symbols and meaning

building on the last post – a symbol can be a temporary installation as well… a trigger that can cause clarity/expansion/deepening. it was key for me to read about the edge that Tenneson is moving with his explorations in intuitive knowing. so this post is also a belated birthday present to him :) feeling nurtured from and connected with Jay, Amanda, David Isaacs and Karilen in Noosphere today. this is a beautiful piece Tenneson came up with, let that sink in:

The world offers us symbols so that we might project meaning upon them – and in so doing, come to understand more of our inner condition that is in fact creating our outer reality. -Tenneson Woolf, Bowen Island, October 2010

i am in humble awe about the clarity he reached with naming this! an inner space in me that is gathering and stirring thoughts since years is resonating and glowing when i hear this. He cuts it open in me – i will let it flow.

Hah, let me tell you about an exercise i invented back in the time when i gave systemic group dynamic workshops (here german paper & english invitation) with Markus and later with Lucy. i am not sure how i called it, probably something like “soul-space symbol feeding”. i asked people to think about an inquiry that they are holding and find a clear question around it. We stood in a circle with eyes closed and then i put objects (like a pen, a chair, me doing a handstand…) as symbols into the middle one after the other and asked them for each to open your eyes for a second to see that new object – then close your eyes again and let this object be a symbol of meaning in regards to your question. it didn’t work particularly well but it was my first move into a vast field of practices and a world view…

another time in 7Linden i joined a weekend of family constellation work with Jürgen and Elke. being so in the mindset of seeing each other as representatives of inner aspects i found myself expanding that ‘idea/concept/notion’ far beyond that circle and i was walking through the forest and was literally walking through my soul-landscape at the same time! i could interpret every tree, way or animal as a potential message from my soul to me – or just to accept it as it is. everything i encounter is symbol and has the possibility to be meaning when brought into relation of my soul / my inner landscape. another one of those enlightening situations was when i was rearranging furniture in my caravan and as stuff was all over the place i set down and looked at the middle of my process as an end-result of something that wants to be symbol and meaning to me. (what probably also contributed to the norm-braking perception-shifting atmosphere was that two friends had sex in the other half of the caravan and i could clearly feel and hear the vibrations). and i saw the mirror leaning against the stairs to the next floor which i interpreted as the need for mirror/feedback for me to reach a higher level and i saw the cupboard on the table with the drawers facing me, ready to shoot me with my prejudices/assumptions (about the world outside of ecovillage-circles) and so on…

what i am saying here is; right now right here – look around you and start allowing the possibility that this IS soul-space and everything is symbol to you and can unfold meaning as you interpret it intellectually or allow emotional resonance… i believe as you really allow this possibility and become liquid in your desire to conceptualize (and allow yourself to dive all levels of analogies that you can access) you will wake up to what Tenneson has expressed so beautifully.

tarot cards work because of that, horoscope works because of that, travels into your previous life’s work like this – there is some sort of magic hook that makes you choose from a set (or you are born at a specific time) and then the symbol you get will unfold meaning as you are holding your inquiry. and this is not a trick or manipulation, that is just how it works. if i am in doubt about things and i hear your “no” i will either find my “no” too or feel my clear “yes” to this. so the gift of the symbol is that it allows you inner ocean to crystallize around something and take it from there… the gift of a structure that is offered, something where you can see yourself in the light of… this attitude is deep in me and causing me to not go into resistance with any sort of magic truth-finding method or world-view model – i can see the invitation to crystallize my inner ocean around something that will eventually foster my clarity… though i personally don’t think will ever follow one model or structure… i take them as temporary invitations to go into resonance to foster my own clarity (simply the vibrational energy of clarity as such is increasing the probability for clarity to arise in the field – and yes, the other pole too, always). the broader the scope of this structure is and how whole and integral the territory-coverage of this map is (totally on the line of my previous post) ‘determines’ how likely it is for your inner field to stretch across the full sphere of possibilities around your inquiries. so if you would have the long breath to interpret ALL tarot cards through the lens of your question (which would dishonor the magic, so don’t do it) you might cover a very very broad territory as the breeders of the concept have been very potent in covering all (?) potential human energy dynamics. little side question here: does the set of potential human energy dynamics change/expand over time? is the internet-age equipping us with new basic dynamics? or/and is it re-combining and the basic needs stay the same? determined by our biological being… maybe.

that’s why opening a dictionary and starting with a random word to kick of your brainstorming works. the space is pregnant with possibilities, it needs seeds though to crystallize around. a typical conversations might start with smalltalk before we enter the reservoir of depth that has been waiting for us to explore together… maybe we don’t need all those books on creativity techniques – we can invent them in the moment – it’s just that; there is a white canvas, and it is longing for stimulation to occur – the first structure/symbol/gift/seed that allows crystallization/polarization/movement.

dreams! what a fantastic resource to interpret symbols in the light of your life and  the fishing-for-meaning-intention… and here it’s coming together – it’s not a random word in a dictionary, it’s coming from the subconsciousness of the person that is now consciously interpreting the symbols. so the stream of raw material comes from the same source somehow and the noise might thereby be even more potent than random symbols. and now here is a heartbeating hypothesis i just came up with… if we move that degree on how close “the symbol-creating-engine is to the symbol-interpreting-processor”do we end up with consciouness? with intellect? with thinking itself?? :-p

what else is thinking than shuffling around and assembling your vast inner ocean of symbols and clusters and relationssymbols cluster together and become meta-symbols, relational cluster condense into piles of something that is a symbol in itself. wahuu!

now an ethical one… is it then ok to invent dreams and stories or bend existing ones around so that you can offer symbols to people that might really find powerful meaning in them. is it ok to say “i dreamed this and that about you” without it being true, but the person gets so much from the symbols you are offering? or maybe it is ok to just tell that story you made up without faking the permission of it being a dream… reference here to leaning into the space to create a landing platform for you partner.

stories the same, stories are symbols. charged with an inquiry you look through the world with those glasses and attract the information that cluster around that attractor… much more to say about this, for now let me end with some thoughts and quotes from Andreas Weber who wrote the brilliant german book “everything is feeling”.

he says as we see species of animals and plants extinct – at the same time our inner horizon looses possibilities of expansion. every animal or plant is a multitude and a main chorus of embodied symbol for us (for instance imagine the qualities a cat is know for) and as this leaves the planet, this mirror for us is lost in that form. what a perspective, uh?

he give the example of the electrical wave pattern you would see in an artists neuronal patterns as he follows an impulse to make a wild line on the canvas – this electrical pattern on the screen will be self-similar (“consistency of shape” he calls that) with the drawing itself AND be self-similar to the electrical fire in the neuronal patterns in the viewers eyes/brain!! ain’t that an insight on the vertical dimension of analogies going through all layers of the universe? are there layers anymore then or just expressions of universal dynamics that branch out fractaly into a multitude of trees and branches…

quotes from Andreas:

D: “Was wir als Form wahrnehmen, ist immer auch eine Form des Körpers, weil die Kette der Analogien bis in diesen hinabreicht.” […] “Die symbolischen Grundmuster der Gefühle haben von Anfang an, von ihrer Geburt als Impulse im Stoffwechsel bis zu ihrem Ausdruck in der menschlichen Sprache, den gleichen Charakter.” […] “Absolute Gesten, Urphänomene des Fühlens, in denen Gehalt und Gestalt voneinander un- trennbar sind.” […]

E: “What we perceive as form is always also a form of the body – because the chain of analogies is reaching down into him” […] “The symbolic basic patterns of feelings have the same character from their start as impulses in our metabolism to their expression in the human language” […] “absolute gestures, ur-phenomena (?) of feelings, wherein content and form are not separable from each other” […]


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Benjamin Aaron Degenhart

Currently pursuing a Masters in Computational Science and Engineering at TU Munich.

6 thoughts on “symbols and meaning”

  1. 2 concepts from the art world that you might enjoy mixing in with this thought-stream:

    Ostranenie // остранение — from Viktor Shklovsky (1920) — Often translated as “defamiliarization,” but more literally “en-strangement” — it is the continual action of finding the known strange and the unknown somehow more familiar when engaged with a work of art.

    Shortest Internet definition I could find:

    Shklovsky’s concept influenced Bertolt Brecht’s Verfremdungeffekt (1936/1938), sometimes translated as the “alienation effect,” but again, this translation doesn’t completely capture the multi-directionality of the concept or the capacity of it to change the viewer of the art piece/play/literature/etc. and further the society he finds himself in…. for which Brecht hoped.

    I teach my students that of all the art concepts they might learn, this practice is what will make them stronger “readers” of art, people, situations, etc. because of the interactive process and the willingness to contort what is subject-object, familiar-strange.

    So for me, yeah, they are formalist art critic elements, if that’s all one wants them to be, or they can keep opening out on the more spiritual and transpersonal dimensions you are starting to name here. Core process/practice for me.


    1. thank you Holly, good to read what swirls this takes in you. reading your comment i am making a strong connection to my dear friend Jasmine who started a conversation on The World Cafe Online Community on the Creative Arts and she talks about the portals that art can open… i am sure you, her and Viktor would have fantastic conversations ;)
      as german is my mother tongue i would actually be able to read the Verfremdungseffekt! maybe i can find the book… is it a book?
      wonderful to hear the depth you are bringing to your teachings Holly! can’t wait to sit in your class one day or have a long coffee face to face with you :)


  2. :: facebook->wordpress comment BRIDGE ::
    (an experiment in manually synchronizing the comments on my blog with the comments on the related blogpost-notification-post on my FB wall)

    Tenneson Woolf
    Thanks for feeding this Benjamin. My further learning this week is that the symbols just show up. Sometimes in the form of people. When projecting inner state on to a person, that can become personal fast. Mucky too. The shift for me is to explore the projection (and sometimes judgement) about the person to an invitation to look at inner me. The projection may or may not be true. ‘Tis a choice to address that. But the looking at inner me can be immensely helpful to clear the starting projection or the weight of the starting projection.
    Keep it going!

    Susan Cerato
    In my experience, we project onto “others” what we reject in ourselves.

    Benjamin Aaron Dragonheart
    thank you Susan! and thank you Tenneson, i was about to nudge you about this birtday-post but i am glad you saw it. wow, powerful to hear how this is moving in you! i bow to your learning curve in this… i am looking forward to listen into your discoveries in this inquiry as it feels so close to me.


  3. It is as if our soul is dancing with the universe, in this dance, the creation of meaning is taking place, an interplay between the outer and the inner. The humanization process: we give meaning to our existence and transform social reality (as in terms of Freire). And when all these layers of meanings get contextualized: when we make sense intuitively, isn’t that what Jung calls being in synchronicity?
    Thank you for sharing such beautiful experiences with other souls…you spark lights of inspiration into my being.


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