Sunday, May 12, 2013
Meditations on “Annunciation” seen in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Walking through the Uffizi Gallery last month in Florence, I was stopped in awe by the sight of the “Annunciation” by Leonardo da Vinci. In heavenly shades of pink and blue the painter’s delicate yet carefully structured style illustrates the moment Mary is receiving the message that she is to bear a son—and not just any son--she is to bear the Son of God! The angel kneels before Mary, gently poised as if about to take wing. Mary is shown quiet, calm, and deep in thought. The space between Mary and the angel seems charged with portent, both dividing and joining the two figures.
What struck me about this beautiful painting is Mary’s serene composure in the face of such momentous news. The first time I learned that I was pregnant, I felt elated, pleased, and excited. I also felt a moment of panic. How could I, I wondered, after a few short months, deliver a complete, miniature human being from my own body? I experienced The Call to do something beyond anything I had ever accomplished and I was bewildered, confused, and scared. Well, in due time all came to pass. And I was turned inside out by the experience. After a while I began creating mandalas, and life gradually took on a deeply meaningful new rhythm.
We all receive The Call when we are challenged by life to respond with abilities we may not even know we possess. Hidden in our unconscious, accessible by untried neural pathways, we have not yet claimed these abilities as part of our self-awareness. Carl Jung wrote about this unconscious part of our psyche as a matrix of potentials which we are drawn to discover and live out. Life calls us to this inner work. We respond in our own way. We may lean into trust of the mysterious human wisdom imprinted in our mind/body. Or we may respond out of terror or disgust at the strange call we receive. We may fight the message, or shape it to our own grandiose ends, disowning the mystery from which it emerges. Those who perpetrate violence and terroristic acts may be responding from their fear of an unfamiliar call. Most of us rise to the challenge, discover and use hidden strengths, and in the process become more humble, creative, tolerant, wise, and loving: in short, better human beings.
How will you respond the next time you get The Call?
Sunday, March 24, 2013
“Driving the flat open roads of West Texas one summer day, I noticed that whether my car was stopped or speeding along the highway, I appeared to be at the center of a vast circular space covered with tough, dry grass and mesquite brush. My gaze traveled into the distance, where the horizon was like the edge of a dinner plate, marking the end of the earth in every direction. Feeling the urge for a better look, I pulled over, got out of the car, and made my way through the brush to a sandy patch nearby. I was alone. The sun burned down, unchallenged in its position at the center of a clear blue sky that held nothing back. The intense light forced my eyes into narrow slits. A breeze touched my face. “I slowly turned, surveying the empty land while the wind whipped my skirt. Occupying the center of the earth as my eyes told me I was, I felt a rush of grateful camaraderie with the sun. I was not alone after all. Suddenly inspired, I picked up a piece of white caliche stone and scraped a circle in the crusty sand on which I stood. Within the circle I felt secure, anchored, protected, like a little one wrapped in a snug blanket. Standing tall at the center of my circle, I felt kinship with the land, the sky, the sun. I had joined with the vast cosmic forces at play in this American grassland. Like many before me at such times, I had constructed a mandala to bring the moment into focus, manage the energy it stirred, and draw the event into my personal domain of experience.” This is from the introduction to my latest book, “Coloring Mandalas 4: For Confidence, Energy, and Purpose.” (Fincher, Susanne F. 2013. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.)
Friday, March 15, 2013
How do you know that you exist? What gives you the feeling of being or having a self? In his book “Hallucinations,” (2012, New York: Alfred A Knopf) Oliver Sacks writes about the feeling of self as a source of will or agency. This is the original meaning of the term “body image.” He describes disturbances in the body image which occur when parts of the body are amputated: the phantom limb sensation where people continue to experience the presence of the amputated limb. He tells the story of a gifted piano professor whose right arm was amputated. The man’s sense of his phantom right hand was so acute that he could “perceive” and recommend the best fingering for his students as they learned to play complicated pieces of classical music! We tend to think that our body image is a static reality, but this is not so. In fact, “as normal sensation is blocked, body image disturbances can occur very quickly,” (Sacks, p. 281). We have all experienced this after a trip to the dentist. Because of the anesthesia numbing part of our mouth, we have the impression that our face is deformed or our tongue too big for our mouth. This bizarre change to our body image goes away only when the anesthesia wears off and normal sensations convince us of the true size of our mouth and face. It seems that a felt sense of our body depends on our brain constantly receiving and processing sensory information from all parts of our body. I have written about my intuition that children’s mandala drawing around age 3 supports a child’s development/refinement of a sense of self: the calibration of the movements of the body, and the realization that these abilities can be directed by the personal will toward desired goals. (Creating Mandalas, Rev., 2010, Boston: Shambhala) I believe that creating mandalas consolidates body image for preschoolers. It is part of their natural development to use creating mandalas for this purpose. Jung observed that his patients created mandalas during times of psychological disorientation. I have been told of psychiatric patients who spontaneously created mandalas as their psychosis cleared. It seems likely that in cases such as these the sense of self—even to the level of the body image—is disturbed, and that creating mandalas is indeed a part of recovering or renewing the body image. So the mandalas that we create for insight, healing, and self-expression also engage us in the moment to moment flow of sensory information that tells us what, where, and who we are.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
I must confess that I am behind creating my monthly mandalas for 2013. I have plenty of material, but how to attach it to the board was my challenge. Then I remembered a technique I learned recently at a bonsai workshop when I was re-potting my bonsai forest. Cut a length of chopstick, wrap wire around it a couple of turns, insert ends of wire through hole in the pot (or board, in my situation). Then wrap the wire around the tree, etc., that needs to be secured. It works! I use aluminum wire. It is cheap and flexible. So, now I have January mandala completed.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Mandala 2013. I have a new mandala project for 2013. I will create one mandala a month, reflecting my own neighborhood walk near Decatur, Georgia. A couple of times each week, I walk around the block where my house is. I circumambulate a moving mandala around my home. I am collecting things that catch my eye as I walk. The collection for each month will be used to create a mandala on a 14" x 14" piece of plywood. I am using leftover bits of house paint to prime the pieces of wood. I had holes drilled in the wood so I can attach things with wire, string,or who knows what. I pick up whatever catches my eye: natural, man made. Trash. Nothing gooey. I also allow myself to include a photo of something transitory in bloom or color. Like my cherry tree just bloomed in magenta. That had to be included in the February mandala. So far I haven't picked up any cigarette butts. Some kind of "yuck" factor that stops me. I have picked up pieces of wood, paper, shiny snack package bits, broken toilet pieces, pine cones, empty squashed beer and soda cans. I enjoy the paper that is made when the weekly newspaper gets wet in the rain, and people drive their cars over it coming and going from their drive ways. The resulting paper has interesting tire tread patterns stamped into it. At the end of the year, I will assemble all of these singular mandalas to create one large circle of 12 mandalas: a mandala of the year, or "Mandala 2013." I will invite people to come see it and walk my year by circling these mandalas arranged in a circle.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
During September and October 2010, Tibetan Buddhist monks of the Mystical Arts of Tibet created a mandala of colored sand at Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta. Their work was marked at each stage with ceremony, chanting, and meditation. They worked for weeks to complete the mandala of Avalokiteshvara (the Buddha of Compassion). The mandala was created to prepare, open, and invite benevolent sacred energies for the visit of the Dalai Lama to Emory University in Atlanta. The Dalai Lama is thought to be a reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara.
On October 12, 2010, under the guidance of His Eminence Rizong Rinpoche, the 102nd Gaden Throne holder of the Gelug lineage in Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the mandala was "closed." After prescribed chanting, music making, and meditation, the mandala was circumambulated three times by His Eminence, who was preceded by the Spiritual Director of DLM bearing incense. At a signal from His Eminence, the monks swept sand into tiny packets that were distributed as a blessing to those present for the ceremony.