“Back to the salt mines,” Nathan said as he prepared to take Sarah to her before school math prep and then head off to work.
“What does that mean?” Sarah asked.
“I’ll explain in the car,” Nathan said.
Off they went.
Later, Nathan posted this article on Facebook. “The Salt Mines. Really??” In this article, Natalie Houston discusses the possible origins of the phrase, which includes the fact that convicted prisoners were often forced to labor in salt mines, with the commensurate risks to life and limb. She writes:
“Through metaphor, the language we use both reflects our perceptions and shapes them in a continual feedback loop. Each time you say something like “back to the salt mines” (which is usually accompanied by a shrug, or slumped shoulders) you reinforce your own attitudes about your workplace as being somehow like a dangerous mine where prisoners labor. “
This made me think about the metaphors that guide and/or influence my own life. Over the past few days I’ve recognized that it is time to change my metaphors, or at least re-envision them. First, however, I must be able to identify them.
Life as Journey
This is by far my favorite metaphor, as anyone who has been reading my blog for a long time might realize. I often talk about life as a journey. If you search for the term journey within my blog, you will find 143 entries that somehow refer to journeys and the journey of life. Maybe I need to get some new material.
Anyway, this is a metaphor that I do try to live by, however it has its dangers. It all depends on how one perceives the journey. When I think of this journey as having a specific destination–as one with a path that I’m meant to follow that gets me to some mysterious endpoint–then I take less pleasure in the journey itself because I’m too worried about not getting to that point. When I can think about the journey as the destination–a meandering path that takes me to the next part of the journey–then I usually can just let my feet lead me wherever I am going.
I want to focus on the second type of journey.
Life as Speeding Train
This is perhaps one of my least favorite metaphors for life. Do you ever feel like you somehow got trapped on a train that is heading toward an unknown destination without any stops? It keeps going faster and faster, and someone else is driving it. You have no control. No matter how many times you pull the emergency cord, the train will not stop.
Sometimes, for me, the train is a roller coaster car, speeding up and down at speeds that defy thought.
Have I mentioned that I hate roller coasters? The last time I was on one with my sister, long ago at Knots Berry Farm I felt too short to be held in safely and was convinced I would fly out on one of the crazy loops. I haven’t been on one since, except for the roller coaster of life.
When I lived in Japan, I loved the idea of riding the Shinkansen, because it allowed me to visit more places in less time. However, the difference between riding a bullet train and being trapped on a speeding life train is crucial to recognize. It’s possible to get off the Shinkansen once in a while, to enjoy the journey.
“Another Day, Another Dollar”
Or in my case a few more pennies.
I thought of this metaphor this morning after reading Houston’s article. Too often lately, I’ve focused on the fact that I seem to work hard for very little financial reward.
I don’t like thinking like that. If my focus on life is on the journey, and the journey is the destination, then I want to be working on projects that fill my life with joy and purpose. I suppose the purpose could be to make money, but I don’t want the metaphor for my life to be “Life as means to financial gain.”
Of course, I recognize that money does play a role in life, but it doesn’t have to be the focus of life.
It’s time to drop this metaphor from my life.
What are some of the metaphors guiding your life? What are some of the metaphors you want to change? What are some of the metaphors you would like to embrace?