A month or so ago I was among the lucky who quickly pressed the right button to accept Heather Plett’s invitation for a mandala coaching session. We booked a skype time, I rescheduled, sent her an email wondering how to prepare, and then on Monday, February 13, sat in front of my monitor for our session.
After some catching up, she lit a candle for us, grabbed a book of poetry, spontaneously flipped to a page, and read Annie Dillard’s “There is No One But Us” to open the space:
There is no one but us.
There is no one to send,
nor a clean hand nor a pure heart
on the face of the earth, nor in the earth,
but only us,
a generation comforting ourselves
with the notion that we have come at an awkward time,
that our innocent fathers are all dead
–as if innocence had ever been—
and our children busy and troubled,
and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready,
having each of us chosen wrongly,
made a false start, failed,
yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures,
and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved.
But there is no one but us.
There never has been.
Hmmmm…that struck a chord.
Heather then asked me for my emerging question. I became silent as I searched, waited, fumbled and stumbled back into the question I’ve been with for ages it seems, this time worded a bit more spaciously, even cryptically, “How to be still, until?”
She then invited, with several more provocative and evocative questions, my exploration of self-trust, inner peace and safety in my world. Suggesting I tell the story of the woman who journeyed to Europe “sola” last year, what did I discover about her, about me? Themes of play and fear were crafted into Heather’s stylish and easy to follow mandala guideline and coloured example (from her own daily practice) sheet, which she emailed to me right after our conversation.
It took me until this week to get the “right” journal – a square paged one – as the circle sits best within the square (there is an ancient sacred geometry at play here), discovered a never-used set of 50 coloured felts, pencil crayons, and found the compass from high school geometry class. Throughout this preparation time (and yes, some procrastination – ohhhhh how defenses know when the unconscious is being beckoned), I’d been sitting with my themes, and wondering how this process would be like the intuitive painting I host, as both are not about art, but rather about allowing intuition to guide colours, design, words, etc.
I’ve now created seven mandalas. Right off the bat, I made a mistake, or at least my inner critic told me I did when I discovered I didn’t follow Heather’s first instruction. Honestly, she never gave me an instruction. It was a guideline only, but mind and conditioning have a way of taking a spacious guideline and making it an instruction to be followed, a hard-fast rule to break. “Coercion breeds resistance,” I’d read somewhere recently.
I knew way before I started drawing, I didn’t want rules. Right now I have plenty of rules, “not allowed to’s,” “supposed to’s,” inner shoulds and musts. Truthfully, I really wanted to colour outside the lines, but would that still be a mandala, to colour beyond the circle into space? (Hmmmm… I may have just answered my own question!) Being new to this, I earnestly wanted to do this right and didn’t want to rebel. When I saw, that by not reading her little suggestion to have my meandering line cross over itself, I now had big spaces to colour, I improvised, and really like what I created.
My second one, called “The Journey,” I like least. Then again, it really has little, if anything to do with me liking it. I wrote the word FEAR in the middle of the circle, and again with a meandering line, wrote the words that showed up along the way. Every time I turn the page to this mandala, I want to fix it up, make it look nice, colour it in. I face its starkness, big FEAR staring out at me, and surrender to trust, that it speaks powerful truth. And if, when I heed its final words – respond…… reawake…… stop…… stop…… patience…… stillness…… silence…… now – I trust, too, that transformation is possible.
Number three was an image that came up and through, much like what happens in process painting. I love its vivid intensity…the spontaneous drawing of sun in the centre. I felt a floodgate had opened. I labeled it “Fire and Ice,” though am wary of using words that imply meaning, give interpretation, a lesson gleaned from process painting. “Let it be.”
The fourth was an experiment in using pencil crayons – didn’t like the effect – covered with felt markers – better – and in seeing the result of having the meandering line cross over itself. Now I get it!
My fifth mandala, laurel, willow and maple leaves bordering the circle, the centre revealing a tree trunk with its rings of age. The difference between an emerging image and a pre-imagined design. The result: clever concept, inner tedium and fatigue while colouring. Another sign recognized from process painting of an impending block.
I discovered a treasure chest of Wise Dame wisdom with my seventh mandala, barely dry when I sat down to write this. The pitfalls of strategy gone wrong within minutes. She gave me permission to start again. Another rule, to quell the desperation for pattern – “use certain colours, only three times each.” She encouraged me to use more, many more, and to apply some four, five and six times. “Keep the centre uncoloured – white”, only to have black say “use me in the middle and here, and there” and I followed. Thinking I was creating chaos, that pattern would soon reveal itself, She asked, “what if it didn’t?” Observing mind produce titles it to make it make sense, we never wrote one down. Choosing black again, coloured over the line, mistake becomes boldness defined. Throughout, a vague edge of feeling scared and worried, a conditioned reaction to the barely audible voice of judgment saying, “this colouring is a waste of time, and I have more important, more creative things to do with this gift of Saturday time.” Her reply…..