Playing with Metaphors to Help You with Transformation

baker's hands kneading bread dough illustrating a metaphor to work with

Is your story not working for you? Does it seem to be influencing what you’re experiencing and causing you unhappiness? You can change your story–and your life. You might want to work with metaphors so transformation is easier for you. Play around with them to better understand what you have experienced and the different ways of looking at your past, present, and future.

Maybe your current story is zapping you of energy, enthusiasm, and optimism because it’s a story like one of these:

 I’m getting nowhere fast. People like me can’t expect too much out of life. If I take a risk, I’ll fail miserably, so I’d better stick with my life as it is even though I feel unfulfilled.

With a story like that, it’s hard to be hopeful about transformation. However, you can regain your optimism about your power to change your life for the better by playing with metaphors, exploring their meanings, which can yield insights that you might not have been aware of otherwise. Then, you can take what you’ve learned and consciously craft a new story.

A Metaphor of Transformation

For example, a metaphor from my own life and work has helped me better understand myself and the changes I have gone through. I majored in metallurgy in college and later took a job heading up an oil and gas company, so I’ve often thought about how the transformational process of turning organic matter into oil and refining it into gasoline relates to my own story of change.

Oil was formed when organic matter—long-dead plants and animals—became crushed by layers upon layers of sediment and eventually turned into oil. It can eventually make its way up toward the surface of the earth, making it easier to spot and access. Once it’s been drawn out of the earth, it can be refined through high temperatures, cooling, and various chemical processes to form gasoline and diesel oil, which fuels engines.

Looking back on my journey from businessman to clinical psychologist to Jungian analyst and shamanic practitioner and finally, to a stage of life in which my focus is giving back in service to others, I’ve asked myself questions you might want to ask yourself, playing with this oil-and-gas metaphor:

How have pressure and time influenced and transformed you?

How have you managed releases and eruptions from your past?

What has seeped through into your awareness?

What did you do with what you discovered?

What used to live within you that became transformed into something else? Did it die before the changes began? Did something useful come about as a result of that death and transformation? What did you have to do for that death and change to bring about something new that benefitted you?

What have you learned from the efforts you made and the emotions you experienced while in transition?

What transformation would you like to experience next?

How can your past experiences of change inform and help you during this next transition?

Whether you’re planning a career or relationship change, making a move to another location, or switching your focus to goals you have neglected recently, playing with metaphors can help.

Too often, when change is thrust upon us or we’re unhappy with our current stories and want to change them, we forget the lessons we learned in the past about what we can do to manage transitions well and make positive changes stick. Think about a metaphor regarding change that has always spoken to you and play with it. Ask yourself some questions that the metaphor suggests.

If you have trouble thinking of a metaphor, use the one I just gave you or another—maybe from your work or that your life experiences suggest to you. Transformational metaphors can be especially helpful if you’re dealing with the desire or need for change. Think about:

The transformation from a caterpillar into a butterfly

The transformation from a tadpole into a frog

The transformation of flour, water, salt, and yeast into bread

Ask yourself, what happens during the steps of transformation?

What parts of the transformation might make you feel uncomfortable if you were the oil, caterpillar, tadpole, or ingredients for bread?

Would the discomfort you would undergo be worth the results you would achieve? Why or why not?

Understanding the Messages Metaphors Can Teach You

While asking yourself direct questions about difficult changes you’ve had to deal with has value, too, playing with metaphors can yield insights you might miss if your self-reflection were only literal.

What’s more, you can play with metaphors by imagining yourself as inhabiting what you would like to learn from: the plants and animals that died million years ago, the caterpillar, the tadpole, or the wheat that would become bread. Imagine you are this creature or plant. How does it feel to be you? How do you feel about the transition you are about to undergo?

Then, imagine you are transitioning—you are a dying sea urchin, a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, a tadpole losing its tail, or wheat being combined with other ingredients and kneaded into dough. Imagine the entire process of change with all its steps.

When in your imagination you have transformed into your final form, pay attention to any thoughts, images, sensations, and emotions that arise. Try to identify what happened. Did you discover your creativity? Feel anxious about what the future held? Remain curious and open to what was happening? What words would you use to describe the transformation you just experienced?

Now, think about transformations you’ve undergone in real life. Do you see any connections to what you just experienced in your imagination? What if anything have you learned about yourself and change?

After you have ended the exercise, you can journal about this experience and any insights it has offered you as well as answer the questions I’ve posed to you. Then, try to write a more satisfying story about your life, your experience of transitioning, or both.

You might come up with a story that inspires hopefulness, such as:

I’m still in the dark, but the cocoon is warm and safe, and I trust in this process.

I’m always evolving, and changes can take time. I can be patient with myself.

The more you play with a metaphor using your rational mind and your imagination, the more likely it may be to yield insights that can help you with whatever changes you’re facing now. Give it a try and see what happens.

You can learn more about how to change the story of your life and experience personal transformation in my books such as The Necktie and the Jaguar: A memoir to help you change your story and find fulfillment.



Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, is a retired clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst, a businessman, and a shamanic practitioner, author, and philanthropist funding over 60 charities and more than 850 past and current Greer Scholars. He has taught at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and been on staff at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being.


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