storm

Often when we have young children the sea of life feels more predictable – our own sails and rudder are decently effective in guiding their choices. We choose their food, we manage their relationships and activities, and we schedule their lives to increase the probability of safety and growth.

Then they grow up and when the storm comes we find that our sails have been ripped by time and we are left with only our acceptance, resilience, and willpower to persevere in chaos. And we learn to love ourselves again in loving the storm.




William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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