River image

River & I – How to Find a Metaphor for your Life

Metaphors help us overcome the limitation of language, they are the link between the rational and emotional parts of our minds, bridging across the conscious, sub-conscious and even the unconscious. Across the millennia, humans have looked to nature to understand ourselves, and nature answered us with a plentitude of metaphors to choose from. The metaphor you opt for your life has a profound impact on how you view yourself, others around you, and thus how your life will turn out.

Have you got a metaphor for your life? Do you reflect on it periodically? Reconsider it, review it, and replace it as needed?

Below is an excerpt from my book Silent Eloquence, a collection of essays across time and space.

Today, I sat down to write an email introducing myself to someone. While I was struggling to think of some sensible mundane details that define me to the external world, my mind meandered down the memory lane. I was reminded of an exercise I had to do sometime back, as part of a corporate leadership workshop. We had to choose one object from nature that we resembled the most (not physically of course) and describe it. Don’t ask me what this had to do with leadership – there was some explanation about self discovery, which I can’t really remember now.
Anyhow, I chose a river.

A river meanders, yet it knows where its headed.
A river is well aware of its source, yet it can never really flow back – it left its mountain top where it was just a little innocent spring, now it must flow through the many lands until it will end up in the sea.
Rivers are well traveled and run a long way, from the lofty mountain tops to the faraway seas.
Unlike the sea which just touches the surface of every land it visits, a river gets to the know the lands it visits, becomes an integral part of every land if flows through and gathers parts of the land into its own persona.
A river runs deep, and often appears still on the surface. But dig a little deeper and you will be surprised to find the wealth underneath. It carries the sediments from many lands and many lives, yet hides them well and flows its merry way.
A river is usually calm and people tend to take it for granted, but you never ever want to know its wrath.
A river has many different persona and many different names – when it flows through each land, its given a different name. And in some places, its wide and deep. Sometimes, it slows to a tiny trickle. And sometimes it has high beautiful waterfalls. Yet its all parts of the one.
A river sustains life, yet its often underestimated in the role it plays in our lives. Riverbanks have always been the bed of civilisations and almost every big city was built near a river.
Sometimes rivers help people. Yet sometimes, it can be obstinate and difficult. While rivers can provide a fast and delightful way of traveling, they also form natural barriers in a landscape.
A river lets itself be shaped to a large extent by its surroundings. It likes to adapt and to adjust to the environment. Yet, only to a certain extent. No landscape can make a river flow upstream.
Rivers change the landscape through which they flow, and in many ways – they erode the land, they deposit new sand, they even change the way people feel.
What Emerson sings about the Musketaquit could just as well as apply to any other, be it the amazing Amazon, the mighty Mississippi, the glorious Ganges or the resplendent Rhine.

Thou in thy narrow banks art pent:
The stream I love unbounded goes
Through flood and sea and firmament;
Through light, through life, it forward flows.
I see the inundation sweet,
I hear the spending of the steam
Through years, through men, through Nature fleet,
Through love and thought, through power and dream.

Go on, give it a shot – what object in nature do you think resembles you the most? If nothing comes to mind immediately, find some time to go out into nature – sit in a calm quiet place, or settle yourself into a walk at a comfortable pace. Empty out your mind, and let nature flood you with images and emotions. Don’t force it, accept what comes. And then write out for yourself (in free format, but if you need some guardrails, take the above as a template of sorts) what that metaphor means for you. Keep it safe, review it periodically. And let it grow onto you. Your metaphor for life will serve you well to get to know yourself better. Good luck!