I’ve written quite a bit from the frame of my own metaphor of choice: that life is a game. But this isn’t the only one by a long shot. There are tons of analogies for this journey we’re on (hey, look at that! I just used another one!) Here’s a sampler of some of the things against which we can compare this mortal coil.
1. ……a game. This is my personal favorite, in part because I have a lot of experience both playing and programming virtual worlds which are, in a certain sense, alternate lives. What do you think of the idea that maybe a higher entity is “controlling” you, in the same way you might control Super Mario or a monopoly token? That sounds a little sinister, but it could be that that “entity” is that mysterious and intangible phenomenon which is your soul. When you view life as a game, you take things less seriously and you’re generally less stressed out. Things can’t get you down that much, cuz it’s all just a game. This is a good thing. Another empowering thing about this metaphor is that in any game, there are cheats and bug exploits
2. ……a dream. “Row row row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream!” The dream model has the advantage that it offers a very simple, intuitive answer to the question of the afterlife: when you die, you just “wake up”! Another interesting consequence is that everything here is a product of your own mind. Believe it or not, in my own life, I’ve experienced certain “miracles” which seem more readily explainable in the “dream reality” than using standard laws of physics. Like the game metaphor, the belief that this is all just a pleasant reverie makes you take things less seriously. Many fears dissolve when you consider you might be dreaming.
3. ……a movie. Bring the popcorn, this is the most awesome blockbuster ever set on the silver screen! Sit back and enjoy the drama of life. Did anyone ever tell you “the world doesn’t revolve around you”? Well, they were clearly wrong, because look! The distance in front of you is the same as the distance behind you and in every other direction, therefore you’re at the center of the universe! This interpretation is great for explaining things like character, identity, and ego: everyone’s just following a script! …but now that you know it’s all a script, you have the power to step out of character and ad-lib. Enjoy the sheer chaos which unfolds!!
4. ……a dance. Finally a break from the more “solipsistic” metaphors, the dance representation of life puts social interactions and other players in the foreground. According to this model, things like money and material accomplishments are of minimal importance. Instead, the measure of life is the way we interact with everyone around us.
5. ……a battle. Not all metaphors for life are “positive”. The battle perspective is often assumed by people who feel like the whole world is against them. If you hold this school of thought, you’re very liable to experience a lot of stress, anger, and conflict. But there is one advantage of even this dire outlook: it hardens your skin and toughens you up. Spending time through the eyes of the soldier is hard, but that means when you finally shift to another perspective, things are that much easier by comparison.
6. ……a song. Of course, it’s a bit of a stretch to incorporate every aspect of human experience into actual music. What the “song” metaphor is really getting at is that everything’s about creative expression. The idea that from birth until death, you’re contributing toward some great magnum opus. All the things you create and imagine and give birth to contribute ultimately toward one giant work of genius: and that’s what the “song” here stands for.
7. ……a journey. What sort of vessel are you travelling in– a car, a ship, an airplane? And where are you going? We’re on a great journey together, following a path with many twists and curves. Most people around us are going on autopilot, but since we’ve woken up to the reality of things, we have the power to grab the wheel and take control!
8. ……a mystery. This is often a “transitional” model, held by people whose previous reality has been shattered, while they try to explain the mysteries surrounding them with another model. The mystery model is one full of questions: Why are we here? What is the nature of this universe? What is the nature of consciousness? What lies beyond death? As long as you continue peering through this perspective, you can ponder these conundrums endlessly and never come up with an answer: an answer would not be a mystery! Therefore, to actually solve the riddles of the mystery model, you must shift to another perspective. The answer you reach will depend on which perspective you assume.
9. ……a party. According to “Party Theory”, the whole point of being alive is just having fun. Have a blast, whatever it takes. While this may sound shallow at first, it’s actually refreshingly honest. After all, everyone is always ultimately acting either to gain pleasure or to avoid pain. When people donate to charity, or even devote their life to some inspired cause, at some level it’s because they believe this is how they can gain pleasure. Even masochists believe that by inflicting harm upon themselves, they’ll feel better. If you subscribe to the party perspective, you’re just being more forthright about the quest for fun and pleasure.
10. ……an opportunity. Whatever our time in this world might be, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to grow, to learn, to change, to develop, to create, to enjoy.
It’s good to vary your representations of life from time to time. Different perspectives give different insight into different aspects of this thing we do called living. No single lens gives us a perfect view, neither is there any single right, “objective” answer to the question of what life might be.