God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that.
A metaphor is an image that stands for something else. As such, it should be understood in terms of connotation, not of denotation. Joseph Campbell talked about getting stuck in metaphors, such as many do with their religious metaphors. This is related to where you stand on the pyramid of awareness. At the bottom, right down on the ground at the level of the physical world, what we see is all we think there is. But the higher we go, the bigger the perspective, and the more we become familiar with the world and vocabulary of symbols -that language which is the domain of the soul.
“If you think that the metaphor is itself the reference”, Joseph Campbell said, “it would be like going to a restaurant, asking for the menu, seeing beefsteak written there, and starting to eat the menu”.[*] Many religious devotees are stuck at that level and take the images from their scriptures in terms of denotation. And so the world was created in six days, heaven is in the skies, angels have wings, and God is a bearded man.
I have learned that when a concept sticks with me, it’s because it has a message for me. Well, metaphors have that function: they allow for an image to catch your attention and bring a message to you. When I heard the words used by Joseph Campbell, being “stuck in metaphors”, that concept stuck with me (pun intended) and has been a companion to my observer ever since. (My “observer” is the me that is aware of my self and is able to stand back and observe my self.) And indeed we get stuck in our metaphors over and over again. In so many ways.
We live metaphors
Thanks to Tom Campbell I discovered that everything is a metaphor: dreams, OBEs, day-dreams, the need to be right, even rationalizations. And all of those tools -as they are tools- carry a message that is always hidden or not obvious at first sight. That’s why I find it very useful to understand the concept of being stuck in our metaphors. When you’re stuck in metaphors, its images are in your face and you can’t go beyond them and that prevents you from understanding their message.
The very concept of metaphor is important in itself. The word “metaphor” is a metaphor for the concept it represents, and we are referring to something by using an encapsulation of a concept, an image. That’s because ultimately no words can really define it, as it belongs to the realm of the ungraspable. And the idea of metaphor gives you an image of why we can either choose to get stuck in it, or choose to listen to the message that it represents. The problem is that what is behind is so intangible in terms of our life experience –at first glance- that we tend to forget it’s there and easily stay with the images as referring to something physical, literal. So there is a process of interpretation required. That’s where being aware of this comes in handy.
My OBEs have certainly helped me understand this concept so much better. But even if you haven’t had OBEs, just think about the world of your dreams and you can see how they belong to that realm where words fail to convey your experiences there. Think of how you are unable to explain all the information that came to you “at the same time”. It feels like it was a single image but so much was happening there, right? Dreams are OBEs as well, the only difference is our level of awareness. In OBEs there are telepathic communications that are very difficult to describe. Some refer to it as a “download” because it feels like a big stream of information is exchanged and it’s very difficult to translate what becomes “a knowing” into mere words.
About a year into having OBEs I had a profound realization that helped me greatly in my life. I was told that I was so much better at communicating in writing, as opposed to my verbal communication which was very confused. It hit me then that my thinking process, which I called “ramifications”, pertained to the world of OBEs rather than the physical world. In a nutshell, I realized that the way that I process my experiences in my mind is the same in this world as it is in my OBEs. Which means that I get those “downloads” all the time but did not know back then how to translate all that information into words. In fact it didn’t occur to me to think about that, other than in terms of: “I can’t explain myself, there is so much more… I’m not finished!”. And that was it.
The process of understanding turns the mind into a laser and we are then able to direct our focus with more precision onto what requires our attention. And so I started to pay more attention to how I could distribute the information I received in order to convey my ideas and thoughts. Since the way we perceive the outer world is a projection of what is cooking in our inner world, this also meant that I started to pay attention to other people’s thinking processes. And I noticed they were so different. And that awareness expanded the perception of my experience tremendously.
We all have our metaphors
And I started to see more clearly that we each have our own life metaphors and that these filtered the perception -and interpretation- of our experiences. This can be very helpful when it comes to our relationships, especially in developing more understanding toward others. I once watched a very silly comedy where two guys, one clearly asian and the other clearly Indian, have to camouflage themselves in Ku Klux Klan garments in order to protect themselves. Well, they end up being discovered and one member of the KKK removes their hoods and shouts: “Mexicans! I knew it!” I couldn’t stop laughing for the longest time. But imagine the metaphors of such a person, the smallness of that mind who interprets anything non-white as Mexican -and all that it implies. In general terms, that man’s big life-metaphor is that of perceiving the world as a threat and therefore applying a very basic system of discrimination, instead of the more refined process of discernment.
We all have our metaphors. Some view life as a struggle and will have a self-defeatist attitude toward obstacles. Some view life as a battle, as a war, and will take any hurdle as a means to assert themselves and are willing to die in the process (do-or-die). Some view life as a game where the winner takes it all and pursue the final prize, etc. The more black and white we perceive our experience, the bumpier the road, the lower in the pyramid we are. As we go higher in our perspective of life, however, the smoother things get, because we understand that there are many hues and colors to our experience and that it’s all about learning lessons and growing from them.
Our dreams -whether night dreams or daydreams- are metaphors too. So are OBEs, so are our thoughts, so are our rationalizations. Our personal metaphors are like a stained glass that filters all the information that we receive -and put out. That’s why there is no one way to interpret our individual dreams.
But now stretch that understanding and transpose it to everything that you experience. There is no one way to interpret what others say, there is no one way to interpret our circumstances, etc. In my own experience this has many ramifications because if I have a reaction to what someone says, I will immediately remember that they are speaking through the filter of their personal metaphors. And our personal metaphors will be conditioned by many variables: our tribal background and the different experiences we go through. For those who are comfortable with the concept, I want to add that our metaphors are also conditioned by the experiences of our past lives. If it’s hard to go along with this, think of it in terms of your family emotional heritage. Because ultimately it’s going to be the same. They are both metaphors, you know…
And then there were themes
In life your metaphors also respond to the influences of your themes. I use the term “theme” a lot because we all have them. They are like huge metaphors, really. If you pay attention to what you say, the issues that push your buttons, the causes you are drawn to, the people and circumstances that you blame -if you practice the mirrors in your life– you will identify a few themes that condition your experience throughout your life. They are always there. And you will also see that your biography is an illustration of those themes, a tapestry of where to find them. Themes color your metaphors. Themes also carry echoes of your past lives –or family emotional heritage, if you prefer that reference/metaphor. If you are compelled to investigate your ancestry, you will find themes being repeated throughout generations, and they seem to call upon us to settle some issues in the name of the entire genealogical tree. Whether exile, abandonment, abuse, paranoia, financial obsession, etc, you will clearly see the same stories being played out again and again. And it’s up to us to break those patterns. But that’s a whole other subject I will get into another time!
I have the themes of motherhood and love in my life (among others). And so all the challenges that come to me are tainted by it. I have always had a profound yearning to be a mother, which comes from the underlying yearning to create a happy, loving home. My mother is the key figure in my story, fundamentally representing all the pain of “failing” in that role. Our frictions were the expression of my own inner dilemma of wanting to be a mother and feeling that my environment would make it impossible for me to manifest that desire. In her I could see the end result. Sam Keen said that “our enemy is constructed from denied aspects of the self”, and so my mother became my enemy in so many ways, until I realized the truth that she was my mirror. And then I started to fully comprehend the extent of the power of themes in life.
Understanding that we are all enacting our own metaphors and themes is also helpful in not letting other people’s influence shape our life. During my process I have had challenging health issues that made me seek help from many professionals of all kinds: therapists, doctors, kinesiologists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, etc. You name it: I’ve seen them all. And they all would give me some advice. I have a good-student complex (that’s an archetype) and at first I would take their suggestions as instructions. At some point I realized that I was giving away my personal power to outsiders when ultimately I was the only one who could make my decisions -because the truth is that each of us is the only being that can know what is best for ourselves. Nobody else can and I cannot stress that enough.
So if one of those specialists suggested I go to an orphanage, I would start Googling for a place to go to. But their idea of going to an orphanage has the underlying message to spend time away from the narcissistic process of self-examination, be of service to others and understand the greatness of the ordinary. And it is my job to translate that into my own metaphors and then, if I choose to do so, into the world of action. So paying attention to the concept of personal metaphors and themes is very useful to not get entangled in other people’s metaphors and web of influence. And people are always telling you what to do in terms of their own themes and metaphors. Imagine somebody suggesting you develop a career as a lawyer because in their minds that is the pinnacle of intellectual success. But really deep inside the yearnings you have are to be an astronaut but you’ve never dared to enact that yearning because nobody around you would even consider it. So now you would live in their boxes if you didn’t understand that really the message is that they see potential in you and have just translated that impulse into “be a lawyer”. Somebody else will suggest being a doctor; for someone else it will be something totally different.
So our actions in the physical world are translations of our metaphors. For example for some, meditation will require sitting down in a specific way. For others it will require other ways. Each way is a metaphor. None of them is necessary; it’s really all about entering a sacred space.
Understanding a new language
The language of symbols speaks to us in terms of messages, of themes, but not in terms of specific actions. This is very hard for people to accept because even in learning to pay heed to inner/divine guidance, they always want specificity. They want to know if they should (not) do this or that, (not) go here or there. But that’s not how it works. The divine doesn’t work in terms of duality and there is no good or bad when operating from that realm, so the conversation requires understanding a new language that is more suggestive.
The awakening process brings us to an awareness of a Big Picture. And then, many tools help us figure out what our mission for this life is. And then our responsibility is to fulfill it. That’s it, in a nutshell. The battle than ensues at awakening has to do with breaking through our false self to connect with our true self. Understanding metaphors and the themes of our lives will help us with that process because we can learn to identify what it is that we need to overcome -where our lessons are. And those are exactly the areas where our greatest potential will be revealed to us.
In other words, our deepest fears and greatest dilemmas will be exactly what we need to dive into in order to understand how powerful we are as spiritual beings. I still have a long road ahead, but I have come a long way. The little girl I always wanted to have is the little girl in me that I have been mothering and healing. All the love that I have that I thought was wasted is being used in other ways that I never even suspected. I can be a mother in so many ways. But most importantly I have learned to understand the spiritual cliché of loving myself. It has such powerful implications that I will go into in another article. But to not need anybody to have joy -and even love- in my life is so liberating. It doesn’t mean I don’t go through stuff -of course I do. But I know what I came here to do. And I needed to take care of the metaphors and themes in my life to understand that. The mother theme guided me through the process of healing with my mother, the process of accepting that being a mother is not necessarily about giving birth to physical children, etc.
And healing doesn’t mean I spend time with my mother and that we are best friends and play golf together; it doesn’t mean that we are “happily ever after”. That is such a “Hollywood Ending” New-Age perception of life. If you don’t achieve that, it feels like you’re a spiritual loser. To me, healing means peace and that is an inner state and an inner process. It means I am letting go of the attachment to the wounds I have at the physical level, that I attributed to my mother. Because I see things very differently now. And it’s all about being, not doing. And it’s my business only. And she has to figure out her own stuff.
There is a fundamental truth that says that inner changes alter the way you see the world -and the world looks completely different. It’s all about perception and perception is tainted by our themes and metaphors.
I will go further into this subject in Part II.
[*]From the book: The Power of Myth by Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell.
🙂 Marina CB – Always be brave, be free