As an introduction to my online Bright-eyed/Bushy-tailed Series (coming soon), I wanted to talk a bit about the power of meditation.
I know that this word can be a real buzz kill for people. With our fast-paced lifestyle and our tendency to maintain a non-stop interaction with technology, most of us don’t allow any daily moments of quiet time or self-reflection. Stillness can also be uncomfortable for people accustomed to going full speed.
Recently, a client of mine sent me an article from the New York Times about the Secretary of State for Ronald Reagan, George Shultz:
When George Shultz was secretary of state in the 1980s, he liked to carve out one hour each week for quiet reflection. He sat down in his office with a pad of paper and pen, closed the door and told his secretary to interrupt him only if one of two people called:
“My wife or the president,” Shultz recalled.
When I started to read this, I laughed. What does it say when the Secretary of State can carve out a moment of time for quiet and I can’t?!
Most of us can identify with the physical and mental impact of sustained stress over long periods of time. Cortisol, a steroid derived from the adrenal cortex, is a key player in the madness that ensues in the body from stress. Its job is to ensure that your body has enough glucose in a fasted state. It also suppresses the immune system and over time, can lead to adrenal fatigue resulting in symptoms such as weight gain, increased chronic pain, and joint inflammation.
One of the ways to keep the body from releasing excess amounts of cortisol is by ceasing to be in a constant state of fight-flight via the sympathetic nervous system. Activities such as walking and yoga, are powerful ways to combat stress.
Since meditation in the commercialized sense often brings up images that have some of my clients heading for the hills, I thought I would share a method that isn’t as common: drawing a mandala or yantra.
I was first introduced to drawing mandalas in 1999. One of my friends pulled out a book written by Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”. She then took out a pad of paper and some colored pencils and we started to draw out some designs, combining some circles with free hand drawings. That day, something inside of me broke open and images began pouring out onto the paper. It was such a different way to use my art skills than the formal training I had received. I felt calmer, more meditative.
Not long ago, I was inspired to start drawing again after bringing some art materials to a friend who is in the hospital. We started dinking around on paper and I thought to myself: why did I ever stop drawing mandalas?!
Many of you may be wondering: what are mandalas and what are yantras? You might already recognize a mandala or yantra if you’ve looked at any Tibetan sand art or paintings from ritual Hinduism. I am no expert but here is my humble attempt to describe this marriage of art and spirituality: For me, mantras are a way to create a focal point in ones mind. You can use geometric patterns and color, all to help incorporate and understand your internal process, which in turn allows your mind to be more open to new doorways.
SALISBURY, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 03: Tibetan Monks from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery , (clockwise from top) Ven Lobzang Thokmed, Kachen Namgyal, Kachen Lobzang Tuskhor and Kachen Choedrak complete a Chenrezig Sand Mandala in Salisbury Cathedrals Chapter House on October 3, 2013 in Salisbury, England. The monks, who started the painstaking process of creating the sand mandela with millions of grains of coloured sand on Monday, will end it tomorrow in a destruction ceremony and procession to the River Avon. The monks who currently live in exile in India are visiting various places in the UK and Europe and will complete two more sand mandelas – which are an artistic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and are a symbolic picture of the universe representing an imaginary palace – before returning home to their monastery in late November. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images) ** TCN OUT **
The word mandala translates from Sanskrit into a few words, one being circle. According to Cristian Violatti, an editor for Ancient History Encyclopedia:
“A mandala can be defined in two ways: externally as a schematic visual representation of the universe and internally as a guide for several psychophysical practices that take place in many Asian traditions, including meditation…”
Yantras are designs linked to tantric practices and devotions to deities in Hinduism. Local Seattle teacher Melanie Farmer, a yoga & ayurvedic practitioner and vedic astrologer, creates beautiful paintings of yantras. She talks of them in this way:
“Planetary yantras attune our mind by resonance. This amplified resonance acts as a doorway inviting subtle, creative universal forces into our lives. Through contact with these extremely elevated energies and forces, we receive guidance and support on the spiritual path…”
Note that in starting to define a mantra or yantra, there is much room for personal creative expression, regardless of religion or spiritual practices. Anyone can make a mandala, even children. I encourage parents to share this form of meditation! You may have fun and even feel relaxed 🙂
Here are some basic supplies to get you going. They are all readily available at your local art store:
-pad of drawing paper (white or black)
-compass (this will be the greatest expense but even a halfway decent compass makes things much easier.)
-0.7 mechanical pencils
-Wescott see-through general stencil (for even, geometric designs)
-pens (colored and non)
-erasers (I have a big Staedtler and some small Pentel click erasers)
-your favorite things to color with (if you are using black paper, you’ll need to use lighter colors/gels).
That’s it! I also found a little book by Kathryn Costa that goes step by step for beginners. It shows a variety of ways to draw mandalas, all while keeping things very simple (otherwise, your meditation practice may turn into a fit and we really don’t want that!)
Here’s the beginning of my rusty-handed mandala after a 10-year hiatus:
For the more seasoned practitioner: Melanie may be offering classes this summer! Stay tuned.
In Good Health,