Metaphormation

Portmanteaus are trending everywhere. Everything from politics, to couple names, to corporate activity, has been ‘portmanteaued’. Consider these: NaMo, bromance, vlogging, hangry, Virushka, Pinterest, and even ‘healthymagination’ at General Electric. It’s short, fun, and sounds fantastic. (Shuntastic? Nope.) I, too, have encapsulated the essence of my article in a portmanteau – Metaphormation (Metaphor + Transformation).

 

Just like portmanteaus, every realm of our daily life is rife with metaphors. However, metaphors are much powerful than portmanteaus – beyond compare. In the exploration of metaphors, one can go in many directions, from ordinary and poetic language, business and advertising, to science and technology. Consider these: feeling heavy, all the world's a stage, an agile organisation, Amul: The Taste of India, the fabric of spacetime, and technology is a double-edged sword. Even a cursory glance at any of these (and many more) domains yields an astonishing array of examples.

 

"Just like a 'dash of coriander' and a 'tomato rose' add a wow-factor to an otherwise bland dish, metaphors are often used to spruce up conversations. Beware, reader, of limiting the power of metaphor to a language of decoration."

 

Ever since Lakoff and Johnson introduced the groundbreaking 'conceptual metaphor theory' in 1980, the subject has been studied by many a researcher, including scientists. From an 'electron cloud’ to 'gravity is the curvature of spacetime', the history of science is replete with metaphors. Its use, however, is not limited to descriptive purposes. Through extensive expositions, scientists of all stripes have addressed the role of metaphors in aiding exploration and discovery.

 

"Across realms, metaphors are now seen as a powerful cognitive tool that has the potency to conceptualize abstract concepts. For instance, when there is no immediate literal description available to talk sense into complex notions of life, relationships, leadership, etc., we instinctively invoke metaphorical thinking."

 

Though a metaphorical statement may be 'literally' false, it dislodges us from conventional thinking patterns and allows for analogical reasoning to prompt fresh ways of understanding and perceiving. In the very context, I now cite a profound quote that grows more relevant with every passing day:

 

"If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking" – Buckminster Fuller

 

These are just some of many, many extraordinary powers of this imaginative language.

 

"The chief object here is metaphormation – a transformative process of thinking in metaphor to discover new ways of understanding ourselves, others, and the world we share."

 

Think of this process, if not as a golden key, at least as a promising tool in triggering the 'self-understanding' process into motion. For me, at its simplest, a personal metaphor reformulates already ‘known’ aspects of self into interesting and easy to comprehend patterns. The more we explore our metaphor’s multifarious character and apply it to a range of situations, the more its significance emerges. Metaphors can plunge us into the depths of mystery, translating the ‘unknowns’ to ‘knowns’. Moreover, by instating a figurative perspective, we don't only create new and enriching formations of thought, but also become aware of the creative side of our thinking.

 

"Each one of us needs metaphors that fit our journey of life and match our various roles of manager, spouse, parent, and so forth. As expounded by the leading executive coach Eric Kaufmann in his book Four Virtues of a Leader, even leaders need a personal metaphor to articulate their self-concept and vision."

 

Can you, in imagination, connect yourself to a metaphor? It can be anything: an animal, a comic character, an inanimate object, or nature – you decide. Your focus area might be an aspect of life or life itself. At first, working through a metaphor may perhaps seem cumbersome, but once your instincts take hold, you will be surprised by how powerfully the metaphor speaks to you. A note of caution must be injected here: embrace a forward-looking metaphor that serves your future goals, hopes and dreams. Change is progressive, not regressive. Also, the value of your personal metaphor is not in whether it is right or wrong, but in whether it has helped some striking meaning and new salience to arise.

 

If you understand better by first seeing an example, buckle up! Welcome to the metaphorical world: a place you will always remember. Read on to meet my life metaphor, my personal life coach: LIGHT! I fondly hope my story helps you launch on a personal journey of 'metaphormation'.

 

To better understand the metaphorical nature of my story, ‘sciencey’ stuff appears here and there (Physics - in particular). I understand this branch of science holds a daunting reputation for some of you but stick with me.

 

Into the Night Sky


More than seven billion people live on Earth, dwelling on the boundary separating our planet from the rest of the universe. On a clear night, we often stare into the amazing vastness of our cosmos – an experience that directly strikes at the core of the human soul. The unfathomable sky is our connection to something far more big and powerful than us. It is a warm refuge in which we always feel utterly welcome. It is the revered mansion of our Creator. It is the projection screen of nostalgic memories that makes our past come alive. Now, what if I tell you that the sky is ‘literally’ a window into the past? Put differently, that’s old news. Why? Because, although light travels inconceivably fast, it has a finite speed. Hence, the super speedy photons on the fly take certain time to complete the journey from its source to our eyes or telescopes. In our daily lives, everything seems instantaneous. Moving up and away, light from the Moon takes nearly 1.3 seconds to reach us, meaning that we see our beloved ‘Chanda Mama’ as it was 1.3 seconds ago. We view the Sun as it was around 8 minutes ago. We observe the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, as it was 8.6 years ago. Yeah, 'siriusly'. Faraway stars and galaxies ‘now’ appear to us as they once ‘were’ millions or even billions of years ago.


Now that we have put the science goggles on, let the journey of metaphormation begin!

 

“I am light. When you see things through me, it will always be my perception; my version of reality; my point of view - certainly not the universal truth. I, light, can make faraway aliens snooping on Earth right now see dinosaurs alive and roaming wild*. The thrill, however, is not in making big-brained extraterrestrials see a T-rex stomping, snorting, and thrashing its giant tail. Reversing the perspective makes me realize that everyone else, too, has their beliefs and perceptions – all valid in their ‘own’ light. Now, when people disagree with me, I welcome debate. Rather than stewing in anger and frustration, I strive to listen, respect and discuss their viewpoints.”

 

* Such a close-up view is possible only in theory. In reality, such a dramatic and vivid look requires advanced technology that is utterly beyond human comprehension. However, we don’t even know if alien lifeforms exist – leave alone figuring out the technology they use. Let’s not let practicality get in the way of this metaphorical adventure.

 

I now zoom out from an individualistic to a collectivistic view. Before that, consider the following example:


A visible-light view of the giant M31 galaxy (Andromeda) is startlingly different from its infrared-view, or its X-ray view. The same galaxy shows up differently when viewed in different wavelengths. Combining several observations gives scientists a more complete image of the galaxy – that no single telescope can provide.


"Every human generation perceives the same world differently based on the 'wavelength' the members share, as a cohort. I am a Millennial who is individually unique and yet tuned to a ‘common wavelength’ that shaped the collective temperament of my generation.”

 

I try not to become obsessed with or limited to my own reality because placing ‘myself’ or ‘my generation’ on the centre stage will create an incomplete picture that would fail to tell the whole story. The real magic begins with decentring – by appreciating different representations of the same reality.

 

By decoding millennials as ‘entitled, self-absorbed, lazy’, or vice-versa, by ascribing labels of ‘old-school, rigid, technophobic’ to older cohorts, the ‘simple’ reality about millennials or boomers becomes ‘simplistic’ - and such generalizations about generations are doing more harm than good. Most of us unknowingly contribute to keeping generations locked in a battle – without questioning either the underlying causes or the effects. Enough shots fired! If you ever feel the urge to hop on the ‘ageist’ bandwagon, maybe it’s time to come back to ‘light’ by peering deep into the night sky.

 

My Paradoxical Reality

 

“I am light. I am a ball-like particle; I am a water-like wave. I am in a particular place and at no place in particular. Let me illustrate with an example: I hang out with a group of friends in a café and on Snapchat, simultaneously.”

 

I am both 'over here' and 'over there' – in the mutually exclusive realms that for me, are two sides of the same coin. Depending on which side of the coin people observe, I am either deemed 'anti-social' or pronounced 'socially advanced'. Technology shaped my paradoxical reality, and instead of resolving the conundrum of my split-personality, I believe that if anything, my ‘complementary’ identities make me doubly useful.

 

Beyond the Visible

 

“I, light, see life as a linked narrative. I experience life by reflecting, refracting, dispersing, scattering – in essence by interacting with anything and everything I stumble upon. I have often passed myself through a prism – which for me does more than just produce a pretty rainbow.”

 

It makes my ‘ordinary’ white light come through in colour, decoding a spectral sequence that yields a cache of enriching information. A prism at its best helps unravel the ‘visible’ spectrum – my food preferences; clothing preferences; musical taste; general attitude towards different people and situations; likes; dislikes; and to some extent my fears and phobias – at least the superficial ones. “By far, I and many others are quite familiar with this visible spectrum, which is a teeny-tiny portion of my full electromagnetic sweep.” The wellspring of joy and wisdom resides in the invisible realm: my deep-seated needs, beliefs, and emotions. I crave knowledge beyond the violet and red ends of the spectrum for two reasons: (1) to come a little closer in finding my BS*, and (2) to have more to give and contribute – not just by understanding other people, but doing my best in seeing through their masks. Yes, I know that activating the invisible force of my internal drive is an art, more than science. It’s about appreciating, empathizing, and unravelling what’s driving me (nuts) and others. At this age, my photons (which are my carrier) are constantly amazed by how little they know about life and its journey – and it is this ‘not knowing’ that excites them even more now.

* BS stands for ‘Best Self’. A special shout-out to my millennial buddies – it does not stand for (b)ull(s)hit guys. #NoTrollsHere

 

Unknown Encounters

 

Up until recently, my life was moving forward at lightning speed when a braking action took control, causing it to swerve. I quit my job and shifted base to Russia. As excited as I was to hop on a new adventure, my life transitioned from ‘crazy busy’ to ‘frustratingly slow’. The phone no longer rang as often, and the precious roles I once held were all in the past. I often wondered if I chose correctly, and if it weren’t for this change, could I have carved out a better life for myself? I needed a fresh viewpoint to enter my unwanted situation. I shifted my attention towards the adventurous project I had recently embraced – Metaphormation. I saw my predicament through a different lens, and Skadoosh! New perspectives began to emerge. By attending to my metaphorical expression, I found myself changing organically.

 

Take a look at my updated metaphorical reality:

 

“I am light. I often pass from air into several other media of higher densities, as through water. At the moment of transition, I experience a sudden change and deviate from my original course. Moreover, water has a higher refractive index than air; therefore, I lose speed. But that is precisely what I yearn for - I slow down to interact with the very substance of water, cope with the transition, gain a new perspective, and in turn, come out even stronger.”

 

All this while, I was engaged in an exercise of futility, judging a situation which was no longer in my control. No matter how hard I tried, all my labour would ultimately prove to be an ‘illusion’. I needed to disrupt my illusionary game and believe I will find what I need in this unknown country – the place where I was called to go. The more I think about such times of major transitions, the more I connect with light moving through a strata of higher densities - its willingness to enter unknown arenas, navigate changes at a slower pace, and in the process ‘shift’ its perspective by picking up hints on what the medium is asking it to do.

 

My Diamond Light

 

“Not that anybody asked, but the best medium for me is a diamond.  Its facets are specifically designed to help me enter into a state of ‘Total Internal Reflection’. All in all, it’s one hell of a ride before I find a clear shot back out.”

 

However, all of this accomplishes something dramatic – the gemstone makes me do whatever it takes to shine, sparkle, glitter, glow, and then fly out. I see an extraordinary dazzling version of myself I never knew existed. I am grateful to so many diamonds – parents, spouse, teachers, mentors, siblings, friends, – who supported and encouraged me to embark on new challenges that otherwise may have seemed unimaginable.

 

Into a Black Hole

 

When my photons have the right emotions, i.e. when they are playful, creative, lively, and emotionally fit, they keep jumping, rattling, rolling, and are fully engaged in their experiences with anything and everything they encounter. Yeah, it’s a ‘light’ sort of a feeling, and if you want to picture the photons breakdancing their way into this article, that’s okay, too. Woohooo! However, sometimes, my photons feel really off, discouraged, disempowered, and exhausted. It happens when they near a black hole – which is a whirling vortex of anxiety, stress, depression, sorrow, and physical ailments. The surface gravity of a black hole is so freaking high that even light cannot escape its clutches. However, I say this with both pride and humility, that I have not once fallen into a black hole trap. Don’t get me wrong. I am not some kind of a fully awakened ‘Photon Guru’.

 

“All too often, I, light, find myself going too close to the dimensions of a black hole, crumbling with all kinds of dreaded feelings.”

 

I have circled the black hole several times at the ‘photon sphere’- which according to my space exploration buddy NASA, “is the apparent dividing line between black hole and sky”. The slightest perturbation from this orbit renders my photons to roll on one of the sides: either they fall inwards into the event horizon and become captured at a point of no return, or they escape back into space. At such testing times, as yet, I have managed to escape the black hole’s maw by gathering strength from my family and loved ones, my inner spirit, and my prayers. If one day, however, I do get swallowed by a black hole, which will surely be a deadly place to be, I would still trust there is a way out because one of the greatest Earthlings to have walked the face of this planet told us so:

 

“If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out” – Stephen Hawking

 

Image Credit: Eyesplash/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

 

 

With 5+ years of experience, Ankita has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR - from hire to retire. She is currently Deputy Editor at Human Capital.

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