“A word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more that its obvious and immediate meaning.” C .G. Jung.
During this evening talk we will delve into symbolism exploring the way we relate with it. We will look at symbolism as a mean to express the “unspoken” and as a potential possibility towards self-realisation.
From infinite longings finite deeds rise
as fountains spring toward far-off glowing skies
and trembling from their lack of power descend-
So through the falling torrent of our fears
our joyous force leaps like these dancing tears.
“Symbols” by Rene M. Rilke
In every human being there is an inner force that comes from far beyond his personality, which has its roots in the deep Self. When it springs out in space and time, it liberates qualities from the deep Self which are manifested through a unique language. It is the language of symbolism where images, music, movement, poetry, myths, become the carriers of all the qualities that appear from the deep source of our inner world. The word symbol comes from the Greek word “symballo” which means “unite” and “contribute”.
A symbol is considered to be a liminal space where two opposite areas come together. The polarity of conscious and unconscious find its balance within a painting, a sculpture, a series of movements, the context of a dream, a composition of sounds or words. There is an incredible power deriving from a symbolic form which holds in harmony the obvious image and the sealed-hidden meaning. From early times humans used images from nature and the universe, such as plants, animals, geometrical shapes, the four elements, and star constellations to communicate their inner states, which were difficult to express without being in a metaphoric context. And we are here today, having a vast heritage of archetypal symbols that rest in the collective and personal unconscious.
After all these centuries, living in this modern world made mainly by steel and concrete, we are pushed to develop mechanical lives based on productivity. So we end up developing fears towards our authentic being, yet we still have the gift of symbolic seeing. It stands right by our side as a silent bridge ready to unite the light with the dark within us.
To follow this mechanical life, makes it is hard for us to recognise the sound of the inner force that is generated by the sudden movements of our psyche which is in need for growth (because of the many I’s/egos that occupied our attention). Every night we are exposed to dreams with extraordinary symbolic material which give information for our inner psychological state. They talk to us about changes that happen in our psyche, the various personas we carry, the elements that remained undeveloped like sleeping seeds, the repressed emotions we keep enclosed, the unspoken or unconscious traumas that keep the inner wound untreated, and many more. And we pay no attention to the symbolic plots or images, avoiding to reflect upon them. Also, it happens in life to come across various types of loss, that could be a passage from one life stage to another, job, house, health, a beloved person or an animal, and suddenly we loose the ground beneath our feet, experiencing strong emotions, thoughts, body sensations or symptoms unable to cope with them.
In these situations, we see that words are not enough to describe or qualify the actual inner experience to others or even to ourselves, in order to understand and perceive what is happening. Although being very vulnerable, it is a sacred moment were we are able to open the ear to this deep calling for the expression of the unspoken. Some people respond to that calling and they follow its sound which brings them into the area of the arts – this could be painting, drawing, sculpting, movement/dance, music, poetry, creative writing. It is there that they begin to engage with the symbolic life and gradually -consciously or unconsciously- through creativity they process difficult emotions, painful events, aspects of their psyche by giving form to the invisible inner states.
Being in this creative process a path can be developed, that we can walk towards the inner hidden Gold. In order for this path to open up (like the hidden cave which Ali Baba discovered), it requires from us to be present into what we bring into a form through creativity. Thinking about this simple question “How do I respond to this formless clay or stone or wood or blank piece of paper?”, can invoke the inner observer who has the ability to offer a realisation of patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving, inside which we find ourselves imprisoned.
The inner observer is there taking notice of the rhythm I hold when I am ready to start working with a new art material. Do I have already the image/idea that I want to create? How did this image or idea come to me? If I don’t have one, and I feel an inner call for creation, do I sit quietly in stillness connected with my breath in front of the undifferentiated mass of clay or the thick stone, or the curvy piece of wood, waiting patiently for an inner image to appear? And then, during the creation of the image how do I engage with it? Am I rushing to finish it and place it in a corner of my house, do I work by being connected with the rhythm of the rising image? Am I present into the changes that happen inside me while the image comes to material life? What is the meaning that this creation holds for me? Do I allow my psyche to voice itself through it?
It is worth mentioning that when we evoke the inner observer during art work with symbolism it is like we are following a golden string which leads us into a journey to unknown areas of the psyche. We can become an alchemist who devotes his life to the work of transforming prima materia to gold. The creative process is the main vessel of the alchemist, and the symbols we are working with are smaller containers that give form to the formless inner material of our psyche. By observing the symbolic images throughout time we are able to recognise patterns of similar themes that appear again and again in our creations, or themes that bring out archetypal patterns such as birth-death-rebirth, themes that touch our shadow, themes of sexuality, femininity, masculinity, childhood, and rites of passage -for example for women is maiden/mother/crone and for men youth/warrior/ sage(wise man), and many more.
Working with symbolism we bring water into a dry life by transforming it into a living myth. Symbols have the great power to not only bring relief and strength during life struggles, but to encourage us in the search for the hidden Sun. Their power focuses on the experience and knowledge they offer to the one who is brave enough to create a crack in the ego’s shell, and allow the Sun/the authentic Self to come out and allow the light of consciousness to “answer” the most esoteric and existential question: “Who Am I?”.
I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you at Heaven’s gate,
Build in Jerusalem’s wall.
This passage is from a talk in 2017, exploring the way symbolism can be a useful tool for inner exploration during the dramatherapeutic process.