I am not a superstitious person. I don’t believe in totems, lucky charms or the like. I do care about how one feels about what one sees.
I saw an owl in a tree recently and realized I had been missing a friend who had told me a convoluted story involving a murderous owl. I also saw saw so much of our amazing relationship that I couldn’t express when I saw that owl in all his majesty and mystery. Then… I ran. Because owls, I remembered from the story, might just eat people!
Language is overt communication and usually involves a certain logic, a pulling together of thoughts and then selecting what words can express thoughts thoughts. Symbols and signs are often way more poignant in expressing what words can not say, as they may pull together many different senses, memories and visual cues while defying rational and structured language.
You decide what a symbol “says.”
Have you ever heard a song that says to you exactly what you need to hear? Or get music stuck in your head for no reason (though there is a reason)? Spot a childhood game that reminds you of how clever you are in a unique way? See a piece of graffiti that makes you feel what you don’t have the words to say?
Symbols are personal…. but also cultural. Some are religious. Others universal.
What a symbol means to you, though, is highly personal. You practically may not have words to express what a symbol means, but it does affect you.
Symbols can help you see the world in more layers. Symbols can connect you more to your life. Symbols are a huge part of life if you can integrate them into your world.
In Psychology Today, Julie Exline, PhD writes about harnessing the power of symbols.
How can we make the most of what these symbols have to offer us? Here are 5 suggestions.
1) Pay attention. First, we need to notice ideas that come to us in symbolic forms. If you see, hear, or sense something unexpected that stirs your emotions, allow yourself to really notice it, rather than rushing past the experience. Or if you’ve just awakened from a vivid dream, give yourself a few moments to recall it. It will be easier to glean meaning from symbolic messages if we open ourselves to their potential importance and pay attention.
2) Savor the experience. When we encounter a symbol, there can be a sense of pressure to figure out exactly what it means…and right away! But there’s much to be said for giving yourself some time to experience the symbol in the moment. If it’s a song, listen a few times and let it sink in. If it’s an image, take some time to gaze. You may find it useful to jot down some thoughts and feelings in response to your symbol. It’s possible that you will have a clear sense of what the symbol means to you in the present moment. But this might not happen, and that’s OK.
3) Reflect–but don’t dissect. When confronted with a powerful symbol, the analytical, verbal part of our brain may leap to action: “Here’s something interesting and important, but I don’t understand it. So I need to figure it out.” After some initial reflection on our thoughts and feelings, some of us are quick to push further. We don’t just reflect on the experience, we dissect it. We open the whole thing for scrutiny, and we inspect every little piece to see what leads to what. We use lots of words in an attempt to pin things down: “This means this” and “that means that.” Although we can gain valuable insights through such a process, it’s possible to go overboard with analysis. And when we overanalyze a symbolic experience, especially early on, we may unintentionally strip the symbol of its power. If we don’t use a gentle, patient touch, the symbol may lose its emotional impact. In short, we may feel as though we’ve analyzed it to death.
4) Expect many layers. It can be tempting to search for a single, literal interpretation of a symbol. Yet one of the most powerful aspects of symbols is that they often hold many layers of meaning. Different layers may be relevant to our lives at different times. By forcing a single interpretation, we may cut the process short by stopping at an outer layer, thinking that this is all that the symbol has to offer.
There seems to be a certain humility in recognizing that we may never fully understand a symbol in a complete and thorough way, one that allows us to check it off the list and fully explain its total meaning. If it could all be captured in words, would we really need the symbol?
5) Use reminders. I’ve filled my home office with reminders that have symbolic meaning for me. As I look around the room now, I see a flowering tree with birds, a rug featuring pictures of ripe fruit, and a scrapbook with images of big-wave surfing. I also see representations of animals: a sea turtle, a butterfly, a camel. And not everything is visually oriented: Some CDs and scented candles carry symbolic meaning for me as well. I chose these items for my office intentionally, to remind me of certain ideas or insights that don’t fit neatly into words.
To actually recognize the symbols around you, you need to be more present.
If you are going through the motions of life, one suggestion: try spending a a day of sensory revelry.
Go to a spa and get an aromatherapy massage. Burn candles. Eat exotic foods you have never eaten. Watch a film that challenges your aesthetic sensibility. Play new music you have never heard. Literally exercise your senses! Wake yourself up to the richness of the world around you.
You also may want to look at how much your home LOOKS like you.
Yes, can someone tell that your house belongs to you? How can you bridge that gap?
Chances are you already picked up symbolic goodies in both exercises. Don’t stop now. See if you can find your own symbols. Interpret your own “signs” from the universe. Feel things out for yourself in unique and new ways. You will have so much more purpose, power and strength when you are living in this way! xoxo Dana
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