A really good metaphoric story has more than one level of meaning. Some stories have secondaries – other stories that give the main plot an interesting twist or exciting tension. These give stories underlying, hidden meaning that influences the characters in unpredictable ways – and gives the story some “spice.”
In addition, a good story line intersects with other story lines – creating a fabric of meaning that gives the overall story a symbolic representation that transcends any one character. Even very linear story lines like those of the hero’s journey intersect with others to make such a fabric – making the story much more interesting and engaging.
The very best stories I recall touched me personally. I could relate with the characters and/or events, got personal meaning from the story, and could feel the intersection.
Personal meaning is the juice that engages and connects me to a story and makes it memorable. In other words, every story I connect to presents a metaphor about me – because it has personal meaning for me.
This brings me to metaphor. A metaphor is a literary device that compares two or more unrelated things that share a common aspect. For example, “You are the sky and the stars, and I am the earth and the sea.” (k12reader.com) A metaphoric story is one in which more than one meaning may be derived.
Let’s assume for a moment that my life is a metaphoric story. In that case, everything that happens in the story has more than one meaning. There is the literal or default meaning and there is a hidden or derived meaning. In a really exceptional story, there may be even more meanings. I like to think my life is such a story.
I’m faced with choices about how I want to interpret every event in my life. I can accept the default literal meaning OR I can dig a little deeper into the fantasy by accepting the premise that what I am experiencing is a metaphor.
By accepting the premise, I open the door to whatever ELSE the experience might mean. That’s what interests me right now.
A Course in Miracles states that “you’re never angry for the reason you think.” That’s because the experience in which you feel anger is but one interpretation – the default or literal interpretation. There are others when you consider the metaphoric nature of your life story.
Recently, I’ve toyed with the idea of considering alternative meanings to the one I so quickly settle for when I’m feeling an emotion. My first inclination is to go with the default – “I’m right about this and you’re wrong! GRRR!!!” I can boil just about any experience down to this essence. Yet, like watching every episode of my favorite TV sitcom year after year, I’m getting bored with the same old meanings, story after story, event after event. I want a new story with new meanings.
That’s where questions might serve me well. We’ve spoken about questions before – how they can be used to open doors of understanding and insight. Well, I’m ready for some insight about now. So, maybe it’s time for some questions.
To begin with, I think I’ll start out with some assumptions:
- I could be incorrect about my interpretations;
- I could be inventing the entire thing;
- There is probably more than one meaning to this experience;
Now the question – yup, just one – a sort of mantra I can sing to myself, like a song that gets stuck in your head. I like to Keep It Super Simple.
“What ELSE might this mean?”
Elegant. Simple. Alluring. Meaningful.
Try it for yourself – maybe the next time you feel stressed (or not, it doesn’t matter really). Ask yourself, “What else might the experience I’m having right now mean?” The “else” bit invites and engages your imagination to maybe think outside the default literal meaning you think you understand. Listen with intent to hear the mind of the story’s creator – you!