Changing Life’s Metaphors

“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

Walking a path.

Walking a path.

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.

English: A Shinkansen awaiting passengers in T...

English: A Shinkansen awaiting passengers in Tokyo. Français : Un Shinkansen attendant ses passagers à Tōkyō. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


“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?



15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nathan
    May 01, 2013 @ 10:56:26

    How about wag more, bark less?


  2. Andra Watkins
    May 01, 2013 @ 10:56:38

    The guiding metaphor for my life is probably from the Bible: Life is but a vapor; it appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away. It makes me live in the moment, I hope, and suck everything I can out of the experiences of life.

    In my down moments, life is a roller coaster. It can be fun to ride a roller coaster, but living on one (as I am at the moment) isn’t fun. I remember going to the fair in my teens with some guys who made fun of one of the ride operators. He heard them, and of course punished us all by making the ride go as fast as it would go and not letting us off. That’s what life is doing to me right now. So. I try to go back to ‘life is a vapor.’ Breathe it in. Enjoy it, even the unfun parts. 🙂


    • Lisa Wields Words
      May 01, 2013 @ 10:59:17

      That’s a beautiful metaphor, Andra, and one which I will attempt to incorporate.

      The roller coaster rides are definitely not fun. I am with you there. I have faith you’ll be able to get off of it soon (maybe even this summer at our to be decided meeting of the minds_.


  3. JoAnne Simson
    May 01, 2013 @ 12:24:20

    Lisa, I like your “Life is a journey” metaphor. I think that is one of my favorite images. Another favorite: Life is an adventure. Adventures have difficulties as well as rewards for coming through the hazards.


  4. DesiValentine
    May 01, 2013 @ 14:41:54

    My guiding metaphor comes from Buddhism, that the journey of life has 108 paths, or a 108 spokes on the wheel of enlightenment. I’m not a Buddhist, but I embrace the idea that there are so many ways to get to the same place, to find peace and joy, that none of us should judge the other’s journey. Thanks for sharing yours with us. 🙂


  5. Kathy
    May 04, 2013 @ 16:54:13

    I really enjoyed this post, Lisa. About five minutes ago was chatting on Facebook with friends about old sayings and metaphors. Then came here to read what you wrote. Another serendipitous moment. Honoring your journey and that you share it so openly and honestly with all of us.


    • Lisa Wields Words
      May 04, 2013 @ 19:09:37

      Thanks Kathy. What were some of the metaphors you discussed?


      • Kathy
        May 04, 2013 @ 19:13:39

        Now I’m not so sure if they were metaphors or just old-fashioned sayings. One was the “peanut gallery”. “Since you were knee high to a grasshopper” and “What in the Sam Hill?” and “Shiver me timbers”.

        “Fit to be tied” and “You’re getting too big for your britches” and “don’t push the envelope”.

        Would you say these are metaphors or just archaic phrases of speech?


        • Lisa Wields Words
          May 04, 2013 @ 19:25:15

          I think they are both. They only make sense if you understand them as metaphors. I wonder what the origins of some of them are. I may have to look them up when I’m less exhausted.


  6. Trackback: A Whirlwind of Change | Lisa A. Kramer: Woman Wielding Words
  7. Carla Duran
    May 15, 2013 @ 16:01:26

    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.


    • Lisa A. Kramer
      May 17, 2013 @ 17:39:55

      Very true. Thanks for the comment. Since posting this, I’ve jumped on another train (this one hopefully with stops along the way). I’ve moved to, so please come visit me there.


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