Some simple practices for connecting on a deeper level
Imagery and art has always been a fundamental part of religion, mysticism and spirituality and 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 higher forces or their own higher intentions for example.
But art and imagery also has another super-power – it can connect you with your own deeply personal immediate experience. Knowing yourself is an incredibly difficult thing to do – by connecting with art and noticing what resonates, it can allow you to notice your inner world, to see it with more clarity and experience it with more freedom.
Art also creates a space where people are allowed to engage with aspects of themselves that are darker, more painful, more intensely pleasurable or other parts of experience that are often cut off in daily life.
When you intentionally give time to receive both the piece of art and your reaction to it, it becomes a deep meeting between you and the image.
Relating to art in this way opens a portal to a non-duality with meaning. The meaning doesn’t exist separately from you or the image, it is being created through the two things coming together.
The symbolic aspect can transport you outside the realm of your ordinary life, where you have a fixed sense of self and create more space for you to feel and think freely.
The emotions are being evoked in a way that is impacting you personally but it doesn’t say something about you in the same way that other interactions in your life might. You are taken into a different dimension, or way of being, where there is much more space for you to explore your reactions and experiences.
Through getting in touch with this deeply personal response it opens the doorway into the collective. You stop being this separate self in the same way, and can allow yourself to feel all the things inside of you. As if they, too, are a work of art.
It can help you lose your sense of self consciousness; you can freely embody the full spectrum of emotions.
Imagery supports people in the same way that music does. With both music and art, this is how it connects people more deeply with their experience:
- 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 gives people a physical thing to relate to – rather than getting lost in abstraction and nebulosity
- It is pleasant and interesting, so it allows people to relax into it
- It creates a sense of connection – people aren’t getting lost or overwhelmed in their own imaginal world – they are connecting with something that feels meaningful
- It activates people’s creativity and intuitions, which takes them out of their controlling mind
Symbolism and imagery can ultimately be a doorway into the mystical and the world of meaning. Opening a portal into the meaning dimension of life, allows you to move more freely through different ways of being.
Depth, emotions, creativity, intuition, connection and curiosity are the doorways into awakening the meaning realm. And art and music are the perfect invitation into that.
You are awakening your humanity, removing the resistance you feel to parts of yourself and allowing it all to move more freely within you. This is the best way to open up to the nebulosity of reality.
This is not a space that you can think your way into, you have to feel your way into it and symbolism and imagery is the perfect conduit for evoking those feelings.
When you can inhabit a space that is less solid and more nebulous and creative, you are able to let go of the mind’s attachment to fixed ideas and the need for clarity. It may help you realise that you are much more interconnected than you 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 story that everyone is embodying characters in. A mystical space where synchronicity and intuitive connection can create experiences that exist outside the confines of reason and logic. In this space, everyone is a conduit for the Universe to show 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.
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 people 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 people 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. It simultaneously shines a light on the common themes, emotions and experiences that connect everyone in their humanity and how deeply personal everyone’s experiences are.
Using Deities, Archetypes and Vision Boards
Religion and spirituality often use Gods and storytelling to encourage people to behave in the way the religion idealises – by promising punishment or inspiring transcendence.
But when you connect to imagery in this more personal way, it’s possible to connect to everything in a way that is showing you something deep about your true nature and the true nature of broader experience.
When it comes to Gods or Deities, you can use them to find the place within yourself that resonates with these beings and use it as an inspiration to cultivate the qualities that you admire within yourself.
Rather than reifying these qualities by projecting them onto others, you are allowing them to express themselves through your own inner world.
This can be done by finding the imagery that resonates with you most deeply. The trick is to not fall into a place of wishing you were different, but to find the part of you that truly desires this way of being and finds it resonant and inspiring to be in touch with it.
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, you can see 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:
- What does this figure represent for your personally? What do you think they represent to the collective?
- Tell a story or imagine a scene when this person is at their best.
- What is it about them that you most admire?
- Are these traits and qualities in shadow for you? Are you allowed to be them?
- What do you most dislike about them?
- How do you think you would feel different in life if you could embody some of their positive traits?
- What impact would it have on the people and the world around you if you were able to embody these traits?
- When have you felt most in touch with this aspect of your being? What or who brings it out in you?
If you would like to explore this further – I’d recommend this guided mandala meditation practice by Michael Taft, that takes you on a tour through different quadrants of connecting to inspirational figures and guides.
It’s true that things fundamentally come and go, but it’s also true that the container that they come and go in creates the experience of how they are coming and going.
That container is you. Your body, your history, the psycho-somatic-emotional-subconscious-cerebral conditions that you are shaped from.
Our sense of self is not fixed – you are always changing and embodying different aspects of both yourself and human nature.
By bringing clarity to your different ways of being you are able to embody them more fully and with more fluidity.
Archetypes can buy you some freedom, because rather than saying something very rigid about you, they are an energy that you are embodying and expressing.
By doing this exercise you recognise the nebulosity of your personality and allow yourself space to embody different versions of yourself in different moments.
It’s important that these archetypes are allowed to be expressions of darkness and uncomfortable aspects of yourself, too.
Everyone’s inner landscape is unique, but there are some patterns that resonate through the collective experience. I really like the shadow work four quarter model. It is based on Jung’s work and uses the archetypes of warrior, sovereign, magician and lover.
When doing shamanic journeying with people I will often work with these different parts of people. A healthy inner world will have all these aspects available and partaking in experience.
It can be useful to just feel into what they are like for you.
- Body – Warrior – embodiment, protection, action
- Heart – Lover – passion, love
- Mind – Magician – clarity, communication
- Soul – Sovereign – joy, self-esteem
Working with them in a shared way it can be nice to describe what each of these aspects would be like for you. Imagine a scene where all the parts are present. Some questions that you could ask about each of them:
- Is each aspect represented by a person? Or an energy?
- How would you describe them or it?
- What colour is it? Or what clothes are they wearing?
- What is the emotional tone of this archetype for you?
- Do they interact with each other? If so can you describe the scene?
- Which ones do you feel are running the show? Which ones feel more passive or neglected?
- Whereabouts would you place them in your experience?
- Are there any that you would like to change your relationship with?
- What other archetypes are present on the scene for you?
Reality is a lot more symbolic, synchronistic and mystical than most people realise.
Using imagery to access new parts of yourself can unlock immense amount of potential in healing, self-knowledge and collective awakening. Allowing yourself to enter into this world can buy you a huge amount of freedom and creative expression.
And opening this door can ultimately show you a different aspect of reality and experience that you didn’t even know existed.