First published in The Huffington Post
The valuable and varied responses to my recent blog about the Internet as a living symbol of global oneness made me aware of a need to explain more fully the nature and purpose of symbolic consciousness: how to access the meaning and power of symbols.
A symbol is not just an image, but is like a door into the inner world of the soul, through which we can access the energy and meaning that belongs to this sacred dimension of our self. However, a symbol will only reveal its magical nature if we approach it with the right attitude, if we have the correct quality of consciousness.
Symbolic consciousness is a way of working with symbols that allows their meaning and energy into our consciousness. It is like a key that is needed to unlock the real potential, the energy of a symbol.
Today we are taught to think in an analytic, linear manner, using words to explain our self. But symbolic consciousness is holistic rather than analytic, and rather than thinking in words it thinks in symbols and images. It can be seen at work most often in our dreams, in the way our psyche communicates to us through images. Symbolic consciousness was central to human consciousness for thousands of years, and was prevalent in our Western consciousness as recently as the medieval period, as expressed in the many images and symbols that adorn the Gothic cathedrals, the great maze on the floor at Chartres. Through these images, rather than words, the stories of the Bible and the soul's journey were told.
Symbols can connect us directly to the interior world of the soul, and symbolic consciousness can enable us to realize the sacred meaning that underlies our physical existence. There is a pressing need to reclaim this forgotten language.
Through working with symbols we can have access to the energy and meaning that comes from the inner world. They can communicate more directly than words. Often symbols have a numinous quality that conveys their sacred energy, an energy which gives real meaning and nourishment to our surface lives. For example, in the Catholic mass the bread and wine are powerful symbols enabling the individual to be nourished directly by the divine. If we are receptive to the symbolic world and can develop our symbolic consciousness we are able to be nourished from within, to live our outer lives in harmony and balance with our true inner self. Without such a connection our daily lives often become shallower, which we attempt to fill with material desires or are more easily drawn into addictions.
Life is permeated with symbols. There are many different types of symbols. Some symbols, such as the images and patterns of nature, have always been around us. Other symbols have developed through religion and culture, for example the chalice or grail cup in Christianity, the Tree of Life in the Jewish Kabbalah. We may find our self drawn to a particular image, follow the spiral pattern in a sunflower, or meditate on a mandala to reconnect with our own wholeness. It is as if our own soul is speaking to us through these images, making its presence felt amidst our busy life.
In different eras different symbols were predominant, and shaped our collective life more than we may realize. New symbols are now appearing in our world that belong to our future, to the next era. These emerging images can help revitalize a civilization; they can connect us to the way life is changing and evolving. It is important that we recognize these images, become aware of how the deeper meaning of life is communing with us. These symbols may appear in unexpected places, even amidst the ordinary activities of our daily life.
I have come to believe that the Internet and other modes of global communication are not just tools to help us communicate and access information, but also have a symbolic function. They are dynamic images of a global interconnectedness and oneness that belong to life. As symbols they convey a deeper meaning and purpose than their surface function. But in order to access this dimension we have to have the appropriate attitude of receptivity. We have to accept that there is a reality beyond the surface play of events. This reality is the dimension of the soul which all previous cultures understood as being central to our human existence. We need to learn how to let these symbols of the soul speak to us, just as we learn to listen to our dreams. For example, if we are attentive to the symbolic dimension of the Internet we will find that it conveys a promise of a new model of global consciousness, an interconnectedness whose organic nature reflects the organic nature of life.
As we have recently begun to explore, our ecosystem is a living web of interconnections. Human consciousness has a similar potential to form such a web of oneness, and the Internet is a model that can help this to happen. This does not mean that it does not have a dark side of misuse and exploitation. In the oneness of life the light and the dark are both included. But it does point to a new, non-hierarchical, organic structure of global consciousness, in which each individual can connect directly to the whole. This image has a far-reaching potential and purpose which cannot be accessed by only seeing the Internet as a functional tool. Only if we reclaim our symbolic consciousness can we understand how the sacred roots of our being are giving us an image of global oneness that can both nourish our souls and help us, locally and globally, in our daily life.
For more on symbols, see C.G. Jung, Man and His Symbols.