The Disconnection of Metaphor

(image via Dyaa Eldin)

(image via Dyaa Eldin)

Mark Nepo, in his lovely book, The Exquisite Risk, writes that the Native American view is held to keep its people connected to the directness of life.

"One way it does this" Nepo compels, "is to say, We do not believe in metaphor. For metaphor blocks our being touched directly by the many faces of the Great Spirit. As Westerner's, we say the wind is like God's voice. But the Native American says, the wind is God's voice. We say water is like the earth's blood. But the Native American says, the water is the earth's blood. "

This a fascinating point of view.

Metaphor, while a useful device for trying to get a handle on our experiences, can in fact be a subtle process of disconnection from our life and dreams. Every time we say, "I felt like..." or "I experienced God like..." we create a barrier between our own experience and the way it is being integrated. The word itself comes from the Greek word, metaphora, and means "to transfer". The problem is, that as in the child's game "Whisper Down the Lane", this transfer is rarely clean and without loss of meaning. While a useful tool for communication, metaphor dissuades the direct path in.

The advice is simple. Try tracking for one month your use of metaphor. If you are prone to saying, "I felt like..." take the word "like" out and be more direct. See if your use of metaphor is really intended to soften the power of your message and comes from a place of insufficiency or discomfort.

At a larger level, try and see the world in a non-metaphorical way. Watch a sunset, stand at the ocean or listen to the wind. Describe what you see, in relationship to God, but do so without metaphor. Then track what is different. Rather than being like a reed in the wind, moving to a larger grace, you will be that reed, and the grace you feel may take you to a deeper place.