More than ever we want comforting and enlivening rituals in our day-to-day lives.
Since about 2010 I’ve created maybe one hundred mandala installations using natural materials. Obvious things like stones, shells, flowers, leaves, sand and seed pods are abundant almost any time in natural settings. Even more satisfying are the “finds” – like feathers, seaweed, coral, minerals, bird nests and bones. Even washed-up fish have presented themselves.
The limits to materials are endless, and they are authentic to that time & place. Sometimes they might take 1-2 hours to complete, but often 10-20 minutes or so of contemplation & creation is enough to create something precious.
I have promoted mandalas as a meditation technique and general celebratory art device so much so that recently a friend asked me to pen some thoughts and suggestions about how to use them. They are such a lovely tool for kids, for meditation, healing therapy and simply for their visual delight.
Meaning more or less “sacred circle” in Sanskrit, mandalas (whether drawn, painted or assembled) represent wholeness and harmony. That’s how I feel when I complete one – a great wave of contentedness, connectedness and gratitude. Most of them are fresh, spontaneous & unrecorded, they are mine alone.
The final creations are just a sweet little snapshot of my inner self at that specific moment in time.
I shape them mostly in a circular pattern, arranging materials in typically a star shape of 3-6 arms. This is the simplest way to begin. Some days they look like snowflakes, other times compasses, other times more complex patterns form.
On some rare instances they may be square, but this usually doesn’t feel good, hard edges are not my mandalas. Metaphorically, they represent my intention to (kindly) soften & polish my hard edges.
Creating symbols, patterns & the creative repetition of arranging leaves & flowers with curved (& sometimes willful) forms is soothing and restorative. There are similar contemplative qualities to say, knitting or weaving. There’s a puzzle to solve…….and a beautiful feeling to chase…..
How it feels is the crux of the entire practice. The purpose of a mandala is to help focus inwards. Their forms – like any art, chanting, prayer or meditative practice are an offering, using our hands to create an offering of ourselves to the universe. Tibetan lamas (who call mandalas “khyil-khor”) can make hundreds of thousands of them in sand over the course of their devotional lifetime. It is a practice of giving without the intention of personal gain, purpose or motivation, without the satisfaction of a lasting item. For many people this is really challenging.
The essence of the material is captured, honoured. Since the offering is unique and made from nature-created materials there can be no bad mandalas. For this reason I give no meaty instructions on how to create them. There are few rules.
Firstly, a mandala practice should come to you. The best ones are created in a moment of pause somewhere and will likely find you when your mind is clear and your heart is full. Create a slice of free time to simply play. Perhaps start with a silent walk around your yard observing the materials you see each day.
Start with a single object in the centre. Whilst deliberately controlling your breathing, see what people, emotions, intentions, dreams or themes come up as you place the first object.
The placement of all items should take time. This is not about finishing the piece, rather the quality of the time spent contemplating the placement of objects. By considering the qualities of the materials (shape, colour, texture, etc) and experimenting with the visual satisfaction of material arrangements, busy brain patterns are slowed and deeper thoughts and sensations materialize.
To date my mandala creation has helped overcome homesickness, celebrated birthdays & supported a classroom of stressed tweens. A dabble on holidays at a resort resulted in a stunning display of fellow guests following suit. A terrible volume of plastic waste collected lakeside was transformed into a stunning star.
I never intended to transform personal dabbling into direct offerings for others, but perhaps that is a natural progression since these really are offerings to the whole world. It’s my wish that many people find a “nature altar”, a silent space for themselves in order to allow creations come spontaneously and gently whenever the urge strikes.
There is perfection in the imperfection of nature-made materials and a spiritual beauty that is ever-present if you learn how to see it. This natural landing pad of stillness – if used without too much expectation of results – can deliver a sweet practice of meditation and/or prayer.
There is so much more, so many practitioners whose work inspires. By all means look at Day Schildkret‘s daily offerings at morningaltars.com. For Australian workshops and retreats see Karen & Gary Scotts “Mandala Magic” for drawn/painted mandalas. And Kathy Klein’s delicate floral whimsy’s are stunning.
Should you need guidance, if you think this practice might serve you in your own life, workplace or 2016 family calendar, I’d love to share more…….please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
For celebrations like event openings, weddings, christenings, etc, mandalas are a wonderful device for collective reflection & expression.
Or for no reason at all…………