I’m always looking for metaphors that might resonate with clients as they seek to catch a second wind in their lives. And while the metaphor of running strikes my fancy, I’m aware it doesn’t resonate for everyone.
The other day I was talking with a client who shares both my love of both running and passion for reading. We hit on an interesting metaphor that felt powerful to both of us: The Trilogy. Some stories in literature are so complicated and involved that they require more than one literal book. Think of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the more recent Hunger Games. In each book of a trilogy, characters are more fully developed, secrets formerly held are disclosed, and plot lines unfold more completely.
What if you thought of your life as a box set of stories? What would each book be called? For me, the first book in my trilogy would be called, The Swimming Pool: In Which She Creates so Many Boundaries to Make Herself Feel Safe that She Ends up Feeling Restricted (I like long titles). My second book would be called: Wind Surfing on a Wild River: In Which She Collaborates with the Elements to Get Her to Where She Wants to Go. And I hope to call the last book in my trilogy Backfloating in the Ocean: In Which She is Content to Accept Whatever Gifts the Tide Brings Her Way.
As you might guess, the first book in my life told the story of a difficult struggle I was engaged in to define myself. Many of us come into our early adult years carrying the definitions that others (family, culture, faith, youthful mistakes) have bestowed on us. Both consciously and unconsciously, those who influence our self-images as we grow up layer story upon story on us about who we are, what we’re allowed to believe or feel. We do the best we can with those stories, not imagining we have control over them.
Then, for many of us, we have a moment (or series of moments—often in midlife) when we realize those old definitions don’t/won’t work anymore. We long to move outside of the story of life and personhood we’ve been reading and re-reading over the years, but sometimes we feel stuck. If you were a girl who learned she should be (and tried hard to be) sugar and spice and everything nice, what do you do when you feel your Inner Bitch emerging from behind your sugary smile, ready to give an unbecoming tongue lashing to someone who has offended you? You either get out the first book in the trilogy and read it with fury, memorizing the lines that help you remain in your “sugar and spice and everything nice” persona, or you consider the possibility that another story-of-your-life might be emerging.
My client and I wondered together what it would be like to close the first book of her life, one that was holding her growth hostage and shackling her to shame and guilt. What if, we asked ourselves, she could stick that volume on the shelf and really attend to writing/reading the second book in the series--one in which she could decide how to define herself in a more life-affirming way? What would the chapters on Love, Self-Control, Perfectionism, and Joy contain that might be different from similarly named subject chapters in Book One?
Why not take the time to consciously entitle the books in your trilogy? Consider the questions below. Write down the answers and share them with us if you’re willing. We can learn a great deal from one another about the stories we tell ourselves.
If this metaphor is working for you, feel free to take it a step further and name the chapters in each book. Knowing what to call our experiences can be a powerful catalyst to creating insight regarding the past and discerning wisdom for our future. Give it a try.