A Reflection on Symbolism – Buddhistdoor Global

I’ve been skating too long. I have been both busy and in bed at the same time. I have many thoughts sprinting on the treadmill, swimming and tango, while languishing alongside the tumbleweeds and dust bunnies of my empty brain. As I write this, the English sky outside my window wavers between clear blue and thundering leaden clouds with patches of rain pounding in high winds. It’s quite impressive in its own way. It’s as extreme as the hesitations of my own mind.

I feel lucky to be warm and sheltered during this strange storm. I think of the tropical monsoons, which remind me of the Kathina festival, which originated about 2,500 years ago to help Theravada monks after the rains – a time of giving, especially food and clothing. It reminds me of that time of year of harvest in the northern hemisphere and the festivals that originated in Celtic traditions around 2,000 years ago. One of the first eight Celtic celebrations based on annual cycles, Samhain* marks the start of winter and you could say it is also a time of giving, especially giving thanks for the harvest of the season.

Countless worldwide practices recognize that the seasonal darkening of the days thins the veil between the realities of the living, the dead, and the others. Clothing was donned, often as a disguise of fae and momentarily disembodied or vengeful undead. As of this writing, we stand in the “mist” of these global festivals. I note the similarities and reflect briefly on how history seems to give rise to such shared experiences that we assume are so disparate, not least because of geography and perhaps around 500 years.

This brings me back to one of my longtime concerns: symbols and our longstanding intimate relationship with form. Research by anthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger seems to prove that for 30,000 years, more or less, (only) 32 symbols were used in the “inhabited” world. We can never know for sure what these marks meant to the artists. Maybe it was just because they were easy to perform. Perhaps they were recording their shamanic experiences. Or maybe the signs meant something they could recognize – visual onomatopoeia, if you will. Even now it is difficult to know for sure what is totally inherent in our being and what has been imprinted. We struggle to distinguish our own likes, dislikes and reactions from what has been learned since before we could speak. However, and almost independently, images affect us. There is alchemy in art. It’s like eye yoga.

Kathina’s Day

My brain is still distracted by the clouds and my dysfunctional printer, but I can feel it exciting thinking back to the “magic” of imagery.

Alchemy was the transmutation of a basic substance into something pure. Lead in gold by the chemists of old, and worldly human experience in gnosis by those of a more mystical inclination. Today, regardless of religious or spiritual perspective, transmuting and transcending negativity is a practice that most people agree is beneficial for holistic health.

There is a word in Tibetan Buddhism: stringdrol, which translates to “liberation through sight.” At a very rudimentary level, we can describe it as the belief that planting metaphorical seeds in the mind of the viewer will ultimately offer liberation from the endless cycle of rebirth. The specific use of deity imagery was and is used for this purpose.

We process light frequencies and images in colors and symbolic languages ​​- letters and pictograms. This is how we communicate beyond sound and leave our informational legacy to posterity. Our brain recognizes shapes as representing something specific, whether it’s reading words or understanding road signs. This new information passes through our brain matter and restructures our brain biology over time, a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. Whatever the practices, visually, they oblige us to recognize conventional and instructive symbols. And, with repeated practice, they become a habit.

19th century Tibetan thank you representing Padmasambhava. From wikipedia.org

Humanity has recognized symbols as meaningful throughout the ages and we see some of the same patterns around the world, dating back to the earliest cave paintings. We have no obvious way of knowing if we recognize these patterns from some cosmic imprint inherent in our collective memory or if we initially consciously fabricated them, branding them around the world until we tuned in. on their meaning. The fact remains that our non-conscious mind includes symbols that our conscious mind does not always understand. And they are able to reveal their meaning during spontaneous painting or, on the contrary, to manipulate the treatment of the spectators.

That’s why imagery is so powerful, why art therapy works, and why advertisers and logos are invaluable for commerce and marketing. Our emotional state affects our biology, as epigenetics proves. It is for this reason that we can call art eye yoga. Yoga is Sanskrit for “union.” This means that certain arts can help unite our inner and outer being, our physicality with our higher self: unification for well-being through sight.

Enough of the flickering monkey mind. The meditation tool of imagery will serve to focus the mind in the direction of our choosing.

And, I’m not kidding, the sky has cleared and the sun is shining again. Even my printer works fine. For those who are discovering how to plant seeds by meditating with an image, I offer the following thoughts.

Ideally, you will meditate for a while on the painting of your choice. Select carefully. I suggest placing your image in a space where you can quietly meditate in front of it undisturbed. Spend as long as you can and as long as you feel comfortable. When you are not meditating with it, just place the painting where you will see it regularly, as it will act as a subliminal reminder.

After hydrating yourself with water or herbal tea – yes, that part is important simply because it is – sit comfortably and settle your system with smooth, steady breaths. Contemplate the image with gentle eyes and let it slowly reveal its messages to your subtle mind. Allow yourself to merge and blend into the paint. You can consciously trace the images with your eyes or allow the image to take you into realms of fantasy, or you can simply “zone” yourself while staring. Everything is perfect.

It’s best to do this at least once a day for a month to give the brain time to reprogram itself. Sometimes you may experience emotional responses when feelings (emotional or physical) or memories arise. Leave them. Witness them, but try not to get attached to any of them. Remember the reasons why you have this healing tool in front of you and bring your attention to this space. You may have chosen an image in response to a specific issue you want to address, or if there is more than one issue, focus on one at a time. However, you can also just let the overall feeling of the artwork overwhelm you.

And don’t forget to stay hydrated. Without it, we are sun-dried.

* pronounced know-win.

See more

Tilly Campbell-Allen (Dakini as Art)

Related features of Buddhistdoor Global

Dance as knowledge, part three: forming a research team
I spy with my magic eye. . .
Art, Culture and World Healing: A Conversation with Haema Sivanesan
The Psychology of Color: A Simple Practice of Reflection, Part Six

More than silk alchemy by Tilly Campbell-Allen

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