Down the chimney up.

June 6, 2015 § 10 Comments

ChimneyWhat goes up the chimney down, but not down the chimney up?

An umbrella.

I liked this riddle as a kid. As an adult prone to metaphor I still like it.

The chimney is narrow and rigid.

The umbrella is flimsy but with its wings folded it can go down the chimney just fine.

Open it and it will break itself in the descent.

There is no hope for that umbrella.

We all face circumstances that are rigid and confining.

How we deal with those times may be a matter of choosing the right metaphor.


A very American metaphor for dealing with adversity is the fight. You’ve got to stand up to cancer, show it what you’re made of, beat it! And if you don’t, well, maybe you didn’t fight hard enough.

But calling something an adversary implies intention and awareness on the part of the enemy. Cancer only knows you as a biological housing unit. The “you” of thought and dream and soul is irrelevant to cancer.

The “fight” metaphor may be okay when the adversary is something like poverty or discrimination, injustices with human intention backing them up, but without intention, there is no adversary.

The rogue cell that metastasizes, the debilitating effects of aging, the indifferent flood that washes your house away. Under these circumstances there is no enemy to impress or defeat when you put up your dukes.

Some things just are.

Perhaps the better metaphor for dealing with problems that have no mind or intention is the riddle of the chimney and the umbrella.

To fight would mean trying to force that open umbrella down the chimney.

You could exert your will, man-up, attempt the maneuver over and over, but the outcome would be failure every time and the chimney would remain unchanged.

When life presents you with a chimney, wisdom resides in recognizing when you are the open umbrella.

In those times fold yourself up small and try to slip through.



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§ 10 Responses to Down the chimney up.

  • Sue Cronkite says:

    Very thought provoking, Adrian.


  • craig reeder says:

    The umbrella metaphor makes me think of the Buddhist view of the world. Buddhists hold that pain and suffering are part of the very warp and woof of existence (the rigid chimney). Our delusional sense of ego and self-importance (opening the umbrella) result in ever more pain and suffering. But if we are able to close the umbrella, and grasp our true nature as pure consciousness, then we may pass through a world of pain, conflict and suffering with so much less resistance. I guess a good metaphor can serve in many ways.


    • It is so easy to see this truth–as you say humans have been taking note of it perhaps since humans have taken note of anything–but it is so hard to live it.

      I have to admit that when it comes to aging I cannot seem to get the damned umbrella to close, and I am not talking about the “debilitating effects of aging” I cited above. I’m talking about the inevitable changes that come with the passage of time.

      I hate the way age marginalizes us, pushes us out of the current and sends us to the edge of the river to bob with the dead leaves. This may be American too, but with age comes irrelevance. I don’t like what it is doing to my neck either…

      Okay Adrian, close the umbrella, close the umbrella…


      • Rhett DeVane says:

        Ah…but consider this, Adrian. When we become “invisible,” as often happens in this particular country, it can be somewhat freeing. You can slip unnoticed and observe without the pressure of being in the spotlight.

        I find this especially wonderful at the beach. No more worries about wearing that stunning suit, or the body being brown and lithe. I like that.

        Of course, the extra smile lines are somewhat startling. And the saggy cheeks make me appear a bit crabbish if I don’t remember to lift the corners of my lips.

        And my umbrella has a clasp that sticks. Sometimes it won’t open. Others it won’t shut.

        Gracious, is this deep or what.


  • Yes, the lower pressure is a relief. Definitely. I always looked scrawny in a bikini and never tanned worth spit. As for wrinkles, I have some favorites. The ones around my eyes, since I got them by smiling–and they remind me of my mother’s radiant wrinkles. She was a smiler too.

    What I don’t like is the feeling of being past my pull date in the relevance department. I’ve learned a lot on my way to these wrinkles!

    Wisdom gained through experience is not much respected in our culture.


  • carolyn says:

    Adrian- When you are the one deciding what is relevant or not, the pull date becomes irrelevant!


  • Paul of Flowerland Mountains says:

    Right now I am studying something in a group of like minded individuals (well, most of us): Some of us are more open-minded than others, some have their umbrella open to catch the water of life, and others have the umbrella open above their heads and bodies to avoid the water of life (truth, love, inspiration….) though I think they hope to have the water get on them some other way – maybe falling into the creek, jumping in the lake; or maybe just a heavy mist inhaled:
    Sometimes I see all of these kinds of people in the mirror, especially when I find myself reacting dogmatically to dogmatism.
    Bark, Bark!


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