On Thursday night, I went to a workshop at Charmaine Kennedy’s wonderful shop, Tree of Life North, here in Sudbury. Charmaine is a good friend, a guru, and a spiritual guide. The workshop was titled “The Art of Letting Go: Stress Release through the Medium of Mandala Art.” Now, I do have a few mandala colouring books. An artist friend of mine gave them to me when I went through a dark period of depression back in January. I had experienced a body and soul crushing episode of bronchitis that left me breathless, and homebound, for about three weeks solid. (Sometimes, I learned, the universe has a way of slowing us down even when we least expect it, or when we least think we need or want it to happen.) Anyway, Trish brought me mandala colouring books, which I found were intriguing. A student from school had told me in the fall that she often colours to relieve stress. “Miss,” she said, “You should try it. All you need to worry about is picking the next colour!” When Trish brought me the colouring books in the deep grunge of January, with their beautifully intertwined and intricate mandalas of Celtic origin, well, I figured it was a sign. Colouring them in was hard as they had tiny lines intersecting in all sorts of odd ways. I felt that my fingers were all a-jumble.
I had also heard of mandalas as a form of meditation when I began studying yoga, reiki, and Buddhism back in 2007. I remember watching some Buddhist monks build mandalas on sand, finishing them, only to erase them again and start over. It reminded me of the mystery of labyrinths, somehow, and I’d always been intrigued by them from the time I was a little girl. They were all ancient and mystical.
The mandala making workshop was something new for me. I rarely just jump into a group of strangers and try to “make art.” For me, the idea of creating visual art, though seductive, seemed intimidating. I don’t think you can be good at everything. I know words are my thing, but I often find myself ‘blocked’ or longing for something creative that might get my juices going in a different direction. I let two friends know about the workshop and they joined in.
In total, there were eight of us, not counting the instructor, Lizanne Leclair. We began by sitting around a series of tables that were shaped into a horseshoe of sorts. Lizanne gave us a brief talk about “sacred geometry.” The idea of sacred geometry is that it’s ancient and is made up of patterns that have been around for over 2500 years. Some of the holiest places in the world — churches, temples, Stonehenge, the pyramids at Giza — all have some aspects of sacred geometry within their architecture. We can even look to patterns in the natural world to see how sacred geometry infuses everything around us. Think of cells, pine cones, shells on the seashore, flower blooms, spider webs, snowflakes, the structure of a leaf, and even branching trees that reach out above our heads. When you get to looking for it, sacred geometry is just about everywhere.
The bigger idea behind it all, from what I understood of Lizanne’s talk, is that there is always a relationship between the parts of something, and the greater whole. It’s about the cosmos, and life. Deep, I know, and I will hardly pretend to know everything about sacred geometry, or the spheres that make up the various mandala patterns that have strung themselves throughout history, around the world. The sphere is a perfect shape, in many ways, and Lizanne told us that spheres represent unity, completeness, and integrity. It’s the way in which the spheres interact, interlace themselves, that leads us to see a variety of other shapes within the outside guiding circular line of the mandala form.
Once the talk was over, Lizanne handed out construction paper, compasses, pencils, and coloured pens, markers, and pastel sticks. What, I thought, is going on? “Aren’t we going to get more information before we begin to create mandalas? How do we know what we’re doing?” I asked. “No”, she smiled and laughed. “It’s an intuitive process…what needs to emerge through the mandala, what your soul needs to express, will emerge.”
The first half hour was excruciating for me. I kept trying to draw the ‘perfect circle’ with my compass and pencil. I focused on that, rather than trying to imagine what would fill in that space. The empty space frightened me, intimidated me, freaked me out. Rather than being a stress releasing sort of workshop, it was, for me, stress inducing. I soon figured out what my head was doing: I was trying to focus on what the end product would be, rather than just being in the moment and feeling out the experience of creating a mandala. It wasn’t just ‘art,’ but it was a spiritual form of art and creativity.
This was my Type A personality emerging from the darkness. Now, I got a sense of how my students feel when I give them the rough outlines of an assignment or task, asking them to fill in the blanks with their creativity. “Aha,” I thought, “this is how they feel….”
Before I knew it, though, I had stopped sighing quietly, stopped being frustrated, and put my faith in the process, as Lizanne had asked us to. It worked. My pencil swirled around the page, dividing things up with a ruler, or just free handing a design that struck me as important. There was no mindful presence, no sense of having a set destination. Instead, it was about trusting that my soul would guide me. Before I knew it, we were an hour or more into the workshop. The time had flown by.
What I learned is that sometimes I need to get out of my own way. My preconceived notions of what I thought the workshop would be like stopped me, at first, from entering into the spirit and process of the thing. Once my ego stepped aside, my soul stepped up and I got to it. It’s kind of like life, I think. I was listening to Eckhart Tolle, on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and heard him talking about how we often look too far ahead and miss the most important thing — the moment within which we are living. We think ahead too much, not being mindful of the blessings of this moment in time. I think that’s why I like meditating or praying. It pulls me to a quiet place where my brain stops spinning.
Part of the reason I went to the workshop is that I suffer from anxiety. I know my triggers, so I avoid them, and I know how to use tools to diffuse panic when I’m in groups with lots of people. (I’m personable and good with people, but in large groups, well, I feel like hightailing it out of whatever room I’ve entered.) The ironic thing is that I often do poetry readings in front of large groups of people. I do get the jitters before those events, but it’s almost like a different part of my personality takes over when I read my work. I am certain of my words, of their meaning, so that lends me peace.
My goal this year is to be more mindful, to be more present within each moment. The mandala making workshop taught me that I still have a ways to go yet….but we are all companions on the journey, so I know that I will work away on it for a while to come.
Here’s hoping you have peace within yourself….and contentment. In my opinion, it’s worth way more than the frantic and almost unattainable happiness people talk about in pop culture.