Using Imagery for Awakening
Symbolism and imagery is a doorway into the mystical and the world of meaning. This is a dimension of life that allows us to move more freely through different ways of being.
Imagery and art has always been a fundamental part of religion, mysticism and spirituality. It is often used as a way to inspire people into the transcendent.
A cathedral or an incredible piece of art instilled with intention, care and hard-work can be used to encourage people to access certain aspects of themselves – to connect with their higher intentions for example.
But art and imagery also has another super-power – it can connect us with our own deeply personal immediate experience. Knowing ourselves is an incredibly difficult thing to do – by connecting with art and noticing what resonates, it can show us ourselves so that we can see our inner worlds with more clarity and experience it with more freedom.
Art creates a space where we are allowed to engage with aspects of ourselves that are darker, more painful, more intensely pleasurable or other parts of experience we may have cut off in our daily lives.
When we intentionally give time to receive a piece of art, it is a meeting between us and the image. It shows us an aspect of the non-duality of the world. The meaning doesn’t exist separately from us or the image, it is being created through the two things coming together.
By noticing and feeling more deeply into our emotional responses and the stories that are evoked in us by imagery, it opens the part of experience where we are both connected to the deeply personal and the collective conscious.
The symbolic aspect takes us outside of the lives that we live in with a fixed sense of self and who we are in the world normally and we allow ourselves more freedom to feel and think.
The emotions are being evoked in a way that is impacting us personally but isn’t saying anything about who we are in the same way that an interaction with another human might. We are taken into a different dimension, or way of being, where there is much more space for us to explore our reactions and experiences.
Through getting in touch with this deeply personal response it opens the doorway into the collective. We stop being this separate self in the same way, and allow ourselves to be fully expressive of all the things inside of us.
It helps us lose our sense of self consciousness and we can freely embody the full spectrum of emotions and be there with our humanity.
Imagery also supports people in the same way that music can be used, in helping people connect with this aspect of experience. These are why it works:
Accessing your own inner world freely is intensely powerful but most people are afraid of the depths of it and for good reason. Opening fully into it can be overwhelming and there’s a huge amount of darkness in the collective conscious that most people are afraid of. Using imagery as a doorway is a way to safely open to this way of being and experiencing the world.
Depth, emotions, creativity, intuition, connection and curiosity are the doorways into this type of awakening. We are awakening our humanity, removing the resistance we feel to parts of ourselves and allowing them to move more freely in us. This is the best way to open up to the nebulosity of reality.
This is not a space that we can think our way into to, we have to feel our way into it and symbolism and imagery is the perfect conduit for evoking those feelings in us.
When we can inhabit a space that is less solid and more nebulous, we are able to let go of the mind’s attachment to fixed ideas and the need for clarity; we realise that we are much more interconnected than we typically realise and it can reveal an entire aspect of reality that most people are unaware even exists.
A space where the entirety of life is a shamanic journey that we are embodying characters in. A mystical space where synchronicity and intuitive connection can create experiences that exist outside the confines of reason and logic. We are the Universe showing itself to itself.
These are three simple exercises that I use to help people connect more deeply to their inner worlds and ultimately to open to this way of being.
1. Say What You See
This is as simple as finding some artwork and asking people to share what they see in the image. It can be done with abstract art, if people have rich imaginations, or it may be easier for people if you choose art that has a lot of detail. It is interesting to choose paintings that show some darkness, or aspects of the world that we don’t always connect with so readily, as this can open new doors for people. My favourite artist for doing this with is Zdzisław Beksiński.
An example of this:
This was super nice to do together. I was moving toward the gateway and out into the larger universe. Also the figure with the sickle moon is me. https://t.co/lNz3MX75IC
— Dharmagarage: Utrecht & Digital Open Dharma (@DharmagarageU) November 27, 2020
For people who aren’t used to connecting with their creative side, it may be difficult for them to open this up. The most important thing is that this is held in a non-judgemental space – people can say whatever the hell they like and they don’t need to agree with each other on the meaning of what they are seeing.
Darkness and uncomfortable experience is explicitly welcome – part of the magic of this practice is that it allows us to open to this part of experience in a way that feels safe.
It’s important that you aren’t trying to psychoanalyse other peoples’ responses, or say something clever, you’re just sharing in the meaning that is being evoked in this moment for each person.
Asking questions, modelling vulnerability, showing willingness to share and encouraging a playful attitude all help people get their creativity flowing.
Some questions you may want to ask people:
The image will evoke completely different things in different people and this is part of what this experience is showing us. It simultaneously shines a light on the common themes, emotions and experiences that connect us in our humanity and how deeply personal each of our experiences are.
Rather than trying to transcend reality we are immersing ourselves in the deep interconnected nature that infuses each of our worlds.
2. Using Deities, Archetypes and Vision Boards
Religion and spirituality often use Gods and storytelling to inspire us to behave in the way the religion idealises – by promising punishment or inspiring transcendence.
But when we use imagery in this more personal way we are using it as a doorway to connect with our own personal deepest desires.
We are finding the place within ourselves where we feel most like a God or Goddess, or the ways of being that we most admire in others, and are both connecting with and cultivating those qualities within ourselves.
Rather than reifying these qualities by projecting them onto others, we are allowing them to express themselves through us.
This can be done by finding the imagery that resonates with what you most desire in the world and who you would ideally like to be.
The trick is to not fall into a hole of beating ourselves up or wishing we were different, but to find the part of you that truly desires this way of being.
It also opens a doorway to see these Gods and deities in a different light – rather than expecting them to be perfect, or assuming that they are, we are seeing them as expressions of a certain way of being. The Buddha as an expression of calm clarity and detachment, Jung as an expression of immersive wisdom, Kali as an expression of feminine power.
One way of doing this is by creating some kind of vision board – a collection of images that resonate with your deepest sense of self.
Or you can find images of Gods, deities, inspirational figures and archetypes that you are attracted to and would like to be able to embody some of their traits.
When you are choosing Gods, deities, archetypes or inspirational figures, find images that you feel express their best traits. Some questions to help you dig deeper into the reason you are drawn to them:
3. Archetypal Selves
Our sense of self is not fixed – we are always changing and embodying different aspects of ourselves and human nature.
By bringing clarity to our different ways of being we are able to embody them more fully and with more fluidity.
Archetypes can buy us some freedom, because rather than saying something about us, they are an energy that we are embodying and expressing.
By doing this exercise we recognise the nebulosity of our personality and allow ourselves space to embody different versions of ourselves in different moments.
It’s important that these archetypes are allowed to be expressions of darkness and uncomfortable aspects of ourselves, too.
Everyone’s inner landscape is unique, but these are the archetypal energies that come up most often in my shamanic work with people. They are representative of the different parts of our being. This structure seems to echo through religions, societies and ways of making sense of the world.
When doing shamanic journeying with people I will often work with these different parts of people, going on quests or healing internal relationships around the different aspects of themselves. A healthy inner world will have all these aspects and we will be able to listen to each of them before making decisions.
It can be useful to just feel into what they are like for you.
Working with them in a shared way it can be nice to describe what each of these aspects would be like for you. Some questions that you could ask:
Reality is a lot more symbolic, synchronistic and mystical than most people realise.
Using imagery to access new parts of ourselves can be deeply healing – we are reconnecting with parts of us that have been rejected or hurt in some way in a safe and allowing space.
Allowing ourselves to enter into this world and explore can also buy us a huge amount of freedom and creative expression.
And opening this door can ultimately show us a different aspect of reality and experience that we didn’t even know existed.