The Metaphoric Journey

“Close your eyes,” he told me. I laid back on the recliner, closed my eyes, and sunk into a meditative state. He continued. “See yourself walking down a stairway. Down… down… down…”

I was in a fortress. The walls and floor were all made of polished stone. I walked down a spiral stairway. I came to a window on my left. I looked out at the clear blue sky and the emerald fields below. Far below. Leaning against the window sill, I sighed. Here I was alone. Here I am alone, and it’s where I go to find peace.

Recently, I discovered something else.

We all see life as something: a dance, a game, a race, a journey. It’s what we see when we paint that picture that truly reveals how we see life, if we know what to look for.

  • If it’s a dance, what kind of room is it? How many other dancers are there? What kind of clothing are you waring? What kind of dancing is it? Dancing in pairs, groups, or individually? What kind of music? What kinds of lights?
  • If it’s a game, what kind of game is it? Are you playing in the game, or observing it? What sport is it? What position are you playing? Is it a team or individual sport? Indoors or out? Is there a score, and if so who’s winning? Is it easy and fun, or a struggle?
  • If it’s a race, does it mean that you’re either a first or a loser? Is it an individual or relay race? Are there hurdles? Are you striding along confidently, or are you pushing and pressing relentlessly? Do you enjoy it, or is it stressful and simply not fun? How many other racers are there?
  • If it’s a journey, are you walking, driving, flying, sailing, or something else? Who do you travel with? What’s the weather like? Is there a destination, and if so is it somewhere you’re looking forward to being? What are you wearing, what’s the time period, and what does each tell you about how you see or want out of life?

Obviously, we can go on: is all the world a stage? Are you fighting the good fight? Are you down in the trenches? Is it a blast? A party?

We all have a metaphor for life, even if it’s just “life is life.” How do you describe life, what pictures come up? That metaphor says more about life than most people give it credit for, and consciously or not, it is this metaphor which shapes how we live our lives, or at least certain aspects of our lives, if we have more than one. The strange part is that often times we’re not the ones that come up with these metaphors. As kids, we hear adults describe their lives, and maybe they do it because they see life a certain way, or maybe because it’s what local custom tells them to say. But eventually we pick up the metaphor and apply it to ourselves.

Think about that for a second: where did your metaphors come from? Did you make them up, or were they unintentionally (or intentionally) suggested to you?

As a kid, I often heard people answer “How are you?” with “Allí, luchando.” Out there, fighting. When I moved to the  US, I started seeing more about things being described as journeys, most without destinations; I took that outlook to heart, liked it better. But that wasn’t the end of it. Eventually I filled in the details. Once, life was like riding int he back of a hay truck. Eventually I got off the truck and onto my own to feet.

I suppose this can also raise the issue of the power of not only the words used, but culture and language. What words do you use to describe you metaphor, and what would happen if some of those words were slightly altered, how would that change the picture? To what extent does your culture shape your words? To what extend does your language shape your culture? Where does your life experience fall into all of this? And how does the language you think in shape the basic construct of your metaphors? If you think in multiple languages, what happens when you translate your metaphor, when you flesh it out in that language instead of your default? And what if you have more than one metaphor? (Depending on how much you like this particular like of questions you could either describe it as having opened up a can of worms, or letting the cat out of the bag, but then I’d be wondering how you feel about either worms or cats.)

Today, as I walked down the staircase, someone walked past me. “A bunch of us are meeting on the roof,” he said. “Why are you going down?”

Looking at him, I wondered about that. I thought of asking why everyone was meeting up there, or if we could move the gathering downstairs. As I did, I looked out the window, at the clear blue sky and the emerald fields far below, took a breath, and smiled.

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