A Tale of Two Metaphors: Fireflies and Starfish

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Two metaphors that have always resonated with me come from the natural world.

The first is Fireflies.

One of the things I do at the moment is serve as a Group Leader and mentor on Michael Neill’s Supercoach Academy – a fantastic 9-month long programme where 80 or so people from all over the world come together to learn how to become transformative coaches.  Michael often plays the song “Fireflies” by Owl City.

This was always his metaphor for the work that he does… “that when enough people light up from within, their collective light will illuminate the world”.

I love that.

Michael goes on to say “Instead of loading up a rocket with motivational fuel and trying to blast it out into the world, imagine the sky filled with ten thousand fireflies, every one of them lit from within by the wisdom of their own understanding.  Each of these fireflies will go out into their communities and share the warmth of their light, and that in turn will inspire others to awaken to their own inner light and begin to live in the world of deeper feelings that are our birthright as human beings..”

I feel so privileged to have seen the same thing happen with the people I coach and share with, and they have gone on to become Firefles in their own work and their own lives.  This is impacting and in many cases transforming the worlds of medicine, mental health, scientific research, parenting, education, addiction and business, to name a few.

By the way, if you haven’t seen them yet, here are two brand new video animations where some of my clients talk about the impact on their lives:



The second metaphor is Starfish.

I used to always share this story on my workshops for trainers and facilitators.

It’s a very old story by Loren Eiseley:

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,

“It made a difference for that one.” 

I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish into the ocean”

These days, that story has a different meaning for me than it used to.  It’s not about ‘rescuing’ or ‘fixing’ people.  They’re not broken.

They’re not going to die if I don’t throw them in the ocean.  (Well, they are going to die, one day, but you know what I mean!)

The metaphor, for me, is about pointing people back home.

To the “ocean” of wisdom, deeper feelings, joy and peace of mind that’s always available.

Call me soppy and sentimental, but one of my favourite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and every time I watch it, I’m reminded of the profound truth in the story about George Bailey.

None of us will ever know how many people we impact, touch and inspire in a life time.

We’ll never really know the difference that we make.

But that doesn’t matter.

A life where we allow ourselves to illuminate the world, take joy in the way others shine, and where we point starfish back to the ocean, and live in deep gratitude for all that’s on offer is most definitely a wonderful life.

Shine on, you crazy diamonds!

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