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A Meditation on the Power of Symbols

Spring is a powerful symbol of fertility, rebirth and renewal.  In our upcoming book The Infertility Cleanse, we spend a fair amount of time writing about the role of symbols in health and healing.  Warning:  this is one of those places where what we do at Pulling Down the Moon moves into the more mystical realm.  As you read the rest of this blog I will ask that you put your skeptical mind temporarily on “pause.”

To understand how symbols can help us to heal and to thrive, let’s understand a few basic concepts.

1. Symbols are images that describe a thought or belief.  Symbols can be personal (something in your life that means something specific to you) or they can also be societal or universal .  Symbols tend to gain power when the “resonate” for more than one person, i.e.  when they evoke the same thought or belief in more than one person.  However, your own personal symbols can be very powerful as well because they have meaning that is uniquely understood by you and can be very specific.

2.  If we look closely at symbols we will often find that it’s difficult to describe them in words.  The experience of trying to put a symbol into words is similar to trying to describe a vivid dream soon after waking.  Words cannot truly capture the power of the dream images and often the act of putting a dream into words drains the “power” one initially felt in dreaming.

3.  Finally, symbols act most powerfully by conveying a feeling state.   For example, to non-car aficionados, the Porsche logo says “power” or “money.”  But witness the power of Porsche for car lovers who have invested the Porsche symbol with a lot of energy.  For these folks the mere thought of owning or driving a Porsche can evoke a visceral feeling of speed or mastery.  Remember the hormone-happy  Tom Cruise character in Risky Business (Porsche – there is no substitute)?

Amazingly, brain science is beginning to shed some light on why symbols can evoke visceral reactions.   Apparently, the different hemispheres of our brain process sensory input differently.  Our left hemisphere is oriented toward linear reasoning and serves to organize sensory input in order, choosing details and constructing a reality that is based on a perceived “past” and projected into an imagined “future.”  The left brain thinks in words and numbers.  The right hemisphere of the brain thinks in pictures and is engaged primarily in the present moment.  It experiences, but doesn’t organize, sensory input.  Time does not exist for the right brain.   Nor does separation of Self from Other (f or a striking depiction of right/left brain hemisphere function watch this video of neuro-scientist Jill Bolte Taylor ).

This piece of neuro-science is very interesting from the yoga perspective.  In yoga, our aim is to create a state of whole-ness (yoga means union) that is experienced by our witnessing consciousness (we call this Awareness). We start with yoga postures that integrate the different parts of the physical body through balance, strength and stretching.  Yoga breath work (pranayama) brings awareness to our breathing and creates shifts in our state-of-mind.  Finally, meditation trains the mind to let go of the “chatter” that is primarily generated by the detail- and time-obsessed left brain and gives equal attention to the whole-ness of sensory input generated by the right brain.   Meditation does not aim to annihilate the left brain or glorify the right brain – it creates whole-ness and transcendence by unifying input from both brain hemispheres and allowing it to reside in a welcoming awareness.

While this is all well-and-good from a sit around and talk philosophy kind of way, what’s it got to do with symbols, healing and fertility?

Good question.  Fundamentally, we live in a left-hemisphere-driven  world that feel like the only “real” world.  We have lost the ability to connect with the right brain and the “Now-ness” it imparts to us.   However, the Now is enormously important.  Everything that ever happens happens in the Now.  New thoughts and new solutions arise in the Now, positive change happens in the Now, and healing, too, must also arise in the Now.  If we’re obsessed with negative thoughts and beliefs, the Now is a bummer.  If we’re open to positive thoughts and input the Now can be quite lovely.

Meditating on a symbol is like striking a tuning fork for the “Now” our right brain is experiencing.  Since the right brain thinks in pictures and symbols, a symbol can create a shift in the quality of the right brain awareness.   A positive or inspiring symbol can create  a positive and inspiring Now.  Take for example a simple meditation on Spring.  Spring is a powerful symbol of fertility and renewal.  The feeling you get when you “experience” Spring is visceral.  There’s a churning aliveness that feels as if it’s even making our hair grow!  We can use meditation on the symbol of Spring to bring these qualities into the “Now” of our lives.   If you don’t believe me, try the following simple meditation.

  • Sit quietly, with a straight spine on the floor or in a chair.  Close your eyes and tune into your breath, simply feeling the inhales and exhales as pure sensation.
  • When you begin to feel still, call to mind an image that symbolizes Spring – this could be a tulip, a leaf-bud or any image that calls to your heart and mind the energy of Spring
  • As you hold the image/symbol in your mind’s eye allow the feeling of Spring to arise – the newness, the sense that winter is over, the sense of fertility and expectation, the smell of damp earth and green things growing.
  • Rest in that feeling state for as long as you can – working up to 15 minutes.
  • Upon coming back from your meditation, bring the feeling state of Spring back with you and practice holding this energized state as you move through your day.

This last part of the meditation is the most important.  Symbols can help us stay attuned to this happy (higher) vibration.  I use symbols in this way every day.  In my home I have a simple altar (actually it’s a shelf) where I place symbols that have a powerful personal meaning for me.  Whenever I am quietly going about my business at home, I light the candle and welcome the vibration of the inspiring symbols to permeate my “Now.”  Throughout my day I will often visualize lighting that candle and accessing these symbols in times of stress or need.