Symbols are such a common feature in our lives that we don’t notice them and much less spend time thinking about them. Visual symbols are all around us. From road signs to computer icons they convey a message in an instant. There are many other kinds of symbols and if they disappeared tomorrow we’d be left floundering and probably psychologically impaired. Symbols both extend out thinking abilities and also reduce the need to think so much as we interact with our environment.

It’s the same with language. Call a spade a spade if you want to tell it as you see it, but if to really understand an idea you’ll need to dig deep enough to uncover the hidden treasure of true meaning.

So symbols don’t just convey understanding, they can also shape it by changing how we perceive and interpret the information we take in. Whether something is a ‘harsh reality’ or simply ‘incidental information’ often depends on how the ‘facts’ are delivered to us.

I’m speculating that we can turn the process round and make it work for us in a different way. We can unconsciously recognise the meaning of a symbol – say, an image that represents ‘danger’ or ‘peace’ – so something on the outside (the symbol), affects us on the inside (thoughts and feelings). Even though we’re not aware of this inside effect, it’s still incredibly powerful unavoidably effective.

In our techno-rational society we have lost touch with much of our magic, but many cultures that are closer to their traditions  are still able to use symbolism for practical ends. That’s how shamanism and voodoo work, for example. Forces in the ‘modern’ world have labelled magic as bad, but it has lost none of its power over us. Medical advice, for example, is more effective when it is handed out by someone in a white coat!

My question is this. If symbols AFFECT our inner life, should we be using them more to SHAPE our inner life? If this could work, then an image conjured up from the unconscious, made physical by drawing or creating it, and then re-shaped or transformed physically, could in turn alter our inner experience.

This is partly how some visualisation techniques and hypnosis work. What I’m suggesting is that we could use it in our daily lives to help with anything from healing to creativity. It’s a process that’s happening in use anyway, but recognising and choosing to use it could give an edge to your efforts.

(This post is the result of a short session I delivered yesterday called ‘Patterns In Our Lives’. Thank you to those who were there, for sharing your thoughts and your questions. I’ll continue working on the idea and will be looking for other opportunities to develop it in a workshop).

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.


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