How to use symbols to create clarity and understanding

“Do you really believe in that sort of thing?”  my friend asked, looking at me with an odd expression.

I’d just told her about a gift I’d bought for myself:  a tarot reading by someone who consistently gets rave reviews from people whose opinions I trust and value.  And I could tell she was trying not to offend me with her opinion of my superstitious irrationality!

Do I believe that a deck of cards can tell the future?  No.  And neither does the woman who did my reading, whose tagline says, “The cards tell a story, but you write the ending,” and whose home page states, “Tarot is not about revealing a predetermined destiny (news flash: it doesn’t exist).”

However, symbols have power.  Symbols remind us of things we need to remember.  They help focus our attention on things we might otherwise overlook or avoid.  And symbols are often exactly the tools we need to help our intuitive awareness click into focus, allowing us to put clear language to a previously inarticulate sense of what we want or what we feel is emerging.

Without that clarity and language, we can’t take action to bring our desires into reality.  And as you’ve probably experienced, the struggle to bring an intuitive sense of growth and creativity into enough clarity to begin moving towards the vision can be infuriatingly frustrating.

A tarot reading is an extended examination of symbols, and in the hands and heart of a talented reader it can be startlingly powerful.  But you don’t have to take that particular leap into using symbols.  There are other ways to tap the power of symbols to help you create new understandings about your life and your work.

Try this experiment with symbol and image

Page through a magazine – any magazine will do, though one with high-quality images such as National Geographic, Smithsonian, or glossy lifestyle publications are best – and tear out the first image that really grabs your attention.  Don’t pick one that speaks to what you think you want; for instance, even if you’ve got your heart set on a red Porsche, please don’t go hunting for photos of red Porsches!  And don’t try to figure out why a particular image is attracting you; this isn’t about an image being pretty (it may not be a pretty image that catches your attention), or about its being well-photographed or well-designed.

Instead of thinking your way through why you selected your image (or it selected you), let its story unfold.  Set the image where you’ll see it several times each day, and let it tell you what’s interesting about it.  Try writing about it, in a very open way; just ask yourself, “What’s this image trying to tell me?” and let yourself answer freely and spontaneously.

We know more than we think or say

We all know more than we think we know, and we all know more than we can consciously articulate in any given moment.  Symbols – and these images that I’m suggesting you work with are a type of symbol – give us the opportunity to tap into that wordlessly creative space.  Using symbols and images as our guides, we can bring conscious focus to our intuitive awareness, speeding up the process of finding the words that describe what we want.

And as I said, it’s only when we have the words to describe our vision that we can begin to bring the vision into reality.  Without the words, the vision remains stuck in an inarticulate, intuitive space.  We know there’s something important that we want to do, but we haven’t got the clarity required to take action.

Of course the inarticulate, intuitive sense of creativity is an important first step; without it, there’s no next step to take, no seed of vision to bring out and describe, nothing to work towards.

But if the vision is never described, it’s like the seed that germinates underground but never sprouts leaves and grows.

The tarot reader is Theresa Reed, at