Metaphor and the Aging Process

The Spiral of the Seasons:
Welcoming the Gifts of Later Life

by John G. Sullivan

Second Journey Publications, 2009

Harvest the Bounty of Your Career
by Deborah F. Windrum

(with art work by Michele Renee Ledoux)
Axiom Action, 2009

Reviews by Barbara Kammerlohr

For those willing to sit with her and do the work, Metaphor is one of the world’s greatest teachers. She facilitates understanding at an intuitive level where facts, feelings, ethics, and consciousness come together to form meaning. Sitting with Metaphor until the Aha! moment leads to a special kind of learning — the realization of something deep within that may be so profound no words can express it adequately. Harvest the Bounty of Your Career and The Spiral of the Seasons are two books that use metaphor to communicate such messages. Authors John Sullivan and Deborah Windrum, having plumbed the depths of metaphorical understanding, organize their thoughts around metaphor and call on the reader to understand those thoughts at their own level.

The seasons of life provide the metaphor of The Spiral of the Seasons, a small book of four essays about our human journey into later life by John Sullivan, Second Journey’s Philosopher in Residence and Board Member Emeritus. Excerpts of these essays are on Second Journey’s Web site and in earlier editions of Itineraries. However, the hard-cover book edition, with its poetry, full-color photographs, and more complete text gives the reader a deeper and more complete understanding of how Sullivan views later life than the excerpts on the Web site.

As others have done, Sullivan overlays the four stages of life on the four seasons — spring, summer, fall, and winter. However, his understanding of those four seasons has a clearer focus when he talks of how the ancient sages of India understood life’s journey:

In Spring, we are in the stage of Student.
In Summer, we move to the stage of Householder.
In Autumn, we enter the stage of Forest Dweller.
In Winter, we drop into the world of the Sage. (p. 2)

A full-page color graphic helps explain: It is a picture of two arcs placed together, an arc of ascent and an arc of descent. From student to householder, we are in the arc of ascent, looking for fame and fortune. In autumn, we approach the arc of descent — downward and inward returning to what is central in life. It is in this descent that we can acquire the consciousness of the sage, that we can become what others have called “an elder.”

The book’s four chapters are actually four essays that expand on Sullivan’s understanding of the metaphor: “Spring’s Stirrings,” “Summer’s Fullness,” “Autumn’s Way,” and “Winter’s Gifts.” Physically, it is one of those “little books” that inspires the reader to buy several copies to share with like-minded friends.

Harvest the Bounty of Your Career by Deborah F. Windrum speaks to the unique circumstances of women. She invites the reader to an exploration of life’s meanings and lessons using metaphors of harvest and trees. While not excluding men who might like to try the process, Windrum believes that the spirals of women’s careers are different from those of men and that women will embrace the inner work she advocates more readily than men. Indeed, the book does contain many insightful ideas about the changing life cycles of women and well-articulated specifics about how those cycles differ from the cycles of men.



John G. Sullivan is Powell Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Elon University in North Carolina where he taught for 36 years. He is principal designer and faculty member in an innovative master’s program in transformative leadership at Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, MD. His abiding interest is the place where philosophy, psychology, and spirituality — East, West, and beyond — intersect and mutually enhance one another. His two previous books are To Come to Life More Fully (1991) and Living Large: Transformative Work at the Intersection of Ethics and Spirituality (2004).

Deborah F. Windrum was, for more than 30 years, an academic librarian specializing in instruction and outreach, primarily at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inner trajectory has taken her life work into parallel ventures as a writer, presenter, workshop developer, and facilitator dedicated to the transformational possibilities of learning. Her first book, Process and Politics in Library Research, was a pioneering effort in the application of critical thinking, active learning, and feminist principles to the college research course. Windrum has also contributed articles to Itineraries.

Windrum’s fundamental premise is: “Every transition in life can be supported and enriched by the bounty of all that precedes it — the experiences, learnings, gains, releases, relationships, and emotions. (Hence the metaphor of harvest.) The process of engaging with the book’s metaphorical elements can help conclude or shift a career and experience what comes next.

Windrum refers to her book as both a conversation and a workbook. However, it is not the typical dry workbook. The art work, her own deeply personal reflections, and ample quotes from thoughtful authors engage the reader in ways a workbook could not. For those who do well with workbooks, there are questions and activities at the end of each chapter that can be used for further reflection.

For the most part, each chapter is an extension of a metaphorical element addressing life’s changing conditions. Engaging with the chapter’s metaphor deepens understanding of how what has gone before can influence what comes next. Some of her metaphorical elements include: roots that anchor us; branches that show where we have reached out; fruits to be harvested; seeds that continue the process in another season or time; and the season of harvest. Chapter by chapter, Windrum introduces each element, shares her own reflection on that metaphor, and suggests questions (acorns) and other reflections to help engage the reader more deeply. This is not a workbook format, but an extended conversation between the author and reader.

One chapter does stand out as different from the others — ”The Four-part Harmony of A Woman’s Life Cycle: Maiden, Maker, Maven and Muse.” This is Windrum’s reflection on the life cycle of modern woman, the counterpart to Sullivan’s four stages of student, householder, forest dweller, and sage. Their understanding is similar, but Windrum’s is more specific to the life cycle of women.