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Meditation for Busy Women Series: Part II – Symbols

July 23, 2008

What do you think of when you see the Nike swoosh? Nike hopes you think excellence, victory, speed, power, motivation…you get the idea. They spend millions of dollars in advertising and athlete endorsement deals to generate those associations deep in your subconscious. When you see that swoosh they want you to have an instant, visceral reaction, so that when you are looking for athletic gear, Nike is the brand you have to have.

Branding experts understand the power of symbols, and how they speak directly to the unconscious levels of our awareness (and all you moms out there see everyday just how young this conditioning starts – can anyone say Disney?!?) But spiritual traditions have known this power for thousands of years, and used it for other purposes – to trigger spiritual experience, insight, and shifts in consciousness. Symbols are shortcuts to meaning and shifting, because they compact dozens of emotional and intellectual associations down to one visual queu. And they are highly personal – your reaction to a Christian cross, Star of David, or Islamic crescent is going to be based on your own experiences and relationship to the religions they represent, your past emotional associations with these symbols, and your current intellectual views.

Because symbols are shortcuts, they are excellent shifters (for more on shifting and its relationship to meditation, see the first post in this series.) And because women’s brains tend to have more connections between the intuitive, emotional hemisphere and the rational, analytic one, I think symbols are particularly powerful for us (see this post for more info on brain hemispheres.) 

Selecting and printing out some key symbols that represent your personal and spiritual goals, and displaying them around your computer, on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, in your wallet, or anywhere else that you will come across them throughout your day can be a great way to trigger shifting on a moment’s notice. Here’s what I suggest (and since this is a post for BUSY women, I have tried to keep this intitial setup to under 10 minutes!):

– Spend 1 minute creating a free-form list of emotions or spiritual concepts that you would like to cultivate more of in your life. Some examples might be peace, joy, gratitude, calm, compassion, love, or strength.

– Now spend 1 minute thinking of an image, symbol, or picture that represents each concept for you. A dove might represent peace, a single candle flame calm, two hands together in prayer gratitude. Or, perhaps you already have some spiritual symbols that you associate with these things, such as mandalas, or pictures of saints or teachers. Don’t worry about getting everything down the first time – you are likely to think of more over time once you start this process.

– Spend 5 minutes on the internet doing an image search. Both yahoo and google have search options to search only images. Save the pictures you like to your hard drive, or print them out straight from the site.

– Spend 2 minutes placing or taping these pictures in key locations where you will encounter them, such as those mentioned above. It’s best to have just one symbol in each location, and it can be small and unobtrusive.

– When you come across each symbol, just take one deep breath as you focus on the symbol. Of course, if you can do more, do more! And if you want to try a more formal meditation, gazing symbols such as these for a few minutes while deep breathing can be a great form of meditation. Symbol contemplations and meditations have been integral to almost every spiritual tradition humanity has generated.

Go back to the first post on shifting, or on to the third post on love.

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