Symbolism is as old as human kind and forms part of our spiritual and ancestral belief systems. Indigenous cultures, communities and humanity in all forms have relied on symbols to guide, educate and inspire their life journey and evolution; and most importantly to identify them as ‘belonging’ to a tribe, religion, sect, or nationality.
Sociologists agree that the idea of ‘belonging’ is important to us and our collective psyche. It defines us to a point, which makes us feel safe and emotionally nourished, and this ultimately affects us on many biological and chemical levels. Our immunity is defined by many factors beyond the function of our White Blood Cells: emotional, spiritual and lifestyle factors (such as education, nutrition, hygiene) are equally important to our cellular health. Though with a burgeoning population, mass technology and consumerism, and conflict in religious beliefs our modern sense of purpose, belonging and identity is somewhat askew, adrift, or more 50 shades of grey.
Is it possible, in a world of ‘products’ and ‘online personalities’ to ground ourselves in the old traditions of connection, symbolism and spiritual freedom? How do we stand out and away from the bright lights of online gratification and make-believe? Technology and the internet has closed the gap on geographic distances and though it has brought with it many exciting revelations, we are heavily reliant on its pervasive presence in our day-to-day lives. We perceive it to have brought us ‘closer together’ but why then are significant populations still suffering from loneliness, or mental and social disorders?
Where will all this end.
It’s no surprise that cultures gone-by used symbols in Nature to guide and inspire their belief systems. Perhaps if we had remained that way inclined we may not be experiencing the same levels of anxiety and depression? There has to be an element of disconnect in reprogramming our intuition; a disconnect from technology and a connection to community, or your mob. An easy and yet overlooked ritual of disconnect is simply going outside with the sun on your skin.
What’s the big deal? Sunshine stimulates your Pineal gland via the retina (and a rather complex neurological process) to release melatonin and serotonin which act to balance our biorhythms. These rhythms set the clock on our sleep, mood, anxiety and appetite habits. In our success driven world we are less likely to be outside hunting in the now damaging UV rays and are instead firmly planted in our cushioned chairs facing a computer or TV screen for hours every day. Our children spend more time indoors now than ever before thanks to the invention of technology like Wii, Nintendo, Playstation, ABC4 & 3, Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Connection, BBCkids, iTouch, iPod, iPhone. Then there is the daily task of homework, and evening rituals we are expected to enforce at home upon their tiny lives.
If a symbol has meaning to you, and you feel a connection towards it you can directly influence hormone and chemical reactions in your neurological (limbic and pre-frontal lobe) and nervous system which may have a positive effect on the function of your cells. It is a cascade of biochemical reactions that release neurotransmitters like serotonin which acts on cells in the brain influencing mood and emotions; and lowers stress hormones such as cortisol and nor-adrenalin. We are a species that historically embraced and implemented rituals of belief and symbolism to define our culture and communities, using them to process our stresses and anxiety. Communities would (and do) benefit from these important rituals, some of which were deemed pagan by other religious sects. The symbols that we see everyday have a powerful effect on our psyche – just think about what a crucifix, a celtic cross or an ohm symbol means to you? Whole advertising empires rely on this very fact to sell logo’s, products and brands. It is interesting to consider how some symbols can do the opposite to our health when we perceive them with hatred and fear – for example symbols like the Nazi Swastika or the controversial ISIS flag when associated with terror.
If these biological actions and functions are scientifically detectable then it is possible to use symbolism to define our journey towards better health; we can use rituals of honour in the way we eat to nourish our body; we can use symbolic gestures of spirit to define the people we are – such as our ideals and aspirations. Too often, when asked about their health, patients have lost their identity. They are able to disclose aspects of their past such as their previous interests, passions and beliefs but as we age, our family’s grow and technology replaces our sense of self we risk becoming more invisible to ourselves and seemingly to others. Can you imagine the implications this has on our emotional and physiological health? How can you honour someone who barely exists?
Redefining our passion and fueling the fire that burns in our soul is how we muster the motivation and desire to be well. Using symbols of health, as crazy as they may seem to others, is unique to your story and your journey.
Find what matters to you. Seek it and place it strategically around your home, your office and heart so that you can reach into this space and remain true to your spirit and well-being. We can teach our children many ways to nurture the health and function of their body using nature and symbols, by sharing the ways WE do the same.
How do we define our connection to the present when our modern culture is about what you have, or what you look like? Can we walk the life-long journey of health and healing on self motivation alone? What is it that makes us wake up one day and choose to live our truth? There is no ONE tablet, capsule, tonic or powder that will change your life. It is about making real choices everyday (with or without supplements) to honour your truth. Symbols you use or place within and around you will keep you motivated and remind you why your life matters. The universe, your god or goddess and every cell in your body knows it. So listen!
Tips to create Modern Symbols of Well-being:
- Create an Honour dish – a sacred space to make offerings to your soul and purpose (these may be crystals, incense, affirmations, photographs, flowers, rocks). Tend to this space as a daily practice of self love and recognition.
- Create an area or altar to celebrate your spiritual/religious beliefs. It can be simple or as ornate as you wish.
- Design an inspiration board of the things that inspire you: art, design, fashion, literature, poetry, family, music, exercise, travel…
- Take a drumming class with a friend. Get into the beat. Dance.
- Listen to music that uplifts your soul, often.
- Start that Yoga class – listen to Yoga Chanting while you are cleaning up your house…
Melanie Robinson is a Naturopath BHSc and traditional healer from Gaia Health Clinic in Port Macquarie. She is an Earth-Mumma to 2 boys, a healthy food activist, and a seeker of fire and wolves. She is particularly interested in the healing and sacred rituals of traditional cultures and believes Australia should STOP the forced closure of remote Aboriginal Communities.