What's your metaphor?

I have always been interested in the power and potential of stories, growing up I was always reading. And now, I remain an avid reader of literature of all forms and foci – particularly people’s life stories. There are many great stories out there and I typically read many different people’s perspectives and stories. Often I am reading something without really knowing why. I find that some of the more intricate details of a person’s life story that often have the most relevance to me and what I am experiencing in my life – personally and professionally – at the time. It is as if what I am reading has been written specifically for me – it is the content that helps me understand and appreciate more deeply my own context.

Recently I have begun to recognise that the more I ‘get on the balcony’ of my own life’s story as it unfolds – in all its beauty and messiness – the greater clarity I feel about what I am really up to and where I might be heading. Being present to my own life allows me to be more present to the messages my life is trying to provide me. Put another way, having greater present-moment-awareness allows me to tune into my true nature and what my soul – my essence – is trying to teach me about what my life’s work and purpose is. I am learning that tuning into my own story helps me to:

  • gain self-insight into myself and what I am experiencing about myself within the context of my life journey;
  • ground my present-moment experiences within the larger whole and context for my life;
  • consider present life challenges in new, different and more expansive ways;
  • find solutions to some of the challenges (real or perceived) I my be experiencing; and
  • feel emotionally connected to the overarching guiding intention of my life and empowered to continue being present to the many pathways for exploring that guiding intention.

I recently sat with a colleague as part of a coaching session exploring their life’s purpose. They were speaking about the ‘search’. They spoke of the disappointment they were currently experiencing about themselves in not having clarity around their purpose and how it was affecting their performance in life and work. I listened for a while without asking any questions and felt a strong sense of an analogy from my own life: The harder I look for something the more likely it is that I will not find it.

On a tangent to the focus of this blog post …

A person’s purpose is just like water – fluid, nourishing, hard to see the depth of (and scarce when you really need it!). And just as water will slip though a person’s finger if they try and grasp at it too tightly, so will one’s clarity of their life purpose. The issue as I am understanding it is that the ‘grasping’ I experience at times as it relates to my purpose is simply my rational mind trying to make sense of something that is a felt [spiritual] experience. So for me, maintaining clarity of purpose can best be understood through the analogy of cupped hands. As I learn to how to better hold my life purpose lightly and to look upon it gently – just like we need to cup water in order to hold onto it – it reflects back to me with with great clarity. Even more, ‘cupping’ my purpose lightly in my hands reflects myself back to me.

Anyway, back to my colleague and the power of metaphor for unlocking self-insight, clarity of direction, and wise action around one’s purpose. I asked my colleague what the experience would be like if they had already discovered their life purpose and that they has already fulfilled it. (there as a specific intention behind this question as it relates to one’s life purpose – but that is a story for another blog). My colleague mentioned that they would feel light, confident, contented and more alive. They went on to say that they would let go of the search and sit more comfortably in open-ended inquiry of their life, coupled with simply Being. I then asked my colleague to identify a couple of times in their recent past (in the lat 4-5 years or so) where they had felt some of what they had just described. They offered me a couple of examples and we explored them in some detail in order to unpack the specific context, content and form of those experiences. We then explored what these two experiences might suggest about what their life’s purpose was at each of those times. My colleague provided a range of insights that highlighted the similarities between the two previous experiences, as well as a range of differences. For example, seeing the whole of a situation, helping people connect, listening deeply, helping people feel that anything is possible, helping groups of people gain an appreciation for the arts as a foundational aspect of societies health, wealth and well-being, etc I then asked my colleague to consider these two stories in relation to their current experience of their life. We explored the insights from these ‘seemingly’ disparate experiences as though they were a part of a much larger ‘story’ of the ongoing unfolding of their life’ purpose.

I then asked my colleague to consider what he was reflecting upon in terms of a theatre production – a play. (A side note – my colleague works in the arts and knows this environment intimately.) I asked my colleague to consider their ‘performance’ as if it was the first ‘run-through’ before Opening Night. More specifically, I asked them to consider their ‘performance’ through the eyes of the Director, Stage Manager, Light and Sound Technicians, Audience, Script Writer and Choreographer. Through these different lenses of ‘expertise’ around the same production, we explored what questions each role would be asking about the ‘performance’ and what they would be suggesting to them (as the actor on the play) about their performance. My colleague brainstormed a number of questions and made a few comments and a number of suggestions arose for what they might do differently. They also made the connection that many things were working well and no change to the ‘performance’ was necessary. And then the big ‘aha moment’ occurred. Upon receiving the commentary from the other ‘roles’ of the performance, the actor of the play (my colleague) then realised they had a choice whether or not to listen to the suggestions. They had the opportunity if to adjust the performance to better accommodate the various (and sometimes contradictory) perspectives of those observing, or to step more fully into their role as the ‘artist plying their trade on the stage’. In that moment, my colleague decided to consciously choose their own destiny. They decided what they wanted their life ‘performance’ to be about at this time, and how they want to experience themselves in that performance. They took ownership of its manifestation. They stepped into being ‘self-as-cause’. And for me, in that moment I reconnected even more deeply to the power of story And I too stepped more fully into my ‘performance’ of my life’s purpose. To my colleague, I thank you.