We’re all familiar with the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Today, in an age predicated on technology and social media, this may be more true than ever. We are witness to thousands of images every day, many of which are advertisements, some of which are pictures posted by “friends” on a variety of online sharing sites. And as we instantaneously take in image after image, we are reading. Sure, it’s a different kind of reading than we were trained to do in grade school, and it hinges on our own visual literacy. If one image is indeed worth a thousand words, then we’re computing those words—meanings, symbols, and hidden messages—in the fraction of a second that we devote to each of the many images presented to us. We couldn’t possibly read (at least in the traditional sense) a thousand words as quickly as we can “see” them. And it’s about time that we presently engage in our already active relationship with images, as we discover exactly what pictures can say (and already are saying) about us.
Perhaps you tried your hand at journaling during your formative years, or maybe it’s a practice you’re still participating in. Journaling provides us with the opportunity to speak to and evaluate ourselves, to release observations, emotions, fears, and desires in a safe, judgment-free place. Since mindful and joyous living requires growth—attained from self-reflection and acknowledgement that we are all works in progress—it’s essential that we praise the parts of ourselves that we’re proud of, and allow ourselves to gently and kindly work on the parts of ourselves that have, at one point or another, let us down. Still, as many of us are aware, we are often our own harshest critics, and it’s not always easy to take responsibility for our own thoughts. It can be daunting to sit down and, quite literally, get the ball (tip pen) rolling.
So, if even for a short while, forget about writing, and consider a different kind of journaling: one that demands that you look at and describe yourself visually. More often than not, there are images out there, from paintings to photographs to advertisements, that represent all parts of ourselves. And when placed together, those images can comprise a series of self-portraits—of the self we used to be, the self we currently are, and the self we wish to become.
- Reflect. Gather a series of magazines and art books brimming with intriguing pictures to which you feel connected. As you leaf through these materials, think about the last year of your life and assess the positive changes you’ve made. Remind yourself of the successes generated from those changes.
- Connect. Allow the images to speak to you, to remind you of who you are, who you’ve been, and who you’d like to become. Spend time looking at each image, and cut out or take a photograph of any image that resonates with you. If, for example, a photograph of a tranquil beach prompts you to remember how much you’ve worked toward your own peace and serenity, take that picture and set it aside. If a painting of an ominous sky reminds you of a time when you felt threatened or scared, set that picture aside. If an advertisement of an accomplished yogi or runner makes you want to work on your own health and fitness, set that picture aside.
- Create. Assemble all the pictures you culled to make three visual journals/self-portraits. On one large sheet of paper, arrange all the pictures that remind you of who you used to be, of personal challenges that you’ve overcome (you can cut the pictures down so they all fit on the page, and arrange them in a collage-like fashion). On a second page, connect all the images that remind you of who you are in your present state, and on a third page, join together the pictures that remind you of who you are still working toward becoming. You will have three pictorial diaries, three self-portraits that will forever encourage you to embrace and build upon all aspects of yourself—the good, the bad, and the still in progress.