Unit VIII.  Symbolic Veils: Representation and Memory


  1. The Body Remembers
  2. Speech and Communication
  3. Names and Forms (Nama-Rupa)
  4. Meaning
  5. Music
  6. Religion
Practices and Exercises:

Ritual of connection
Meaning of life

Each chakra is represented as a flower, usually a lotus. The lotus has its roots in the mud but produces a pure white flower which can shed any dirt or moisture. These are also characteristics of a person who is seeking higher consciousness. Although we must grounded in the dirt of the everyday, sensory world in order to live, we need not be tarnished by its negatives or evils if we keep ourselves focused on the light as a flower head follows the light of the sun.

The flower's petals stand for speech and the ability to communicate. In the eastern traditions, especially Buddhism, speech also carries the connotation of interpersonal interactions or relationships with other people probably because speech is critical in those interactions. Speech, as well as the written language that derives from it, is a form of coding or another kind of symbolism. The words we use in talking to others or in thinking stand for something else in the same way that symbols represent something in the intuitive mental system. In other words, symbols are the "words" of intuition.

Because of its important role in interpersonal relationships, speech issues come up at every level of consciousness. We need to examine how we relate to others using speech, how we use it to think and solve problems and how we use it to talk to ourselves. Communication is very basic in the lives of human beings because we are not isolated islands and we need each other. Interdependence requires communication.

We will begin with the process that underlies all forms of symbolism, both words and symbols. That is representation which means how we create a form that stands for something else.

We have been discussing self-image as the way a child represents herself to herself or himself to himself. Now I would like to go a little more deeply into this process. When we want to think about or solve a problem with our minds, we have to first receive the information from the outside world or retrieve it from memory. If we want to remember it, it must be stored and usually it is coded into some form that will help us recover it later on. Coding involves taking a few key aspects of what is to be remembered to represent the meaning of that whole bit of information. We do this all the time with the words we use to speak. We treat words as if they were the real thing when, in fact, they only stand in for the real event or for the meaning of the event. Learning to speak is a coding curriculum..

From what we have been able to learn about the brain, it appears that nowhere in the brain is memory stored, but rather that the brain acts like a hologram. In a hologram, each tiny bit of the original holds all the information about the whole item. So, when we remember something, we take tiny bits of information that have been stored and reconstruct the original. Obviously something must be lost in this process. And we find that it is. Memory is notoriously faulty especially for details. We remember what impresses us most at the time the information is stored.

The Body Remembers

The coding process is particularly interesting, and we find that it develops, just like everything else. Bruner & Olver, (1963) found that in the first few years of life, coding is into [the cells of] the body. The body remembers. This is, no doubt, because there is no language available in infancy nor have the imagination or mind developed enough to carry the load. Candace Pert (Grodzki, 1995) recently won the Noble prize for her documentation of the fact that each cell in the body is capable of storing memory and emotion. So perhaps we have here the medium for coding in the body. Massage therapists can testify to the truth of this observation since often primitive memories emerge during their sessions.

Next, during the preschool years, it appears that the imagination reaches its peak of development, so memories from that era tend to be visual or auditory images. At around age five, there is a gross internalization process and coding switches to a verbal mode. It appears that speech carries the load of thinking prior to this point in life. In other words, the child says out loud everything s/he is thinking about. Suddenly, at the transition point, thinking is separated from the vehicle of speech and goes underground, so to speak. Observers no longer can tell what the child is thinking because it has been internalized (Vygotsky, 1962).

You will notice that in coding we have here another intervening process between the child and reality, between us and Spirit. We sacrifice immediacy of contact with Being for the flexibility of mental information processing and problem solving that is enabled by coding.

Exercise: Massage

Find someone to give you a massage, preferably a professional who understands the body. Allow yourself to completely relax. Tell the therapist what parts of your body are tense, seem to be holding on to something or are in pain, so s/he can work specifically with those areas. Then, when you are comfortable, let your mind wander back to the past. Breathe into the tensions in your body as the therapist works on them and release the holdings on your outbreaths. You may find that memories of the past will emerge. They probably won't be visual or verbal, but they most likely will be emotional.

The tensions, knots or chronic holdings in the body are often due to body or cellular memories of past events, and they may be experienced and released. Allow yourself to experience these emotions and to cry if that's what you feel like. Be prepared for the fact that it may be anger. Different people favor different parts of the body to store various feelings. If your therapist is well-trained, s/he will be able to help you contact them. Hakomi therapy is specifically designed to do this. So is Rolfing which works with the connective tissues as well as the muscles of the body. However, Rolfing is very painful, so I don't recommend it unless you have a major problem with chronic holding of tension in the body. When you get home or when you get up if you are home, make notes in your journal about what you learned.

Speech and Communication

Another heroic feat that is accomplished in the period of infancy we are describing is the emergence of speech and language. The first word usually appears sometime late in the first year. Note: The times given here are approximate. Children differ widely in when they begin to talk and late beginnings have nothing to do with intelligence. I believe it was Einstein who didn't say a word until he was five years old. But most children begin to speak in their first year.

It begins with naming. Nouns are usually first as the child gets the idea that words stand for something. Once that is realized, the associations between nouns and objects proceeds very rapidly because the child wants to know the name of everything in his/her world. The second form that appears is a function word. It may be a verb, but it can also be a pronoun, or adverb. It serves to tell what the object does. For instance a child who wants to be picked up may say, "Johnny up." Or if s/he wants to go for a ride in the car, may say, "Go bye-bye." By the time a child is able to put two words together in a rudimentary sentence, s/he is about two years old. Some are more advanced at this time.

The next step is an object of the verb, "Johnny want cookie." At this point, we have evidence that the child has intuited something about the structure of language, that the placement of words is also significant in conveying meaning. Now development proceeds extremely rapidly. Chomsky (1965) hypothesized that we are born with a mechanism in the brain that allows us as children to extract the meanings and structures from the speech we hear around us, so we become able to generate our own unique speech. In other words, we extract the principles of grammar (which most of us couldn't even now explain), as complicated as they are, during the first two years of life. This is truly amazing. And we need to remember that a great deal of our communication with others and most of our thinking depends upon this faculty.

This is a very brief synopsis of language development but, for our purposes, will point out an important vehicle of separation. When you meditate, one of the major impediments is the mind's constant chatter. Speech. Thinking. And that is what keeps us from getting in touch with our true Self. Well, here is where it all begins - in infancy.

Exercise: Silence

Find a time that is convenient for you, but not a time when you are going to be completely alone. It is good practice to be with others for this. Go on complete silence for 24 hours. For the sake of good relations, you may explain ahead of time what you are going to do and/or make a sticker or sign to pin on yourself saying, "On silence" or "Observing silence" so people will know you are not just being rude or sulky. If necessary, you may write notes in response to genuine or necessary questions, but try to keep even this communication to the essentials. Allow yourself to be alone with yourself in the presence of others. Make notes periodically, so you can remember what happens especially if you get an important insight.

Then write a paper on Speech. Briefly describe your experience of silence. What happened? How did others respond to you? What did you feel? What kinds of things did you want to say but couldn't? How much of that was really necessary? Did you discover other uses for speech than pure communication? If so, what? Did men and women react to you differently? How did children respond, if you have any? How much of your communication do you think is non-verbal, i.e., body language? How was writing different from speech? Will you be willing to work further with this practice, perhaps staying silent for longer periods of time? What is the value of silence? What goes on in your mind when you are silent? Were you able to quiet the mind? How did you feel and behave when the silence was over? What does that tell you about yourself?

If possible, find a teacher or friend and discuss the paper you write. Talking about an experience helps you go deeper into it, and you will often find new insights that way. If you are working with a friend, ask them to question you about your ideas in order to make you think more deeply about them, but not to tell you anything. This approach helps you do your own work. Advice is not helpful.

Names and Forms (Nama-Rupa)

In order to put a name to something, I must separate myself from it and see it as an object. This is the primary duality: subject and object. It is the same separation that is reinforced by self-identification and self-image. If I give myself a name, I put the name and the concept it represents between me and the direct experience of myself. Soon I begin to identify myself with my name. Ninety percent of the time, if you ask someone, "Who are you?" they will respond with their name. This is an identification that goes back to one's earliest moments. We name babies sometimes before they are born. And the name is paired with all kinds of reinforcements, so it acquires a very high value in our lives.

Names reinforce our boundaries, our separation and our loneliness as well. As long as I see or think about myself as "Barbara," I cannot perceive myself as Spirit. The two are set up in my mind as mutually exclusive. It's true that eventually I may learn that, as Barbara, I am a cell in the body of Spirit, yet that still maintains the perception of separation. I am not yet whole.

Exercise: Ritual of Connection

1. Find a time when you can be alone for an hour or so in your prayer space. Sit for meditation and review how you represent the Divine One to yourself If you are Buddhist, how do you represent the Ground of Being to yourself'? How do you think about it? What words and/or images do you use? What things do you have on your altar? How would you explain the Source of all Being to someone else?

Then gradually let go of these ideas. Breathe into each one and, in your mind's eye, watch it drift gently away. When all the ideas, thoughts and images are gone, bring your attention to the space behind your eyelids. What is there? What color is it?

Are there any barriers? Is there any obstacle between you and the Source? (questions courtesy of Bartholomew, 1995) If so, breathe into that and let it go. It is important not to be forceful in this exercise. Allowing is the key. Observe and let go. Observe and let go. If you are not successful the first time, don't worry or chastise yourself. This can be very difficult due to long term habits of holding and concept-formation.

2. Create a Ritual of Connection based on what you have experienced with trying to let go. Such a ritual might have the following general form. You can improvise, of course, using whatever has meaning for you.

Ritual Format: Open with a period of quiet to settle yourself. Have a symbol prepared to represent the Divine One or the Source. Perhaps light a candle. In some way such as prayer or chanting invite the Divine Presence to join you . Then you treat this Presence as if It were a guest in your home. Welcome It. You might want to engage in prayer for a time or simply sit in the company of the Divine One. Next, find some symbolic way to surrender your identity and separation. You might, for instance, select a flower to represent yourself and place it on your altar offering a prayer of dedication. Ask the Divine One to accept your offering of yourself. Then do something to express your gratitude, and close with some form of devotion such as chanting, singing, reading a selection of praise or quiet meditation. Put out the candle if you have lit one and bid farewell.

This ritual can be repeated and varied as needed. Remember that when the Divine

is called with sincerity and humility, It must respond. However it may not happen right away if your heart is not open to It. If this seems to be the case, spend more time in your spiritual practices focusing on the heart center and visualizing it opening. You may also use The Divine Light Invocation as part of your regular practice and in your rituals. This is the same thing as inviting the Divine Presence.


All of what has been said about speech and verbal learning has, at its core, what the speech really means. We have seen that speech can take many forms and serve many purposes. But we need to ask ourselves from time to time: What does this really mean? This is especially important if we are using speech aggressively to hurt or control others.

Strong emotions are conveyed by the subsidiary, non-verbal components of speech: voice quality, volume, pitch, rate and inflection. If I am emotionally aroused, my body tenses and so do all the speech organs giving a unique quality to what is said depending upon what emotion is being felt. Anger, for instance, is manifested by rising volume of speech and a strident, harsh quality in the voice. Fear is often divulged through lowered volume, slower rate, breathy quality and a monotone instead of the usual up and down inflection.

Since speech and naming is a form of the coding we talked about above, it is our most valuable tool for conveying meaning. However, we need to be aware of what we are transmitting. That requires attention, awareness, and conscious discrimination. As our feelings are apparent in our voice quality, so is meaning apparent in the words we choose and the way we string them together.

We are all familiar with the slip of the tongue when something doesn't come out as it was intended. And, if you have been observant, you will recognize that often the slip tells the true meaning of what is going on in the person's mind. In fact, every slip we make should be examined for its underlying intention because often we are not aware of what is going on in deeper levels of the personality.

When you write in your journal or prepare reflective papers, it is important to take care in choosing the right words to express what you mean. Sloppy habits of self-expression are as difficult to eradicate as any other habits. And it is critically important that you represent to yourself accurately what is going on in your spiritual development. Truth is of the essence. Spirit is never fooled. But ego may try to draw a web of confusion over your deliberations especially if what you are examining is threatening to it.

Exercise: Meaning of Life

Write a paper on the meaning of your life. This is different from your purpose in being in a body. Purpose has to do with what you plan to do. Meaning has to do with what gives you a reason to continue. It is your message, your gift to the world. Therefore, it is directly connected to how you see yourself and your reason for being.

Discovering the basic meaning in your life may require some self-exploration. It is usually found at the core of your being. What do you do better than anything else in the world? What kinds of activity give you a sense of satisfaction and self-actualization? What do you create? If you were some kind of artist, what would be your message to others? Your inspiration? What is the central theme of your daydreams? Symbols of wish-fulfillment have their source in your life's meaning. To the extent that you daydream, you may not be in touch with your inner core of meaning and/or you may not be doing anything about it. What kind of dreams do you have at night? Are any of them repetitive? If so, their message needs to be decoded because you haven't "gotten it" yet.


While we are on the subject of representation, we should consider a form that conveys an entirely different aspect of being, that of music. It has always been curious to me that there seems to be a link between music and mathematics because mathematics is so linear and analytical, typically left hemisphere functioning. What they probably have in common is that they are both languages, ways of representing reality that are different from the verbal mode.

Music has been called "soul food," and there are certainly occasions when we feel nourished by music. A session of good classical music can make us feel uplifted, comforted and inspired. It often supports our daydreams as well. Liturgical music is composed to transform the spirit. My father once said even he would go to church if they still played symphonies there as they did in the middle ages and the time of Bach and Handel. Other forms of music speak to different aspects of ourselves. Rock music has a heavy sexual component. Waltzes give rise to beauty. We use music in the background to deliberately set a mood for entertainment or communion with others.

Mantra is a special kind of music that is used as a spiritual practice. It involves chanting short musical phrases over and over in order to create a certain kind of consciousness and an atmosphere of worshipful devotion. Usually the phrase has spiritual or religious overtones such as repeating the name of God or a short blessing such as "Jesus Christ have mercy on me." We have seen that frequency of vibration is significant in the Yogic tradition, and mantra chanting makes use of our knowledge about frequencies to tune the bodymind to higher levels of consciousness. Hindu and Buddhist mantras as well as some Christian and Sufi ones that have been in use for very long periods of time tend to take on unique powers by virtue of their repetition that, it is believed, can be transmitted to those who chant them. Yogic gurus give a personal mantra to new initiates that is intended to help them govern their minds and create a sacred space within themselves.

Music speaks to that within us that often is not named or is unnameable, and that presses for acknowledgement. It might be well to "raise our consciousness" about how we use music.

Exercises: Music

1. Take a little time this week to deliberately sample your music collection. Play a number of different pieces and notice how each makes you feel. Make notes as you go along. Then see if you can change a mood by playing music that does not represent how you feel. For instance, if you are feeling moody or blue, play something jazzy or upbeat. Or if you are feeling vibrant and alive, try something wistful or quiet. To what extent do your feelings change?

2. Begin a chanting practice. "Om Namah Shivaya" is probably one of the best known mantras in the yogic tradition. "Om" is the universal sound, the sacred syllable that represents the Most High. "Namah" comes from the same root as the word meaning "name." And "Shiva" is the aspect of the Divine that destroys obstacles. So people tend to use this mantra when they need help. Shiva is also the lord of Hatha Yoga. When you have taken some Hatha classes, you will understand why. So this mantra essentially translates "Shiva is the name of the Most High" or "All praise to the Most High/Divine One" (who removes obstacles).

There are numerous melodies to which this can be chanted. You might use the following which is a favorite in California. I learned it at a workshop out there, but don't know its source.

E---E---E    F#---E---E    A---G#---A      E--D--E--D--C#--B 
Om  Na-mah   Shi--i--va.   Om  na--mah    Shi-va- - - - - -ya. 

C#   C#--B     A----E        D----E    C#   B---A
Om   Na-mah   Shi---va.     Shi---va   Om   Na-mah.
(A  is high, A is low)
Another type of mantra is used in the Christian tradition if the Hindu seems too strange to you. These two are are samples from the Songs and Prayers from Taize (Roger, 1991). Taize is a non-sectarian monastery in Taize, France that sheltered and fed children who had been displaced during World War II. It now has around eighty monks from all different Christian religions and an enormous following of young adults. They use these chants the same way yogis do: to create a devotional focus, to tune the organism to higher levels of consciousness and as a form of prayer. Mantras are all simple and are repeated over and over sometimes for several hours, though you may want to start somewhat smaller. Here are two of my favorites:
  F   F    E     E---F    F   F   E     F-----G     C    A---G
Stay with me,   re-main here with me,   wa---tch    and   pr--ay. 

  F   F   E     E---F    F   F   E     F-----F      G    E---E 
Stay with me,  re-main here with me,   wa---tch     and  pr--ay. 

                                                         (p. 32) 

C#---C#       C#----C#       D-------D----D
Ve---ni      sanc---te      spi-----ri---tus.
Ho---ly      Spir---it,     come    to   us.
                                          (p. 60)


One last thought in this unit. Religion is a primary agent in social conditioning. Typically, there are rules of behavior that are championed by the church regardless of sect. And they are reinforced through fear of retribution from the Most High. We all need to come to terms with what this means for us in our lives.

Part of the exploration you are doing should be addressed to what kind of characteristics the Divine One has in your mind, how you represent It to yourself. If It is a powerful and unforgiving judge, fear may be a large issue for you. If It has parental overtones, you may need to examine your dependencies. If It is highly critical and punishing, you probably have excessive guilt as the result of an inner critic that is too demanding and needs to be taken down to size. We tend to project onto the Divine One all of our issues around authority and the unresolved conflicts of childhood. Reflection again.

The image of God is one we have created in our minds with the help of those close to us when we were growing up. If you went to church, you probably assimilated most of what was taught there about the Divine nature. It needs to be re-examined now in light of your adult experience if you want to throw off the emotionally crippling beliefs that distort your life. Venkatesananda once pointed out that the word "belief" has the word "lie" in it. Something to reflect upon.

Many people fear that examination and release of old religious beliefs will result in antisocial, criminal or pathological behavior because the usual controls (based in fear) are gone. But that isn't what happens. Instead we recognize that the rules of behavior are made for our interest as well as

that of others, and that they govern and regulate social interactions. So we now choose to abide by them while, at the same time, releasing their burdensome, crippling emotional charges. When we do this, our hearts can open and we are free to live compassionately out of love and trust rather than from fear and anger.

Evidence surrounding us in nature and the universe and testimony from those who have spent lifetimes on the spiritual path tell us that the Divine One is Love. Therefore, we may expect It to be forgiving, compassionate, supportive, nurturant and full of loving kindness. You don't need to believe this. It is open to experience which will lead eventually to wisdom. See for yourself. But, in order to see for yourself, you must first let go of your preconceptions.

Knowledge is intelligence and its impress comes upon the mind. Wisdom is the desire of the heart prompted by God's highest and most divine nature and comprises all knowledge. Wisdom is the highest spiritual intelligence, while the natural man, through knowledge, can know nothing of wisdom. A man may have great intelligence and yet have nothing of the Christ life within him. Religion is intended as a comfort, a solace, a necessity to the soul's welfare; and whichever form of religion furnishes the greatest comfort, the greatest solace, it is the form which should be adopted, be its name what it will. he best form of religion is trust in God and a firm belief in the immortality of the soul, life everlasting. --- carved into the walls of Memorial Church at Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA*


* _____ Inscriptions on the base of the north-east pilaster of the Crossing, Stanford Memorial Church Palo Alto, CA. Permission to quote has been granted by the Church.

Bartholomew. Workshop in Montrose, CO, January 14-15, 1995.

Bruner, J.S. & Olver, R. R. "Development of equivalence transformations in children." In J. C. Wright & J. Kagan, Basic cognitive processes. Lafayette, Inc: Child Development Publications, 1963, 28 (2), 125-141.

Chomsky, N. Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965.

Grodzki, Lynn. "The emotional body: An interview with Candace Pert, Ph.D." In Be well naturally: Resource guide and directory for whole living, Baltimore Resources 9th Annual, 1995.

Roger, Brother. Songs and prayers from Taize. Chicago, IL: GIA Publications, 1991.

Vygotsky, L. S. Thought and language. (edited and translated by Eugenia Hanfmann & Gertrude Vokar). NY: Wiley, 1962.

Unit 9. To Be or Not To Be Awake: Consciousness has to do with how we become aware of things around us as well as those less substantial aspects of our spirituality. A distinction is made between consciousness and awareness and attention. We also look at the sense of smell which is the sense associated with the first chakra. You will be asked to develop another spiritual practice to work with your bodymind. This is a fairly short, yet crucial unit in the series.

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