A Richer Life Through Symbols
Our world is soaked with symbols. Everywhere we look, we encounter familiar, stylized emblems that carry meaning in our culture, such as hearts, four-leafed clovers, rainbows, wings, shields, stars, and mythical creatures.
Symbols are deliberately used by nations, businesses, and sports teams because of the impact they tend to have on the psyche.
If we pay attention, we’ll see that symbols are not only man-made but also inherent to our natural environment. From the perspective of psychology, everything in our awareness is symbolic in one way or another.
If we long to live by the sea, that has a symbolic as well as a literal meaning. If we want to plant strawberries in our front yard, or we would prefer to happen upon wild strawberries as a surprise in the forest, each of these has slightly different symbolic meanings.
When I say something is symbolic, I mean that there are layers to what it can mean, beyond the literal. Planting is symbolic. Strawberries are symbolic. Front is symbolic. Yard is symbolic. Finding is symbolic. Wild as well.
Life can feel richer, more meaningful, creative and important through realizing the power of personal symbols.
Psyche’s Native Language is Symbols
Psyche, which is that aspect of us that lends the juice to life, the feeling of something being worthwhile, important, and satisfying, speaks in the native tongue of symbols.
Psyche communicates with other psyches all the time, whether we are conscious of what we are communicating and receiving, or not.
Psyche speaks poetically. Our own personal psyche, as well as the shared collective psyche of the oneness we are all inside of, uses metaphors, similes, analogies, and imagery.
Imagery is always Multi-Sensory
Imagery means not just visuals, but also body and movement sensations, sounds and musical phrases, scents and aromas.
Images appear in all of the body’s sensory channels at once. For example, the image “I’m swimming upstream” has:
visual dimensions (blue-green-gold of a stream, moving water, blurry because your eyes are underwater, etc)
felt-sense dimensions (how it feels to be immersed, to get your hair wet, to exert physical effort against a stronger flow, etc)
auditory (how it sounds in a rushing river, how acoustics are muffled and changed once our ears are underwater, the sounds of breath, clanging rocks, etc)
olfactory (something brackish, or fresh, or pristine or green-smelling)
In addition to appearing in our sense channels, images are also always symbols, carrying layer upon layer of poetic and dream meaning too. A beach is a beach, but it is also a symbol for, among other things, dreams, emotions, time, and a transitional space between worlds.
Any image is a point of entry to all of the other layers and can be mined or unpacked extensively for personal resonance. So whichever facet of an image comes to us first, we can find many other sides to the same symbol.
Invitation to Explore Symbolic Resonance in Your Life
Choose one image, object, or symbol that’s in your life right now, that you find interesting for any reason. It can be something in your visual field right now.
Start unpacking all the possible other meanings and resonances, through free-associating. Free-associating means writing down anything at all that this object or personal symbol makes you think of, in any order.
For example, on my desk right now is a small beeswax candle. Starting with the beeswax candle, I am led to the following:
- warm light
- long nights
- quiet time
- scent of honey
- scent of flowers
- scents of springtime
- sage flowers
- soft structure
Now choose a word from your list that you want to play with further.
Write about this word and what it means to you. Ask yourself, what might this image have to show you, teach you, or bring you this particular day? How can your life be enriched through this personal symbol?
I choose the word honey.
I like honey because it’s sweet, it’s natural and wild, very precious. A special gift, you could find it quite by accident, in wilderness, in a rock or the heart of a tree. It’s secret. Gold. Ambrosia, nourishing, personal and intense. It might be a symbol of essence, spirit, of creativity, of how what really matters in life is intimate, protected, out of sight.
This exploration helps me remember that what matters most to me might be small, hidden, wild, and private.
What do your personal symbols show you?