Don’t look for me in a human shape. I am inside your looking. ~ Rumi
From the perspective of a field called Metaphor Therapy, the lines above from Rumi reminds us that metaphor shapes the way we see the world around us. Metaphors are “inside our looking.”
While we traditionally think of metaphor as something that writers use to spice up their writing, in fact, we are born into a metaphoric world. Scholars from Gregory Bateson and George Lakoff to philosophers such as Martin Foss have all suggested that our lives are lived within an unconscious metaphoric process. The metaphors that we subconsciously hold shape and define us; they give us the lenses through which we look at the world around us.
Carl Jung believed that the psyche consists essentially of images—at our soul’s core we are images. By that he did not mean images that are simply psychic reflections of external objects. His definition of image was more poetic, more imaginative, and only indirectly related to external objects. I love the water and I spent my youth swimming competitively. Moving through water is a common way that I perceive my everyday experiences. Some days the water is clear and fresh, other days it’s dark and murky. Both my grandmothers, as well as my mother, spent many hours every day sewing—images of needles, spools of thread, fabric, thimbles and bobbins will be forever imprinted in my imagination. Indeed, I often view my life as a process of stitching various quilt pieces together, often “waiting for the next piece.” My father was a farmer and loved planting; the desire to “root myself” in nurturing soil is yet another of my heart’s favorite images.
While these are examples of positive metaphors, we may hold metaphoric pictures that aren’t so helpful. For example, believing our external environment to be a hostile place, feeling that we're “stuck,” viewing our struggles as “trying to climb over a wall,” or feeling that we have “no space” to be ourselves. Aristotle said, “The soul never thinks without an image.” All of us hold an infinite variety of metaphoric lenses, and many of them are unconscious. As the ground of our thinking and perception, they are the medium through which we look at the world. Subsequently, when we change our primary metaphors, we change our lives.