Sacred journeys and sacred sites often make use of symbolism. Part of my early effort to conceptualize the purpose and nature of this Blog was to compose a symbol that encapsulated much of my personal spiritual beliefs and history.
The Human Form:
1) Reclining human form – this is representative of the stationary aspect of my journey and the fact that my bike is one you recline into rather than sit perched on the seat.
2) The contrasting halves to the human form – this is representative of the dualistic experience we often have of our physical body. It is the source of pleasure (light) and pain (dark), we often celebrate it as the vehicle on our journey but then curse it for the desires associated with it. The whole mind/body or physical/spirit dilemma is wrapped up in this dualism.
3) The Yin Yang symbol – this is the Chinese symbol pointing to the illusion of dualism, that they are forces locked into an eternal spinning dance. In addition, within each region is the seed of the other. If you look close enough at Life you will find that Death often prepared the way for it. The purpose of this symbol is to pull the viewer out of this illusion to see both as part of a process. Reality is about the dance between life and death, between good and evil, it transcends these dualities. This insight represents an important part of my intellectual philosophy which is why it comprises the figures’ head.
The Wheel: literally represents the wheel of my bike, but is full of symbolic meaning.
4) Ouroboros: The snake grasping it’s tail – is a symbol in many early faiths for the cyclical nature of things; the eternal return as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end, like a day or the seasons. The importance of seeing our journey as a series of cycles embedded within each other represents a personal insight that helps me to “keep things in perspective.”
5) The Zen Circle – represents the entire universe in a single, perfect stroke. Although simple, it is difficult to paint successfully and thus must be done with a clear mind focused on the task. This reminds me to always strive for mindfulness!
6) The Buddhist Eight Spoked Wheel – one of the early symbols of Buddhism, it represents the Eight Fold Path, the path towards Enlightment. Each spoke represents one of the “right” forms of wisdom, ethical conduct and moral development. My youngest son was quick to point out to me that some of the spokes do not touch the outer part of the wheel. I noted that this indicates that I fall short of following the dictates of all of the spokes.
7) The Compass Points – are represented by the horizontal and vertical spokes embedded within the circle. A reminder to always check our “bearings,” to look up from our path to ensure that we still on the desired path and not lost.
8) The Quadrants of a Mandala – the horizontal and vertical spokes also divide the circle into quarters. The teaching Mandala of the eastern faiths (i.e. The Buddhist Wheel of Life) typically has as a structure of a circle divided into four components. This reminds me that parts of the cycles of life may look and feel significantly different, but if you step back, you will see them as part of the whole.
The Staff: my actual staff is not nearly so straight, but sturdy and bent like the back of an old man.
9) The Walking Stick – pilgrims throughout the world are often seen with a staff as they prod along on their journey. As a hiker I can attest to the usefulness of a walking stick; to test the ground before us, to lean on and to anchor us as we climb up and down the ridges and peak along the path. One of my artist endeavors are Taoist Walking Sticks, wall hangings made from sticks, roots, bones, seeds and feathers. I find these things on my hikes and nature walks.
10) Grasping the Staff – the reclining figure holds the staff as a reminder that we can’t make this journey alone, we need support at times, whether that be in the form of words of guidance, encouragement or just a hug to lighten the emotional load.
11) The Cross – the universal symbol of Christianity. A symbol of sacrificial love and redemption, a reminder of the “devotional” path to the divine. For me personally it is also a reminder of my Christian roots, the years of Catholic education continue to form a part of my supportive foundations.
12) The Prayer Flag Banner – I have talked before about the use of prayer flags in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This is a reminder that we carry with us the needs and struggles of those we love know and meet along our path; that every step we take, all of our actions serve to “flutter” the prayer flag, sending these offerings of praise and prayers of request to “the heavens.” Whether in good or difficult times, we should remember those we carry with us.
The Top of the Staff: The source of illumination and direction
13) The Chalice and Flame – the symbol for my Unitarian Universalist faith. Holding high the light of pluralism, love, understanding and acceptance. For me this represents the shared communal knowledge that helps to light my way.
14) The Godhead – one of the most sacred symbols of Hinduism is the Sacred Om. It represents not only the sacred sound (mantra), but is a visual symbol of the various states of consciousness (waking, sleeping, dreaming and God consciousness). In the upper part of the symbol is a small point (consciousness of God) that is separated from the other forms of consciousness. The consciousness of God is not found outside of us, although it maybe perceived as being outside, but deep within us. However, our realization of this fact is blocked by or identification with our body and ego. Placed at the top of the staff, it is a reminder of the mystical knowledge and experience that continues to fuel my journey and provide an inner source of light.
15) Neptune’s Trident or Hindu Trihsula – one viewer noted that the upper portion of the staff appeared to be a trident; a water symbol and representative of creativity. I hadn’t seen this till she pointed it out, highlighting that symbolic images are always interpreted through the viewers’ eyes and experiences. In the Hindu faith, this is symbolic of the irresistible force of transcendental reality and of the three powers: Will, Action and Wisdom. I cannot look at the image now without seeing the trident, representative perhaps of my Zodiac water sign (Pisces) and my expanding creativity.
Background Features: I did not include these features initially but added them as I began the Pilgrimage recognizing them as important to the process of the journey.
16) The Disappearing Tracks – the tire and staff tracks; we should travel through life aware of the marks we leave of our passage. I believe the most important traces are not great monuments, but are how we touch others, hopefully in positive loving ways. Also, I think it goes without saying, we should not leave any road kill (victims) along our path!
17) The Sky, Mountains, and Water – one of the defining features of Taoism is its use of nature to illustrate the lessons and process of life. An openness and admiration of nature (the growth/beauty and death/ugliness) allows the messages and insights to come to us, and promote the possibility of Nature Mystical Experiences.
18) The Road or Pathway – we are all on a path, heading somewhere. Some people like a populated path, other prefer one “less travelled.” Some people want a mapped out path, others prefer to make their own. Some people choose the smoothest they can find, others like to “mountain bike” it. Existentialists believe that we must find our own meaning or purpose in life, that meaning defines our path. Being a teacher, parent, artist, lover, blogger gives my life meaning. Our meaning has to conform to life’s challenges, like growing old, but it is largely a matter of choice! We choose our path and we can always choose to change it!
One last note before I leave this discussion, concerning the difference between signs and symbols. Generally speaking signs are denotive, they represent an object or direction. Like a wheelchair figure on the handicap sign or the “danger” message of the skull and cross bones. Where as symbols are more connotive, they are meant to arouse emotions and maybe representative of something else. Like a swastika, which is a Hindu sign of peace that now evokes a sense of “evil” in the western world. Some signs and symbols have a universal quality and have meaning easily recognized by different cultures, others are unique and a person must “learn” the meaning of the sign or the appropriate emotions and ideas associated with a symbol.
My Pilgrim’s Symbol is meant to be connotive and arouse emotions and thoughts in the viewer. You may see what I had intended, or as represented by the trident example, you might see things I had not intended. Are you wrong and I’m right? No! I believe that useful symbols allow a person to see what they need to see, present them with some lesson/thought for them to process. I would only ask the viewer to take an open approach to the experience of the symbol. If you see more meanings then I noted these are potentially useful personal insights! If you pull back in horror or out of rejection, these are potentially insightful personal reactions!