Symbolic Visualization for Creatives

by Marj Penley


Exercise purpose

Symbolic visualization benefits creative folks in numerous and powerful ways. For example, symbolic visualization enables us to become aware of the obvious and obscure aspects of ourselves and to incorporate them not only into our conscious awareness, but also into our creative work itself. Symbolic visualization often results in deeper, richer, and more significant creative work.

Exercise description

We will want to begin the exercise by relaxing in a comfortable position, closing our eyes and choosing a particular symbol for our focus.

We can choose from any of the following symbols: nature symbols, animal symbols, man-made symbols, or religious and mythological symbols. We can also choose from all the symbols that lead to transpersonal experiences: symbols of ascent, expansion, light, fire, development, liberation and growth.

For this exercise, let’s focus on symbols of ascent and light.
First, put yourself in a relaxed, comfortable position and close your eyes. Then imagine yourself in a meadow on a pleasant summer day. You might notice some blue jays nearby or some redwing blackbirds balanced on sturdy weeds.

You see a path to your right, leading up a mountain. As you walk up this path, you see many rocks on either side. Occasionally, you see some white or purple wild flowers growing between the rocks. As you climb higher and higher, you see just bare rocks. After awhile you reach the top of the mountain and you find a comfortable place to sit.

For the past several weeks you have been bothered by a particular problem. You allow yourself to focus on that problem. With the sunlight shining down on you, you feel not only warm but you sense how the light is helping you to see more clearly a solution to the problem. You stay on top of the mountain, enjoying the warmth, the light, and a feeling of relief now that you know the solution to your problem.

Is session or as homework

Symbolic visualization can be used in session or given as homework to develop latent qualities and skills. Whether in session or at home, the person first gets into a comfortable, relaxed position and closes his eyes. For this symbolic visualization, let’s focus on growth and development.

First, we ask the person to focus on a particular plant. This plant represents any qualities or skills that the person wants to develop. The person first visualizes tilling the soil, then planting the seed, visualizing the sun and rain falling on the ground, the seed maturing into a young plant and the young plant then maturing into a full-grown plant.

Since the development of the plant represents the growth of the qualities or skills, as the plant develops, the qualities and skills will develop as well. The client can then imagine a seed of a different plant, representing a different desired quality or skill. He imagines that plant now growing into a fully developed plant and, with the visualization of that plant growing, he imagines the development of that second desired quality or skill as well.

Adaptation for home use

Creatives can easily adapt this technique of symbolic visualization for home use. A creative person can choose a symbol to represent the current piece of creative work. As he runs into problems or difficulties with the creative work, he can imagine the symbol changing in such a way that the problem or difficulty would be corrected.

For example, a crooked piece of rope might symbolize that there was a problem with the plot of a novel. As the fiction writer imagined straightening out the rope, he would begin to see how to straighten out his novel’s plot problems.


Whenever Mike was frustrated with his art work, he took out his anger on his wife. He would yell at her, telling her that she ruined his concentration and that she was destroying his career as an artist. Yet he said that he knew that she was not really the cause of his frustration.

He said, “When I feel frustrated with my art, I just see red and I start yelling and blaming my wife.” I asked him to think of something that was red. He immediately said, “A rose. A red rose comes to mind.”

I suggested to him that he lean back, relax, and close his eyes. I asked him to imagine that he was looking at a red rose. When I asked him what he saw, he said, “Oh, yes, I see the red rose. In fact, I see a whole bunch of red roses. A dozen red roses just like I gave my wife on Valentine’s Day.”

“It sounds like you love your wife. Is that true?” I asked.

“Oh, I do love her. It’s just that I get so damn frustrated.”

“I wonder, Mike, if you would be willing to try an experiment?’

“Sure, if it will help.”

“The very next time you begin to feel angry, I want you to find a comfortable place, sit down, close your eyes and imagine a red rose or a bunch of red roses—red roses like you gave your wife on Valentine’s Day. Focus on the red roses.”

When Mike came a week later, he could hardly wait to tell me about his experience.

“When I felt frustrated with my art project, I did that thing you suggested. I immediately lay down on the couch and imagined a dozen red roses. I just kept breathing and imagining red roses. In no time at all, my anger melted away. I’m going to do that rose thing every time I start to feel frustrated with my art. I think I’ll buy my wife a dozen red roses as well. Just to let her know I really do love her.”

About Marj Penley

Marj Penley’s work is all about growth and expansion. For over thirty years she has worked with clients who have overcome limitations and expanded their abilities. Marj is a certified hypnotherapist, licensed therapist and certified creativity coach. She also designs, creates and sells her own ceramics. She paints with watercolors, writes, and has published works on Collingwood’s Theory of Art. She will soon have a book published on creativity. With techniques galore, Marj loves to support, guide, inspire and empower people worldwide.

Marj welcomes email at More about her coaching, classes and workshops can be found at her website,

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