Symbols Are Reality to Our Brain

We humans feel several types of pain. There is burning, stinging, stabbing, crushing, pulling and throbbing pain. I’m sure that you could come up with a few more. Lately scientists have named two more kinds of pain. They are emotional pains. The pain of presence which is pain caused by something that is present in your life; and the pain of absence, which is the pain caused by something absent from your life.

Before you start thinking that emotional pain is different, be aware that with new scientific techniques, we can measure the brain and the nervous system and see what it is doing and how. We discovered that physical pain is the same process as emotional pain.

I have traumatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, and four bulging disks - two in my neck and two in my lower back. As soon as the doctors discovered the fibromyalgia, they explained that my pain was all in my head.

I’m sure that there are many of you out there who have experienced the same thing. Once a doctor finds a mental cause for some of your pain, that’s it. “It’s all in your head”.

Well, the joke is on them. Areas of the brain that process physical pain share the areas with our emotional centers, making a multi-pronged approach to the treatment of pain necessary.

The reality is that all pain, whether caused by a migraine or fibromyalgia comes from the brain and it all originates in the same general area.

Another peculiar thing about our brains, is that we don’t separate symbols from the things that they symbolize. Any American who has stood by a parade and seen a uniformed veteran walking down the street carrying an American Flag, knows what I mean.

Tacoma Screw Flag

Tacoma Screw Flag

Nalley Valley Flag  

As a matter of fact, where I live there is a large valley called the Nalley Valley right where I get on the freeway. (It’s the very valley where Nalley’s pickles were made) On the North side of the valley there is a giant (like 40 by 80 feet) American Flag that blows in the breeze that the valley creates.

I have a boring 30 mile freeway drive to and from work and on my way home, about the time I’m going to exit the freeway and enter my neighborhood, I see that flag.

I’m getting teary just thinking about it. By that time, I’m tired. I hurt because my medications have worn off and then that Flag appears and I know I’m home. I’m not only at home in my own country, I’m in my own community, and I have less than five minutes before I walk into my front door.

(Click for a SouthSoundTalk article on this landmark erected by Tacoma Screw Products)

The Grotto

The Grotto

The Grotto
The National Sanctuary of
Our Sorrowful Mother

The same thing happens to devout, and some not so devout, Christians when they see The Grotto - National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother in Portland. I have often seen people drop to the kneels and weep as they feel they are in the presence of the Queen of Heaven. I must admit that I am in awe when I see it and I don’t even believe there is a heaven.

(Link to their official website)  (Wikipedia entry on The Grotto)

The point is, symbols are reality to our brain. If it is a symbol of someone we have lost, we weep. If it is the symbol of a source of pride, we swell with it. If it is a symbol of rejoicing, we cheer.

Religions uses symbols to give people something to worship. Rather than make up a group of symbols to draw those feelings out of us, I have turned to paganism. It is full of symbolism. I would bet that even a devout pagan could not name all of the symbols and the emotions they draw from us, just as most devout Catholics could not name all of the saints. Yet when they see the symbol they are moved to some action - some behavior - whether that behavior is simple admiration, shame, charity or service.

Oh yes, symbols can evoke pain and fear, also. How many horror movies have used statues of the pagan gods to send us to bed after checking the closets? The western idea of Satan comes from the image of the Great Horned God, who in Wicca, is associated with nature, wilderness, sexuality, hunting, and the life cycle.

Kuan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy

World famous author, Pearl S. Buck said,

"My special Goddess, She of mercy, the [Kwanyin], always so beautiful and graceful, such a lady in her looks as well as in her kindness, and tender-hearted toward all female creatures. The Goddess of Mercy was really immaculate and there was never any talk there about a god-father or a god-son. She was pure goodness."

When I see a statue of Kuan Yin or hear her mantra, I can’t help but feel loved and have a desire to show mercy and compassion to even those I don’t especially care for.

Click the play button to listen to this YouTube recording of Kuan Yin's mantra. Listen and see if you agree with me.

I don’t believe that Kuan Yin actually exists and I don’t even know if she ever did. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if she did?

Ritual Humanism will promote rituals that include symbols of ancient religions and philosophies because they have been time tested in their ability to evoke positive emotions. We will combine these symbols with more modern ones as we develop your higher self. The three diverse symbols presented above (Our Flag, Our Sorrowful Mother, and Kwan Yin) are examples of the variety of symbols that can invoke positive emotions.

Next we will teach you about Finding Your Higher Self.


Use the Reply Form below to tell us about some symbol that invokes a positive emotion for you.