I’ve changed the name of this series from Transforming Trump to Transcending Trump. It’s such a little change, but it acknowledges a huge truth. I do not have the power to transform Trump or the terrible divide within this country. But perhaps with this seres I can do my part to help transcend its life-draining impact.
The headline at the bottom of the mandala says it all: And suddenly it’s reality. In the wake of Charlottesville, there is no longer any possibility of ignoring the hatred and racial divide within our country. This mandala is not an effort at denial; that’s not what transcendence is. It is a way of maintaining our centers in the midst of it.
That is the gift of mandala. It draws you deep into its (and your) transcendent center and then propels you out from it into the world beyond its borders. Without this spiritual anchor, the world I’m currently living in can feel too overwhelming to cope with. With it, I’m able to rest within the quiet of its core and then get out there to make those calls, write those letters, attend those vigils and scrawl a sign I never dreamed I’d need to make: KKK IS NOT OK.
Elmina de Beaupuys lived in the polarized world of the 13th century, a time when the medieval Church and the gnostic Cathars offered contrasting belief systems and vied for the minds and hearts of the people who lived in the Languedoc region of southern France. It was a time not so unlike ours today. No compromise seemed possible and Elmina’s heart craved the certainty preached by the traveling priest Dominic.
There are times when I know just how she feels, when I am almost rent in two by the arguments and vitriol of our times. I understand how any of us could be drawn to a savior who presents a black and white world and tells us exactly what path leads to our salvation, as an individual or a nation.
But I don’t believe choosing one side of a duality ever leads us to peace or to the fullness of God. In this country we are still fighting the Civil War and demonizing religious beliefs that contradict ours. In my own life, I’m still struggling against outdated theologies I could simply release. I’m not sure I know how to do it, but I’m clear that healing the schism is my life’s work
In just three weeks my novel Elmina’s Fire will be available from Amazon or for order at your local bookstore. I hope you will want to read it and will have compassion for a young woman trying to find her way in the most trying of times.
Almost all physical evidence of the medieval Cathars has been erased, systematically destroyed by the Roman Church. What remains are a carving here, a button or an old coin there to suggest that the Cathars knew full well the healing power of mandalas.
Arthur Guirdham was a British psychiatrist who treated several clients who believed themselves to be the reincarnated souls of Cathar perfects. In his book The Great Heresy, he wrote that “Seven centuries ago the Cathars used [completing mandalas] to give insight into the nature and potentialities of those wished to be Parfaits,” both to weed out those with healing potential and to discern there particular aptitudes.
In Elmina’s Fire, the Signora Bonata introduces Elmina and her sisters to the Flower of Life as part of their journey on the path to perfection”. This is how I imagine it taking place:
“Can you teach us to drawn a Flor de la Vida like the one carved on Magdalena’s loom?” asked Amelha.
“Of course I can. It’s very easy,” the signora replied. She picked up a piece of charcoal and tied a length of twine to it. She instructed Amelha, “Just put your finger on the twine and hold it fast. Now move the charcoal around it.”
Amelha drew a perfect circle on the table and my heart tightened in envy.
“Next place the end of your twine on any part of the circle. Hold it fast and then draw another circle.” Amelha did as she was told.
“Do you see where the circles intersect? Place the twine at one of those intersections ad draw another circle, and then another until you have made a flower,” continued Na Bonata.
“This is the seed in which all things find their being,” she said.
I wondered what she meant, but she went on. “God’s kingdom is like an everlasting circle. Right here in its center is the divine heart. Each circle is the love of God, sent out in all directions. Look at the petals formed when the circles meet. They make a rose of purest perfection, the rose each one of you can be.
“Now watch,” Bonata said. She took the charcoal from Amelha and added more circles to the the drawing.
As I looked down upon the Flor, I thought that I could feel its energy moving within me. “The roses could go on forever,” I commented.
“Indeed they do,” replied the signora. “They are your souls, all roses and all held within the fullness of God’s love. Do not forget this Flor. Thinking upon it can give you great healing in the most trying of times.”
Suzanne Fincher describes Stage 2 as the “hot tub of the mandala Great Round.” It is a stage of respite and renewal from which the potential for new life emerges.
Here’s a mandala exercise to try, combining a technique learned from Julie Gibbons’ Mandala Magic course and round stickers. Cut a circle from water color paper and place random stickers on it. Create a marbled mandala by floating ink on a bed of shaving foam and using a chopstick to swirl it around. Press your mandala into the paint and then wipe off all the excess foam. (Beware: this can be pretty messy!)
When your mandala is dry you can remove the stickers. Now you’re ready to make a Mandala of Possibilities. Close your eyes and recognize that your next breath ushers in a whole realm of possibilities- everything from “I could eat a piece of dark chocolate” to “I could write the first line of my next novel.” Breathe into the possibilities present in your life at this moment. In each circle write down one thing that comes to your mind. Don’t censor yourself! Write anything that occurs to you.
These are my steps to creating a mandala of 2016. Between Peter’s cancer, the election, and the nightly news there was a lot of grief and loss, represented by the black and purple. But as the paint dried and sank into the paper, it lightened and I could add the healing turquoise and the white swirls. Behind it glowed the divine light that hold all the mess. All that was left to do was label the highlights of the year.
And please consider joining the Mandala Journaling Class that meets 9-11am on third Saturdays at Saint Luke’s.
The twelfth and final stage of the mandala Great Round is Transformation. This season of the Winter Solstice and the story of Christ’s birth is a Stage 12 season, reminding us of the return of light. It is a season of our lives that arrives once we have faced up to endings and allowed ourselves to experience the fragmentation that occurs during the dark night of our souls. Stage 12 is an ecstatic stage, offering hope for rebirth and a mystical awareness of the divine.
Last month in the Mandala Journaling as Spiritual Practice group we made prints of uncontrolled color, representing the chaos of life at Stage 11. This month, we allowed cut-out shapes to transform the chaos into something new. Note that as in our own lives, it the depths of our experience that lends beauty to our new reality.
In the events and rancor of recent weeks, I have had moments when I’ve almost forgotten that the world is never outside the sacred web of love that offers tangible hope. The thing that most reliably brings me back from the edge of despair is the mandala, that visible sign of wholeness and completion. I find mandalas everywhere: in architecture, on billboards, in the kaleidoscopic hubcaps of passing cars. I color mandalas. I keep a mandala blog (at lindacarleton.com) and every Tuesday morning I offer a Mandala Prayer Circle for people waiting in line for soap or diapers or used clothing at Saint Elizabeth’s Jubilee Center in Portland, Maine.The folks who visit Saint E’s come from many stripes of life. They speak different languages and adhere to different religions. They have conflicting political beliefs and face a daunting variety of personal and social challenges. But week after week, they set these differences aside to color mandala ornaments as prayer for themselves, their loved ones, or their aching world.
What is it about the mandala that offers such a profound expression of tangible hope? To begin with, the mandala is a circle, a sacred symbol in virtually every culture. To psychologist C.G. Jung, the circle was the most basic archetype, representing perfection, eternity and the divine Self. In Sanskrit, the mandala represents the structure of life itself. The Mandala Project describes it as “A cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.” In Navaho sand paintings, the mandala becomes a vehicle for physical as well as emotional healing. In the Christian Church, the circle suggests the promise of wholeness and eternity in symbols as varied as the labyrinth, wedding rings, Advent wreaths and rose windows.
Drawing or coloring mandalas creates a liminal space that allows us to rest within this circle. As soon as we begin work on a mandala, we enter into dialogue with the bindu, its sacred center. The bindu is a bit like a black hole. It is an infinitesimal point that inexorably draws us in, offering a kind of portal into the heart of the divine. However, drawing mandalas cannot stop at the bindu. Just as the contemplative life leads both inward and outward, making mandalas propels us outward from the center to its edges and beyond. To color mandalas is to enter into the spiritual dance that perpetually draws us towards God and drives us out into the world again.
Now when folks come to us at Saint E’s, they are not thinking about Jung, or bindus, or the perpetual dance of spiritual life. But fortunately, you don’t have to think about any of this to experience the serenity of working with mandalas. Try it! You can just cut out a mandala from a coloring book or download it from Google, write on the back the name of a person or situation you’d like to hold in prayer, take out your markers, paints or pencils and color. You can put it on your refrigerator, or pin it to your wall, or use Modge-Podge to attach it to a wooden disc and make an ornament. However you do it, you will have spent time in communion with the sacred circle. And you’ll have a tangible symbol to remind you of it.
I’ve just started participating in a group founded by Darreby Ambler called Wayfinders. Our purpose is to discern God’s call to us at this moment in our lives, to identify a specific goal directed towards that purpose, to create a map and action steps to make that goal manageable, and to form a support group to both inspire one another and hold us each accountable to our chosen way.
There’s a big goal looming over me right now, so big it seems almost overwhelming. On June 14 my novel Elmina’s Fire will be published through She Writes Press. The mandalas are painted. The manuscript is in. I’ve written an acknowledgment of all those who have made this work possible, especially those who have served as spiritual guides over the past forty years, the wise “Brother Noels” in my life. And I’ve dedicated the book “to those who have had to walk away from the spiritual abuse of church and to those who have chosen to stay in the hope of changing it.”
Now I need to develop what they call an “author’s platform.” That means that I have to step outside my introverted shell and put myself out there so that by the time Elmina comes out, there’s a group of people who know who I am. I’m being encouraged not only to maintain a blog but to give talks, write articles for e-zines, send out my manuscript for reviews and enter writing contests. They’re even suggesting I enter the world of Twitter.
As I worked with my resistance towards doing these things, I made an important discovery. It’s not that I’m afraid to write or teach or use the computer. I’ve done these things most of my life. What I’m really wary of is revealing my deepest self, the self revealed in the life of a sensitive, mystical medieval girl who is plagued by inner demons she’s afraid to confront. I do not really believe that it’s OK to bare my soul.
With this realization I could see that my Wayfinders Goal is more than just “to publicize and market Elmina’s Fire.” It is to dare to believe that it’s OK to share my heart and that Elmina’s Fire is my gift .
And that, I guess is the challenge that faces us all- to dare to come out from under that bushel and let our little light shine.