Symbols as landmarks along the life journey
As in the painting above, many of the paintings in the "Narrative Landscapes of the Heart" series incorporate a line of symbols. I think of these symbols as landmarks along the life journey, indicating significant phases in the person's life. These phases often involve external events, but the symbols are more about the internal life -- especially, what's happening in the heart. When I mark out the life journey on a specific painting, I do it spontaneously, intuitively. I paint the symbols from left to right -- birth to death or to the current phase of life.
Five shapes with universal meaning
In addition to the heart as a symbol, I use the five shapes identified by anthropologist Angeles Arrien as having universal, cross-cultural meaning. She bases this conclusion on seven years of research into myths and stories across cultures, as well as research tests administered to over 6,000 men and women of varied ages and cultural backgrounds. In brief, here are the meanings almost universally associated with each symbol:
- Circle — wholeness, integration, unity
- Cross — relationship
- Spiral — growth, change
- Square — stability, security
- Triangle — ambition, goals
Some people call the cross symbol -- which was a significant symbol long before Jesus was born -- the "plus sign." I love the layers of meaning that each symbol offers.
"Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them"
“Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them” is a lovely book by Angeles Arrien that still enhances my experience of working with the shapes. This book was published in 1992; I’ve loved it for many years and recommend it wholeheartedly. In addition to research from many cultures about the five shapes, Arrien pulls together wonderful quotations, illustrations and stories. Any visual artist is apt to find the book a useful source of inspiration. The book has a wider audience, though; it’s about the entire enterprise of living an inspired, authentic life. (Note that if you buy the book or shop at Amazon.com through this link -- by clicking on the book image at left -- you’re also donating a small amount to me here at HeartPainter.com.)
Angeles Arrien on spirituality, creativity and intuition
In a 1992 talk in Philadelphia, Angeles Arrien is quoted on spirituality, creativity and intuition: “"Some people think they're not creative, but they want to follow the spiritual path, and if they're on the spiritual path, they end up discovering their creativity," Arrien said. "Other people who think they're not creative at all and not spiritual at all, they end up trusting their intuition. It's really all the same process. It's the deepest process of our nature that needs to be attended to."
This is exactly how I began learning blacksmithing. I was on the "personal growth path," designing and leading groups on deep listening, self-esteem, vocational development, assertiveness training, natural cycles etc. I noticed that as a group progressed over several weeks, the participants often became actively creative -- taking up craft and art mediums they'd not made time for earlier. I began to envy my own group participants! My cure, of course, was to take up a craft of my own, and it turned out to be forging iron.
One of my openwork iron bowls, "This Wild Garden of My Heart" has a heart-shaped base and uses the spiral shape a lot.
More about Angeles Arrien
Here’s a wonderful interview with Angeles Arrien, she shares some of her personal story. Here are a few appetizers:
- She didn’t learn English till she was ten,
- She holds three doctorates (divinity, anthropology, transformational education), and
- She has does conflict resolution work all per the world.
The interview includes many more interesting bits of Angels Arrien's own story. Most of the interview, though, is aimed at evoking our own creativity and contributions to the world. As always, Arrien challenges and encourages us.
Read the whole interview, and at the end you’ll find a simple yet wonderful exercise to open up this period of your life.
Coming soon here: The Preferential Shapes Test (by Angeles Arrien
That will be number 2 in a series of five articles here on the Five Universal Shapes and Angeles Arrien's work in relation to art, health and spirituality.
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