EngagePerspectivesSeeing Through Metaphor
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Seeing Through Metaphor

The power of figurative speech is that it draws your attention by analogy to something such that you understand it better in relationship to this other thing. Vincent van Gogh ties the natural world, specifically the ocean, to the internal processes of the human heart, bringing nuance to our understanding of both ourselves and nature.

Fischerboote Bei Saintes Maries Van Gogh paintingVan

The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides, and, in its depths, it has its pearls too.

Vincent van Gogh

To understand the comparison, we must look outside and inside at once. We must recall the power and volatility of the ocean as well as its glassy, peaceful moments. We must think about the many life forms that dwell hidden below its surface, some stunning in their color, some scary in their curious forms, some valuable, like pearls.

It allows us some distance from and yet a closer understanding of our own hearts. It grants permission for a variety of emotions, and the varied pace at which we experience them, some like storms. It prompts curiosity about the rhythms that reoccur like tides or about the hidden things that lie below the surface of our cognition and emotion. Not all the parts below are scary, some are precious and worth finding.  Like pearls, ideas might have started as just grains of sand but over time have been cultivated and nurtured into a beautiful, finished form to be shared and valued with others.

To spend time staring out at the ocean or another natural landscape, like a forest, a field, a mountain or a desert allows that dual vision—that looking in while looking out. It allows for other relationships to be forged between the natural world and “the heart of man.” How is it like a tree or an anthill or a blade of grass. More than anything else, such dual vision increases our wonder.

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