The knot is symbolic in many ways and the subject of many an idiom. Here we will investigate some of those idioms but also explore other metaphors that may affect us and how we feel.
The knot symbol is commonly used as a symbol of romantic love. When people marry, we say that they are tying the knot. This phrase likely dates back to a church tradition where a couple’s hands are tied together with a fabric as part of their wedding ceremony, just as their hands bound are together by a knot, so are they bound together in marriage. From Norse and Celtic to Hindi marriage rituals, binding husband and wife physically together is a symbolic gesture demonstrating the union of two lovers. In Norse and Celtic rituals, the hands of both lovers were bound together with a rope or dyed cloth, in Hindi weddings, the groom’s scarf is tied together with the bride’s garment.
Although the following may be apocryphal, I understand that The idiom, “get knotted”, a slightly rude but inoffensive way of telling someone to go away, comes from the days when people were buried in shrouds rather than coffins. The body was wrapped in the shroud and then knotted at either end – hence the mild form of abuse – get knotted. It is also suggested that the knot in this phrase could refer to the hangman’s noose ….
Then there is the phrase to, “cut the Gordian knot” meaning to solve a very challenging or daunting problem most decisively. The knot referred to is that with which Gordius, king of ancient Phrygia, fastened the yoke of his wagon to a pole. Its complexity was such that it gave rise to the legend that whoever could undo it would become the ruler of Asia. When Alexander the Great passed that way to conquer the East he is said simply to have seen the knot and not bothered with the complexities of unfastening it but simply severed the knot with his sword. Would that be considered cheating or lateral thinking?
Knots. They really can be the best and the worst things can’t they? On the positive side, they are lovely for tying up packages and parcels, a pretty bow with curled ribbon making a gift look special and the recipient knowing that you have spent a little bit more time and care. It’s one of the things I really enjoy about wrapping a gift, but the knot has to be just right so that the knot is not too loose and in danger of coming undone or the ribbon falling away completely. A bow holding hair is a pretty adornment and easy to remove. There are umpteen ways to tie a tie, and shoelaces should always be kept firmly under control. A reef knot is very handy – ok, I admit, it is the only official knot I know how to tie thanks to my very few days in the Girl Guides – and I have joined many strands of thread, wool or string with a reef knot over the years. Knots can be life savers – if you are a climber, using the correct knot can make the difference between survival or of the worst possible situation becoming a reality. Some knots are beautiful, forming patterns and are the thing of friendship bracelets and macrame (I tried that once ….. don’t ask!)
However, knots are not much good if the knots you tie do not fulfill the function you require. And if a knot goes wrong, gets pulled too tight to undo- do you remember school days and the occasional practice of peanutting someone’s tie – The prank that involves yanking a tie downwards so the knot tightens to the size of a peanut. Making it hard, if not impossible to undo. Have you ever tied a knot in a piece of elastic? Easy to do but immeasurably difficult to undo, similar to undoing the knots in wet shoelaces. The practice of undoing knots is time consuming, frustrating and irritating but there is often a determination to get it done, to problem solve and sort it out, often friends and colleagues will offer to help and it becomes a collaborative effort.
Muscle knots can cause pain feeling tight and contracted, even when you’re trying to relax, and they’re often sensitive to the touch. Sometimes they will go on their own, and the pain will ease, but other times they need some intervention and until the knot is gone, then there is no relief!
We get knots elsewhere in life, they may be rather more to do with our mental state but they are no less binding or restricting.
Knots in our thinking can be negative, our thoughts getting tangled, going over and over things. Thoughts can take on an imperative quality making you feel that “I must do…”, “It must not happen that,” or “They really ought to….” Sometimes these imperative self statements are in conflict with each other as you fall deeper into the “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Then comes the dilemma and your thinking processes start going round in circles and create a knot. These statements and subsequent thoughts are often unrealistic and you can end up feeling defeated and pessimistic about your ability to succeed. Strategies are needed to unpick those knots. What started that cycle of negative thinking? Give your self time to think back to where it all began. If it began with some else saying something, or doing something then be strong and don’t give others the permission, or the power to tie you in mental knots and, remember to be kind to yourself – you are the one tying yourself in knots, do you really want to do that?
Sometimes anxiety can cause knots in our tummy, that gnawing, churned up and nauseous feeling. Singularly unpleasant! But there is a way out! Remember that those same responses to anxiety that make us feel knotted, sick and discomforted are the same that make us feel excited, that bubbling and happy feeling … it’s about changing the perspective; putting a different spin to the situation. Ask yourself, are you nervous about an exam or excited to show what you can do? Are you anxious about an interview or excited to grasp a possible opportunity?
Identify and label the negative thoughts. Once you have observed the thought, you can identify it as unhelpful and remind yourself that it is just a thought and not a fact. Try not to let your brain convince you that your overthinking, and catastrophising is real. Focus only on what you know is fact. You are the one in control, you are the one with the power to undo those knots. When you come to undo them, give yourself some time to unwind and remember that sometimes you may need help, you may need your equivalent of Alexander the Great to cut right through, someone not bound by your anxieties, someone who has a little more of an objective eye. Or you may need time, time with friends, time to talk to others because some people are really good at slowly undoing even the most complex of granny knots!
But when the piece of rope was asked for help, it shook it’s head and said, “No, I’m a frayed knot.”