book

Cycles within Cycles

Underlying the very common metaphor LIFE IS A JOURNEY is one particular image schema, that of the Path. Life has an initial state, a desired final state, and consists of a sequence of action in which the person progresses from the former to the latter. This schema is described in detail by Mark Johnson in his 1987 book The Body in the Mind, who writes that it “is (a) pervasive in experience, (b) well-understood because it is pervasive, (c) well-structured, (d) simply structured.” We have all had direct experience of Path, even when we were babies crawling toward something that caught our eyes. This allows us to develop a conceptual metaphor that is built on this image schema: LIFE IS A JOURNEY, which you can see broken down for you on the MetaNet Metaphor Wiki. This representation doesn’t emphasize how essential the Path image schema is, but everything there on that page is consistent with that. In this formulation of the metaphor, your main life goal is the overall destination of the journey. Your short-term goals are stops along the way. Life companions are companions on the journey, and so on.

The MetaNet Metaphor Wiki doesn’t yet have an entry for LIFE IS A FREESTYLE, the metaphor we are developing here. Before we get to filling in each of the specific mappings, we should ask what image schema is the basis for LIFE IS A FREESTYLE. Let me throw this out there: Perhaps it’s not Path, but another very pervasive image schema that Johnson discusses, Cycle. He writes, “a cycle is a temporal circle. The cycle begins with some initial state, proceeds through a sequence of connected events, and ends where it began, to start anew the recurring cyclic pattern.” The seasons, the week, and the day are examples of course, but also: “We come into existence as the culmination of a reproductive cycle … We experience our world and everything in it as embedded within cyclical processes.” Johnson also notes that cycles are not simple circles, but have patterns of “build-up and release.”

It’s no accident that freestyling often occurs in a spatial circle, a cypher, which supports temporal cycles within temporal cycles, some overlapping. A rapper jumps in to begin an improvisational process, not heading toward a grand goal but repeating the fine-grained cycles of bars and rhymes and reveling in them for a while. Then a higher-level cycle is complete as she passes the popcorn to someone else who is ready to spit. Some beats are being produced, sometimes by beat boxers whose rhythmic cycles are the same as the rappers, sometimes by a playlist that proceeds on its own way. The point is not to have a far-off destination, but to get in sync with others in the circle and better appreciate the many cycles of life — I think! You tell me. Here’s the mic.

Be Water

Bruce Lee statue in Hong Kong, CC BY-SA 2.0 photo by Benson Kua

Today I found out that in June, ESPN will air a 30 for 30 episode on Bruce Lee, highlighting his philosophy on what it means to have a fighting style. Its title, Be Water encompasses the foremost concepts of Bruce Lee’s teachings, which is to be adaptable — in fighting and life. Adaptability is, of course, crucial to off-the-top freestyle rapping, and thus his message and methods are compatible with LIFE IS A FREESTYLE.


Bruce Lee is known mostly as the actor who spawned the popular kung-fu movie genre, but he was first a freestyle fighter and a student of philosophy who preached the usefulness of freestyle concepts into everyday life. Ironically, his teachings, called “Jeet Kune Do” (meaning “Way of the Intercepting Fist”), are often mistaken as his style of fighting, rather than his intended prescription for living. Certainly, Bruce Lee was a fighter. But for him, LIFE IS A FIGHT, and he taught that the best approach to dealing with its challenges and unknowns was to be adaptable, to be style-free; something that traditional martial arts, with its memorized forms and patterns could not offer. As he says in his book, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do:


“Jeet Kune Do is the art not founded on techniques or doctrine. It is just as you are… (it) is not to hurt, but is one of the avenues through which life opens its secrets to us. We can see through others only when we can see through ourselves and Jeet Kune Do is a step toward knowing oneself.”


He felt in in martial arts that one should not use a certain style of punch or kick if it is not useful them — but to do this one has to find out for themselves what is useful. Ultimately in his teachings, one has to know oneself to successfully make it through a fight, and through life.


For Bruce Lee, freestyle was a way to deal with life. But it was also life itself. From Tao of Jeet Kune Do:


“Truth has no path. Truth is living and, therefore, changing. It has no resting place, no form, no organized institution, no philosophy. When you see that, you will understand that this living thing is also what you are. You cannot express and be alive through static, put-together form, through stylized movement.”


For a freestyle rapper or battler, or for anyone looking for useful insights on life, there is no shortage in his book. Also, check out his 30 for 30, coming out in June.

[Bruce Lee statue in Hong Kong, CC BY-SA 2.0 photo by Benson Kua, thank you!]

Life is a Freestyle, and not…

We have a metaphor for you: LIFE IS A FREESTYLE.

This is a conceptual metaphor of the sort discussed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, and by Lakoff and Mark Turner in More than Cool Reason, which deals with poetic metaphor.

LIFE IS A FREESTYLE is just the name for it. There’s much more to how specifically this lets us understand the target domain, LIFE, in terms of the source domain, FREESTYLE rapping — which is actually more than one practice.

Imagining that LIFE IS A FREESTYLE can help us deal with difficult experiences, times when we don’t have a script, circumstances when the best response isn’t closely adhering to a theme or trying to devise a single coherent story.

Before we get on to saying some about what LIFE IS A FREESTYLE means, here, on behalf of Full Circle, are a few things that is isn’t:

LIFE IS A JOURNEY is a famous metaphor discussed in both Metaphors We Live By and More than Cool Reason — and in other writings by scholars of metaphor. Part of the idea is that you start your journey at a SOURCE, follow a PATH, and end up at a GOAL. You cover ground. You may or may not have traveling companions; they’re optional. This metaphor may not be inconsistent with LIFE IS A FREESTYLE, but we’ll go on to explain how it isn’t exactly the same, and how we believe our metaphor has some different, positive perspectives to offer.

Our metaphor isn’t LIFE IS A WRITTEN, which would means things are predestined, either by you or your ghostwriter. Similarly, it isn’t LIFE IS AN ALBUM.

It doesn’t see life as constraint, or hold with LIFE IS A BOX or LIFE IS A CHOKEHOLD.

The metaphor doesn’t come down from above like LIFE IS A COMMANDMENT or LIFE IS FATE.

It doesn’t mean the same thing as LIFE IS A PERFORMANCE ON TOUR or LIFE IS A REHEARSAL FOR A PERFORMANCE.

It isn’t compatible with life being perfect, programmed, completely prepared, or even always practical. And even one of my favorite metaphors, LIFE IS AN UNWRITTEN BOOK, is not the same as LIFE IS A FREESTYLE, because a freestyle doesn’t have to be book-length or written.

[Mic photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash, thank you!]