135 Journals Art Journal: The Monday Mandala

22 Sep
Mandala, September 21, 2014

Mandala, September 21, 2014. Painted with acrylic paint on repurposed art journal, by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

I’ve been drawing and painting mandalas since I was a teenager (and yes, many of them are still in old journals). Something about the process of making these patterns calmed me down and focused me. I didn’t really know how much mandalas were a “thing” until later, although I do think that some forms of mandalas were popular in the 1970s. Recently, in part because my husband teaches Asian literature in his excellent high school, I have had the opportunity to learn more about mandalas, which are an important and meaningful part of Buddhist religious practice. In fact, one of the most interesting experiences I had was one day when we drove to Bryn Athyn College in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania (hmm, wonder how they picked out the name?) to see Tibetan Buddhist monks make sand mandalas. A group of five or six monks patiently filled a bronze looking instrument that looked a bit like a cornucopia, narrowed at the end, and tap, tap, tapped sand out of the end of the instrument. What is remarkable is how each monk knew exactly where he was in the pattern, and that the pattern remained consistent between all the monks. And also, something that I hadn’t seen in pictures, that the pictures were three dimensional–there were little sand mountains and valleys. I learned at the time what the significance of some of the symbols were, but I don’t remember now. However, it was a magical day. I was deeply impressed by the beauty of the mandala and of the idea of how the symbols worked. I was moved by the patience of the monks and their mission. They were trying to raise money to help their brethren and others who are in exile in India and in different places. Bryn Athyn College, incidentally, was extraordinarily beautiful and a very interesting place in its own right. It is founded on the ideals of Emmanuel Swedenborg. He was a Christian with some very odd and interesting ideas, and I hope to write about him in a future post.

Another inspiration for me and mandalas is my discovery of the Red Book of Carl Jung. He of course was also mystical in his way. Although I can’t say I’m mystical, I do feel that there is a certain kind of mystery and wonder that can often be forgotten in our busy, rushing world. Looking into my children’s eyes, or my husband’s, or even a stranger’s eyes at times, has felt as if I’m looking into the center of the universe. And I think that’s what gives mandalas power. They start in the center, and–it feels to me–pour out of that little pupil, letting a little bit of the center of the universe seep out.
Writing Prompt: Have you ever felt a sense of mystery? When? Describe it.


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