What do you think of these life metaphors?
I feel like I’ve been riding a horse; only, now, I’ve fallen off the saddle and my left foot is caught in the stirrup.
My life is like an ongoing movie shoot. I’d love to be the protagonist but I feel more like an extra.
Life feels like an obstacle course. In between obstacles, I have time to rest and recharge but I know there’s always another obstacle around the corner.
Now, try these:
My life is an adventurous road trip in a cool Volkswagen van. There’s quite a bit of repair work along the way but there are more beautiful landscapes and exciting destinations.
Life is a buffet! There’s generally something good to chew on and if there isn’t, I can complain or go into the kitchen and cook it up myself!
I’m the captain of my boat. With the help of my navigational instruments, I steer my life wherever I want. Not only do I have a radio, maps, and meteorologists’ reports to support my journey, I also have a water-tight submarine in case I get hit by a storm.
See – or feel – the difference?
From its Greek roots – ‘meta’ and ‘pherein’ – which respectively mean, “beyond” and “transfer,” the word metaphor suggests that we transfer something from one realm or level to another. In the case of a life or situational metaphor, we transfer our tangible reality – ex. ‘I don’t have a job’ or ‘I have a good life’ – to a symbolic reality – ex. ‘I’m like a ship tied to a wharf’ or ‘My life is a round of golf on a lovely day.’
You see, when we open up to the idea of shifting our perspective from a tangible reality to a symbolic one, we engage the creative process which, as University of Iowa’s Dr. Andreasen says, “…is characterized by flashes of insight that arise from unconscious reservoirs of the mind and brain.”(1)
Then, once we have a metaphor for our life or situation, it’s as if we step outside our own world for a minute which helps to dissolve our emotional attachment to it. From this place of juiced up creative power and momentary emotional relief, we have a completely new vista and, ta da, that’s when the magic happens. The fresh perspective lets us see problems or opportunities more clearly and offers a string of new patterns and possibilities.
For example, last week, I had a conversation with a brilliant friend. As I attempted to illustrate how I saw myself interacting in the world and blurted out that I was dancing rather than hiking, I instantly became aware that something had changed inside of me: whereas I used to have a craving to be independent in the world, I realized I now have a greater appetite to be interdependent. Rather than walking uphill alone, I now prefer to break into new rock n’ roll moves (ideas) and perform choreographies (projects) collaboratively. In practical terms, this implies that instead of continuing to build my resilience and autonomy, I need to build my capacity to trust and collaborate.
Uncover Your Metaphor
If you’re curious about how a metaphor could clarify new opportunities and/or old issues, do whatever it is you normally do to spark your creativity. These steps might get you going:
Sit quietly and just breathe.
Whether you want to have a life-guiding metaphor for sustained empowerment or a situational metaphor to tackle a temporary problem, ask yourself: “What’s the metaphor that best describes my life/my situation?”
Then, if necessary, consider: ‘What’s the metaphor that could best reflect my improved life/situation?”
Keep breathing and let the images come. Whatever appears, stretch it, interpret it (see example above), and decide if it suits you.
Take inspired action.