Metaphorical Life: Part Two
A continuation of the page Living
the Metaphorical Life.
In the areas of spirituality and what we might call self-work
metaphors provide insights which might not otherwise sink in,
and as such can be powerful tools for motivating us toward positive
change. I collect examples of these kinds of metaphors, and some
of my favorites have come from author and self-realization teacher
Guy Finley. Here is one short quote from him:
Your true nature is something already greater than any
self-compromising state, much in the same way as the ocean shoreline
is greater than the waves that pound it. Your True Self is the
unshakable Ground over which all "waves" of thought
and feelings both move and break.
What a great way to think about the dark states we sometimes
experience. They are just waves breaking on the beach and dissipating
their energy, while we remain whole and undamaged since we are
the beach or the underlying earth itself. Finley has also used
the wonderful metaphor of one's true self being the sky, which
remains there even when we cannot see it behind all the clouds
which pass through. Life metaphors like these really make it
possible to understand important lessons on more than just an
intellectual level. They make them more "real" to us.
The metaphor of awakening is perhaps one of the most powerful
ones in the area of spirituality, even if it is a cliché
by now. It immediately suggests that in our ordinary life we
are asleep, but that we will eventually awaken to the truth.
We live a dream, but the dream will dissipate with the opening
of our eyes. Awakening and the related metaphors resonate with
Awakening is not the only metaphorical perspective available,
of course. A spiritual "journey" is almost as common.
In our self-work we travel closer to our destination, which is
enlightenment (yet another metaphor; one that associates truth
with light). Then there is the less common but perhaps still
useful, "treasure hunt." Spiritual treasure is hidden,
and it is your job to find it. In spiritual writings these metaphors
are developed more fully to better explore the truth they point
to and to make them more motivating (think of all the wonderful
metaphorical language in the Bible, for example). In the case
of "treasure," we might tell a story of it being hidden
in a wilderness
The paved roads are the religions and spiritual practices
of the world, which are relatively easy to follow, and used by
many. Dirt roads are the lesser-known or less-practiced parts
of the spiritual traditions. Few people will join you for this
part of the journey. The footpath is the subtle trace of where
others have gone before, and of course, once you leave that,
as you must, you are on your own entirely. This trail blazing
is the deepest inner work for which there is no authority to
follow but your own desire for truth.
Does this process of choosing and developing metaphors actually
help us understand better, or does it simply shape the way we
explain things internally and to others? As I've said, my own
experience shows that using different metaphors does make a difference
in mental state and does alter behavior. But we can be misled
by metaphors, or we can adopt ones that are not very useful.
It is also true that all metaphors have their limitations.
For example, a spiritual awakening resonates, but if we try
to draw parallels with other aspects of sleep, dreaming and waking
up, we don't find as much resonance. After all, when we wake
up we eventually go to sleep again, which would suggest that
enlightenment is a temporary state which comes and goes. That
might be an interesting perspective, but it doesn't sound very
inspirational. We hope to never return to ignorance and suffering
once we escape them, after all.
A spiritual journey suggests a destination and an end to the
journey. The idea that we will at some point have nothing left
to learn and no further to go with our spirituality doesn't sound
quite right, does it? Finding a treasure is also an end of a
journey or of the process of seeking something. We might relate
to the idea of leaving the paved paths and entering the wilderness
to discover the truth, but is there such a treasure chest of
all necessary knowledge? It seems ridiculous when looked at that
What's useful here is not the creation of fun comparisons,
but the exploration of these matters by way of metaphors, and
the development of different perspectives and insights we get
with each. When we talk of a higher self," for example,
it reminds us (or just suggests) that there is something inside
of us which is more important than personality or our momentary
states of being happy, upset, jealous and so on. "Submitting
to a higher power" suggests that the important part of what
makes us spiritual is somewhere outside of us; a view favored
by most religious people. Although submission to a higher power
isnt something which resonates with me, it could be a useful
perspective for the overcoming of ego, which has truly practical
implications for living peacefully on earth with other people.
Not all understandings or perspectives are valuable though,
and like many powerful tools, metaphors can be dangerous. We
metaphorically call people monsters, for example,
as a way to make killing them easier on our consciences. Despots
routinely call groups of human beings vermin and
rats in order to make a populace willing to target
them as scapegoats for their problems. Or, for a more mundane
example, consider what the metaphor waiting for my ship
to come in does to a persons approach to life. Instead
of waiting for opportunity, other people are out there "building"
Metaphors are a part of our lives whether we notice them or
not. They affect business, religion, politics, and almost everything
we do, because they affect almost everything we think. It makes
sense then to become more consciously aware of the ways in which
they influence our thoughts and actions. It makes sense to use
every good metaphor we can to better understand and relate to
the world and to life. At the same time, though, we shouldnt
be too devoted to mere words. We risk stagnation in our thinking
and lives if we get too hung up on particular metaphorical understandings.
We may as well choose to use metaphors wisely, because we
cant escape them. I certainly won't in my last sentence:
We should remember that words are not truth, but are places from
which to see what is true, and so like a man knows a mountain
better by seeing it from near and far and here and there, we
too should look at life and the things in it from the perspectives
provided by many different words.
This was from Sky
Child, by Steve Gillman, which is available
as a Kindle e-book from Amazon, along with the other books of
the At Your Own Risk Series.