There are times when I read something and wonder if I am having a particularly strange dream, such as the headline “Royal Couple Make Mandalas in LA.” Thanks to a post by mandala artist Lillian Sizemore, I discovered this actually happened at the Inner-City Arts Studio, a non-profit that provides art classes to students from some of Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods and encourages academic and personal growth by placing art within the web of all disciplines from math(making geometric designs), to chemistry(3-D design) to computers(digital arts).
These kids are engaged, learning, growing. Finding out that such an organization exists is just as magical as having royalty making mandalas with 75 members of the press there to witness it. Prince William is an advocate of the arts, and he chose to visit a place where art changes children’s lives. Does art in the inner city seem like another strange dream? We have become separated from the sustenance that art can provide to the soul, and to the role of the soul in finding purpose and life’s work.
What are mandalas? The word mandala is Sanskrit, and comes from the Hindu religion. It means “circle” and symbolizes the cyclical nature of life. Many spiritual traditions have mandalas as part of their contemplation and prayer, from Christian labyrinths to Tibetan and Navajo sand paintings. One of the first times I saw a mandala was on the cover of an album of early chant music composed by nun Hildegard of Bingen, but didn’t realize what it was. Lillian Sizemore writes eloquently about Hildegard’s visions, and the paintings that she was moved to make. Art takes me into prayer like nothing else, and I believe being absorbed by something outside of ourselves is a healing act.
I am drawn to the circular form in many incarnations: the halo in Celtic Crosses, the Rose windows in Christian churches, nautilus shells, flowers, as well as Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s circular Guggenheim Museum. My first mandala in mosaic was inspired by a close-up photo of an eye on the cover of a National Geographic Magazine. The circle speaks to my heart, and to the hearts of many of the people who have purchased my mandalas to be part of their prayer spaces, homes and lives. I started reading a book on the interpretation of mandalas, but I realized that there is no one dictionary or key of what a mandala means. The meaning evolves out of the relationship between the one beholding it and what they witness in the light shining from within.
I’ve written about my introduction to drawing mandalas with white pencils on black paper using Judith Cornell’s book in Healing Mandalas: Our Bodies as Conduits of Light.