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:
- It initiates an emotional response
- It provides a boundary for people so they feel safe opening up more deeply to aspects that they might not normally access
- It is pleasant and interesting, so it allows us to relax
- It creates a sense of connection – we aren’t getting lost or overwhelmed in our own imaginal world – we are connecting with the creator of the artwork
- It activates our creativity and intuitions, which takes us out of our controlling mind
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:
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:
- How does the image make you feel?
- What mood does it have? Does it feel friendly and inviting? Or does it have a sense of foreboding?
- What are your eyes most drawn to? Why?
- Describe what has happened or is happening in the image.
- Describe one detail of the image that you find compelling in some way.
- If the world depicted in the image was a world you could inhabit – how would you be interacting with the landscape or the scenario?
- Are there any people or objects that have a strong sense of personality? If so describe that personality.
- What is going to happen next?
- What, who or where does the image remind you of? Real or imaginary.
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.