In Flux

Embracing transitions and change

The Inner Language of the Subconscious

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Man’s ultimate concern must be expressed symbolically because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate.        Paul Tillich

It is through symbols that man consciously or unconsciously lives, works and has his being.       Thomas Carlyle

The subconscious is recognized as the source of creativity, intuition, inspiration, inner knowing, interconnectedness, and spiritual enlightenment. Within this realm reality shifts and expands, creating a matrix that is far more elastic and multi-dimensional than is perceived by the conscious mind. When we access and spend time within the subconscious we are released from the confines of our logical, practical mind. The messages we receive from our dreams and the primordial symbols, or archetypes handed down to us from our ancestors, inform us about what is unique, authentic, and sacred to each of us. When we heed these messages we are following the path of our soul’s evolution.

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These symbols and archetypes are essential elements of the collective unconscious, the universal intra-psychic structuring device innate to humans. It is as if the necessary acquired information learned by generations past is provided to us as a shortcut to our own evolution. Once something is learned in the evolution of human consciousness it is not necessary to learn it again. It is inherent, forever after, with what it means to be human. The “eternal vocabulary” of the collective unconscious lives within us, always ready to offer hints and clues, suggestions and solutions. Learning to access the subconscious and to fully utilize its gifts can help us to “see” in a new way. Beyond our conscious mind and usual senses the veil is lifted, revealing a world of unlimited possibilities.

What is so poignant here is that words are unnecessary to communicate or convey a message. The symbol, the representational picture or image, conveys the complete thought, concept, or ideal without the use of words to describe it; the proverbial, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This idea is tremendously powerful, for the way we “talk” to ourselves, our inner language, the way we know who we are, does not come from words, but rather from the timeless source within that knows who we are.

A brief tutorial, if you don’t know this already. The left hemisphere of the brain controls most of the neuromuscular and motor functioning of the right side. The right hemisphere controls the left side. But there is a huge difference as to the quality and character of each of the hemisphere’s activity. The left hemisphere is largely involved with logical, analytic thinking, as in verbal and mathematical functions, while the right hemisphere is largely responsible for orientation in space, body image, recognition of faces, and artistic efforts.

The right side of the body, or bodymind as psychologist and author, Ken Dychtwald refers to it in his book of the same title, is identified with the masculine and traits associated with it are “assertiveness, aggressiveness and authoritarianism.” The left side is considered feminine and traits associated with it are “emotionality, passivity, creative thought, and holistic expression.”

A recent provocative theory proposes that a “holistic, simultaneous, synthetic, and concrete view of the world are the essential characteristics of a feminine outlook; linear, sequential, reductionist, and abstract thinking defines the masculine.” Every person has the full capacity for both of these sets. Ideally, these should coexist equally, with neither more important nor predominant than the other. Leonard Shlain, in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess presents compelling evidence to suggest that the advent of the written word, and then the alphabet, shifted the mindset of cultures that were newly literate. Word and image are “complementary opposites”, that is they are meant to coexist on equal footing. But while preliterate cultures exalted all things feminine, the shift toward the written word favored the masculine, and patriarchy ascended and eventually, dominated.

While this theory is rather impressive and may explain quite a lot about how things got to be the way they are, that’s not the point. What is far more important is the idea that the subconscious utilizes symbolism and imagery to express itself and the devaluing of the image in favor of the word may have done more damage to the way we think as a collective humanity. This may explain the decline of holistic expression so identified with the right brain. It has been suggested that television, film, and the Internet may be reintroducing the images that account for a heightened awareness and expression of holism. We can only hope that’s true.

The point of this is to begin to “think” in a different way; to become aware of the world of images and symbols, their meaning to you and how their presence affects you. Common symbols (institutional logos, highway signs, religious images, and so on) abound in daily life. See how much you might be taking them for granted. Try putting aside the logical and practical for a while and begin to imagine or envision without the use of words.

 

 

 

 

Abigail Brenner, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice. She is the author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life and other books.

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