The birth of my mandala prayer-art was twofold; I was inspired both by environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy's themes of creation and destruction in his works, as well as the 10,000 year old practice of mandala-making from the ancient Vedic cultures, symbolizing surrender and non-attachment.
Thus living on a beach in Florida, I one day set out to blend these two breathtaking practices into something of my own, and what emerged was my first beach mandala. I wanted to make it big and impressive, and so it ended up spanning about 12 feet in circumference. A lot of passer-by's noticed and expressed joy over it, and I was pleased with my work, so I continued on in this way, making mandala after mandala, week after week, year after year, each time, only using whatever it was that the ocean had washed up for me that day, and then with a certain level of comfort mixed with despair, watching her take it back into her waves once more.
What I did not realize when I first began was just how transformative this process would be for me emotionally. Each mandala posed its' own new set of challenges; sometimes the shores were quite bare and shell-less; other times the tides came up before I was ready to let my mandala go. Still other times it wasn't even the ocean, but the weather above- the coming winds or rains- that made me feel like it was a race against time to get my mandala completed....of course I simultaneously would realize that rushing to complete a mandala was not the point, and that the art of surrender by its' very nature means letting go of such control...
Perhaps most challenging of all for me was all the human-mindlessness or carelessness- where someone would walk right into my mandala due to walking while looking at their phone rather than the environment, or all the times a child may have accidentally thrown a ball or frisbee right into the center of my work.
I dealth with a lot of anger, a lot of fear, and a lot of saddness, but with each passing mandala, I found myself a bit more patient, a bit more unattached, and a bit more forgiving.
I learned over time to embrace nature in every way that she presented herself to me; as an ocean tide, as a hot scorching sun, as a running dog, a mindless human, or as cold rains or ceaseless winds.
Over the years, I also learned the art of intricacy, finding tiny details far more impressive than massive, but more spaced-out mandalas.
I learned how the tides flowed on my beaches, where and when various species of shells might be found, and how to scan the shores for matching shells with incredible accuracy due to focusing just on one thing at a time, and ignoring all other irrelevant findings or inputs.
I learned how to slow down, how to share, and how to establish boundaries.
I learned how to release my attachments.
I learned how to embrace death and destruction.
I learned how to see beauty over fear.
I learned about the ecosystem in which I live; of that which I am a part of.
I learned first-hand and experientially why this ancient practice of mandala building was so revered by ancient cultures; teaching me and all those who came before me to remain centered, and to allow for myself to not get too caught up in all the seducing petals of life happening around me, surrounding my soul- my center- but to see them for what they are- mere distractions.
While making my mandalas on the shores, I also must have heard over a hundred times from passer-by's that "it's a shame the ocean will just wash it all away", or that "I should figure out a way to immortalize and sell my mandalas as wall-hangings". Everyone would tell me that they would be such a hit if I could only materialize them for the world, but for YEARS, I resisted these suggestions, believing those who were suggesting it to "be missing the point".
Then one day, I realized it was actually ME, and no one else, who was still holding on rigidly to a model of "letting go" that was not actually complete.
By this point, I had developed quite a conversational relationship with the ocean, and had found that she could actually HEAR my thoughts and prayers in ways far more profound than my magical-thinking but measly human mind had originally believed when I first began this practice. No, it turns out that nature actually listens and responds to us, if we have the ears to hear and the eyes to recognize it...
And so on that day, I sat with the ocean and asked her permission to begin making mandalas for people to bring her prayers into their homes, offices and restaurants, and she wholeheartedly chuckled and granted me her blessings. Her waves seemed to laugh at me and my hesitancy, as if this continuation of my work had been inevitable and known to her all along.
I now offer both versions of mandala art-prayers for my clients and customers, as well as for myself and of course, the ocean herself.