Depth Psychology Blog

What's Inside Your Looking?

20 Feb 2013 12:39 PM | Kim Hermanson, PhD

Don’t look for me in a human shape. 
I am inside your looking.

- Rumi

The lines above from Rumi can be interpreted in more than one way, but since I work with metaphor, Rumi’s lines remind me that metaphor shapes the way we see the world around us. Metaphors are “inside our looking.”

While we traditionally think of metaphor as something that writers use to spice up their writing, in fact, we are born into a metaphoric world. Scholars from Gregory Bateson and George Lakoff to philosophers such as Martin Foss have all suggested that our lives are lived within an unconscious metaphoric process. The metaphors that we subconsciously hold shape and define us; they give us the lenses through which we look at the world around us.

Carl Jung believed that the psyche consists essentially of images--at our soul’s core we are images. By that he did not mean images that are simply psychic reflections of external objects. His definition of image was more poetic, more imaginative, and only indirectly related to external objects. I love the water and I spent my youth swimming competitively. Moving through water--whether dark and murky or clear and fresh--is a common way that I see my everyday experiences. Both my grandmothers as well as my mother spent many hours sewing, and images of needle, spools of thread, fabric, thimbles and bobbins will be forever imprinted in my imagination. Indeed, I often view my life as a process of stitching various quilt pieces together, often “waiting for the next piece.” My father was a farmer and loved planting; the desire to “root myself” in nurturing soil is another of my heart’s favorite images.

While these are examples of positive metaphors, we may hold metaphoric pictures that aren’t so helpful. For example, believing our external environment to be a hostile place, viewing ourselves as “stuck” or feeling that we have “no space” to be ourselves. Aristotle said, “The soul never thinks without an image.” All of us hold an infinite variety of metaphoric lenses, and many of them are unconscious. As the ground of our thinking and perception, they are the medium through which we look at the world. Subsequently, when we change our primary metaphors, we change our life.

Kim Hermanson, PhD is on the faculty of Pacifica Graduate Institute and leads workshops at Esalen Institute. Her books include Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination and Sky’s the Limit: The Art of Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey, which received an Independent Publisher Award. With a gift for inspiring and unleashing people's creative brilliance, she has been offering life-changing opportunities for creative breakthroughs since 2002.

NOTE: A version of this article was published on

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