Working on the new version of my homepage, I knew I wanted something special to illustrate the various spiritual paths and challenges I talk about on the site. I searched through myriads of stock images online and nothing really captured what I was trying to convey. Around the same time, I was taking a drawing class where I met a talented young illustrator named Fahim Haider. I loved his comic book sensibility and his enthusiasm to translate my ideas about spiritual practice into a symbolic visual vocabulary.
The 8 images were created to be icons heading up the various sections of my home page, but the finished artworks were so rich, they reward viewing at a larger size.
I’ve written some quick thoughts below about the symbolic intentions behind some of the images.
For Investigation, I really wanted to convey my experience of philosophical dialogue as a kind of magical exchange. Fahim captured this idea beautifully with faceted polyhedral shapes flying between the two interlocutors to represent the beauty of ideas being shared.
The octagon shaped frame, with its 8-fold symmetry symbolizes the rational order of the mind.
Devotion was a challenge because all the standard images that might be used convey a strong link to a particular religious framework. I wanted something that spoke to the essence of devotional faith without alienating those who might not identify with religious symbolism.
The image Fahim came up with of the hands outstretched to the candle flame with mysterious billowing clouds in the background really nailed what I was hoping for. There is also a subtle nod to my own religious background in the hexagonal shape of the image’s frame recalling the Star of David.
The illustration Struggle for Meaning was the most difficult to conceptualize. How does one illustrate meaning? I was inspired here by the ideas and illustrations of Carl Jung in The Red Book.
The ornate, mandala-like entity at the top of the image symbolizes a well-ordered system of cultural and personal meaning. It is being squished and attacked by black tentacles of chaos and the unknown. This appears quite scary, but I like how in Fahim’s depiction the tentacles also resemble roots of a tree. The dark forces of the unconscious tend to upset our ordered views of reality, yet they also offer the promise of new growth and nourishment.
This image for Spiritual Dark Night was clear in my mind from the beginning. It reflects my personal experience of travelling through what the Theravada tradition calls the Dukkah Nyanas, or Stages of Suffering, on the path to awakening.
The figure in the picture is literally falling to pieces. His entire sense of self is being disassembled. The medieval alchemists used the chemical process of dissolving a salt in solution as a symbol of this stage in the spiritual process.
Eventually, he’ll be put back together in a new and better way, but at this stage, there is no sign of that.