The French writer Albert Camus wrote, “A man’s life is nothing but a slow trek to rediscover through the detours…those one or two images in whose presence his heart first opened.” The poet Stanley Kunitz believed that writers have key images that captivated them as children, and they keep working these images over and over again in their writings. The mythologist Michael Meade says that at the core of each of our lives is an image that first “moved us” into the world. And Walt Whitman poetically wrote, “There was a child went forth, and the first thing he looked upon, that object he became.”
Is it possible, as the writers above suggest, that as children looking at the world with fresh eyes, certain key visual impressions make an impact on our hearts? Perhaps giving us a “ground” to stand on, and a lens or point of view through which we see the world? Psychologists report that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important for shaping our psychological health and functioning. While psychology tends to focus on dysfunctional impressions on children, it is not hard to believe that our hearts would remember images of beauty or things that captivate us as well. Perhaps each of us has a particular key image that we each in our own way, keep working throughout our lives. Perhaps those images that we loved as children stay with us, giving us ways of looking, ways of seeing the world. Here are some examples.
A friend of mine grew up near the sea in England. She’s a scientist of sorts, and woven through all her writings is the notion of oceanic waves. A somatic therapist friend of mine has a body of work that she’s developed called “clearing clouds.” The cosmologist Brian Swimme has devoted his life to telling the “creation” story. And one of my clients from Mexico holds a primary image of a bustling marketplace. Her early childhood years were spent accompanying her parents to the festive Mexican market where they sold their wares. My own key image is watching my father–an Iowa farmer–plant and grow things. Planting, growing, and digging my hands into rich soil are images that lie deep within my personal psychology, despite having spent most of my adult life living in the city.
What is the key image that lies in your own heart? How has it shaped how you see the world? How does it replenish you when times are difficult? What guidance does it offer for your future? How does your key image offer support and nourishment for other people, and for the larger world?
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