You may remember that a couple of weeks back I shared with you an unfinished piece. After many many hours work, it is finally completed. It has been quite a journey, this one. I have tried to capture it as best I can with my camera, but the true colour and detail are proving elusive.
Last night as I put the final touches to this mandala, I experienced such an overwhelming opening of the heart. I could almost feel it expand in my chest. There and then I resolved to call the piece 'Heart Opening'. Then literally 2 seconds later, my phone lit up with a mail from a photographer friend, Peter Maeck. Peter shares a piece of his work every other day, and I love seeing his work come into my mailbox. I opened the attachment on the mail to find the photograph above entitled...you guessed it "Open Heart'!!
It always makes me smile the synchronicities that arise around this work. So this week it is all about opening the heart space. As many of you know, in Yoga, much emphasis is placed on opening the heart. And I believe that meditating on mandala and engaging with the geometries can also have a similar affect. So what does it mean, this opening of the heart?
Throughout our lives, things we have been taught, experiences that we may have had where we have been hurt in some way, cause us to put a protective barrier around our heart. If you take the time to meditate, gaze at the mandala, close your eyes and tune inside. Take a deep, slow gentle breath in and fill your body with awareness. Begin to feel heart your heart radiating and your whole body tingle with aliveness. Allow your heart to fill with gratitude, even if it is for something as small as a hot cup of tea.
Allow yourself to breathe any toxins out and to let go of any hurt you may feel. Rest in stillness for a moment before breathing in again. Breathing deeply and easily you will feel yourself dropping inside, connecting and coming to inner peace. Feel the flow of life gently flowing through your body.
Our hearts are like a pipelines that carry life force energy and emotion through us. Our heart starts out very open as babies and usually closes down as we get hurt in big and small ways whilst growing up. With this shutting down we can lose our passion and aliveness. We become stressed and anxious and lose our connection to who it is that we truly are.
I read recently that Carl Jung on a trip to Africa was speaking to a shaman there, the shaman said 'You white men, you think from the wrong place.' Jung replied, 'How do you mean?' The shaman pointed to his head and said 'You think from here.' And Jung asked 'Where do you think from?' And the shaman pointed to his heart. (I think the book was Carl Jung by Claire Dunne)
So this mandala urges us to bring awareness to the heart space. If you find yourself too much in the head space, become aware of your breath and move awareness to the heart. It is a life changing habit to engage in!
I am delighted to say that on Friday I collected the first of a series of limited edition prints which are now available of two of the very large pieces. These are two of my favourite mandalas, and more will be coming soon! The prints are smaller than the originals at 30cm x 30cm. They have been scanned to a very high quality and reproduced in fine print. I am so happy with the quality of these and the amazing job of scanning and printing that The copper House Fine Art Printing Studio here in Dublin did with the pieces without loosing a milligram of detail! They feel very sumptuous indeed, almost like velvet. All prints are limited edition of 100 and are fine art archival pigment print on acid free paper. This means that the inks used will not change colour over time & will last 80yrs + under archival conditions. Each print is signed and numbered and comes emboss-stamped by The Copper House Fine Art Printing Studio and is printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Paper.
So today I am going to share with you again one of these two pieces, but I will look at it from a different angle than before. This piece is hanging on the wall in my home and it is one that I contemplate and meditate with regularly. I ended up calling it 'The Infinite Garden'.
The idea of paradise as a garden is a very ancient one, pre-dating the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, by centuries. Within the Islamic context the key elements of flowing water, shade and exuberant foliage powerfully convey ideas of both spiritual and physical refreshment.
One of the first references of a paradise garden can be found in the first writings known to man, dating from around 4000 BC during the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia. The Babylonians in turn described their divine paradise in the Epic of Gilgamesh (2700 BC) : “In this immortal garden stands the tree … beside a sacred fount the tree is placed”.
The word ‘paradise’ comes from the Persian word pairidaeza – the Persians being one of the earliest peoples to ,cultivate and maintain gardens. Petri means around and deaza means wall, thus the word suggests an area isolated from its surroundings, enclosed by walls.
The term “Garden of Eden” suggests the spiritual peace and harmony of man’s primordial state. Gardens of Eternity, Delight, Bliss, Refuge. “Gardens underneath which rivers flow”. On one level this evokes the literal image of water flowing beneath in order to irrigate the flowerbeds, but on a deeper level it suggests the nurturing of the ‘garden within’ by the ever-flowing waters of the spirit which purify the soul.
Indeed, water is symbolic of the soul in many traditions, reflecting the soul’s ability to renew itself while remaining true to its source. When contemplating this mandala, the upper square feels like this walled garden of human consciousness. The square beneath brings to mind water flowing beneath this garden. We plant seeds in our gardens in order for them to grow, and so too we plant seeds in our consciousness to expand our realities, to bring us to a higher plane. Other seeds are not deliberately planted, but are blown by the wind or dropped by the birds. So too is our consciousness affected by all around us.
This mandala asks, what seeds are you planting in your garden? Are you nurturing them by allowing the river to flow effortlessly beneath?
In this post I am going to share with you a work that is not yet finished. I am currently in the process of making it and it is the most detailed work that I have done to date. When I begin to create, there is always a feeling that I want to do it, an itch that has to be scratched if you like. But there is never any idea in my mind as to what will happen once that first central bindu (point) is placed on the page or canvas. It is an activity of pure trust.
And that for me is the magic. It is a magic that we can bring into other parts of our lives too. I know I am! Often we have ideas that come at the strangest times, we think 'Yes! I could do that. I really could.' Then 10 minutes later our brain has kicked in with all of the reasons why you couldn't, shouldn't..."I don't have enough time, not til the kids grow up, when I retire, people will laugh at me"...and on and on it goes.
But what if we just acted on these ideas. Right there and then. What is the worst that could happen? Yes, the idea could fail, nine out of ten do after all. But then again, it is the people who never try who never make mistakes. It is perfectly okay to make mistakes. In fact in the mandala process for example, some of my most interesting work has happened when a pen has leaked leaving a big blob where I didn't want it. So I go ahead and work with the blob instead of fighting the blob. It can be fascinating. There are no mistakes as they say!
Below is a great quote from artist Chuck Close, and I think he nails it.
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you're sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that's almost never the case.”
For me, inspiration occurs during process. Once the initial action is taken. We work with the universe. Together with the creative energy. This isn't just true for art or creative pursuits, but for everything in life. If you have an idea or something in you simmering, why not take one small action this week towards it. It could be as simple as picking up the phone. One step. Each day. One step. Each day. And you will be amazed at the momentum that gathers. Have fun with it. Don't attach too much to the outcome. Simply TRUST! Yourself and the beautiful process.
This mandala was inspired after a trip to the ancient monastic site of Glendalough in County Wicklow here in Ireland. You can see also a photo of the round tower with a celtic cross beside it. In medieval Ireland, round towers had many uses. They acted as beacons to point pilgrims from afar. They were also bell towers (their Gaeilic name is Cloig-theach meaning bell-tower). They served as storehouses for food supplies and valuable manuscripts and treasures. They were lookouts and places of safety in times of attack.
As I stood looking up at the tower, the birds were wheeling in and out of the windows at the top. Magical. The leaves on the trees were so beautiful, the lakes like glass and a stillness in the air with the smell of Autumn. For me, the tower appeared to be a symbol of fortitude, pointing towards the sky, the heavens, the universe, something bigger than ourselves. I noticed that as the birds moved in and out through the windows, there was one bird who was dancing away from the others.
The mandala was completed the same weekend as I visited and it was a very peaceful experience to create. I never have any intention with the pieces and so it is always a surprise as to what will emerge. It feels as though the bird flock are circling within the safety of the the thick walls of the tower, or the perimeter…perhaps a metaphor for our society and the expectations and rules imposed therein. One solo bird has broken through the thick wall and is flying away into an infinite unknown. The bird has chosen to leave the place of safety and to explore further afield.
It then brought to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Picture a cave with a small tunnel of light leading out and hundreds of people tied up so that they cannot move. They just look straight ahead all day long because that is all they know. There is a fire lit and on the wall in front of them, the prisioners can see shadows dancing. They believe that this shadow show is reality, because they have never seen the real thing. They accept this.
So that is how life goes on in the cave until one fine day, one of the prisoners manages to break free and takes a chance and leaves the cave. It takes a while for his eyes to adjust but gradually he sees that there is a much brighter speck of light at the end of another tunnel. He goes down that tunnel... and wow, you can imagine how amazing and beautiful the real world looks to him compared to that two-dimensional dark cave of shadows that he has spent all his life in until now.
Wanting to share what he found with his fellow prisoners, the freed prisoner goes back down the tunnel into the cave and explains to everyone that they're all trapped in this cave and everything they think is real is actually an illusion, only a shadow world. His story falls upon deaf ears. The other prisoners think he is crazy. He keeps trying to convince them. He manages to persuade a few... but the rest choose to remain where they are in the safety of what they know to be true.
This round tower at Glendalough has stood for almost one thousand years and is still in near perfect condition . One thousand years standing unchanged, without yielding to the forces of nature or man. We too in our own lives often become complacent and stay still and unchanging within our perceived realities. It is comfortable I suppose. We talk to the same people, take the same route home from work, sit in the same seat at the table.
This mandala seems to say "why not push at the wall of comfort a little. Talk to somebody that you don’t normally talk to. Take a different route when traveling. Sit in a different seat at the dinner table (note: this tiny change can confound family members and can be quite amusing!) Or do something completely and utterly outside of your comfort zone! Dance away from the flock for a bit."
This has been a few week of enormous change in the collective whether we support this change or not. I found myself getting very caught up in fear based media posts both on the radio and online, something that I usually don't allow myself to do. Catching myself in the act, I took time out to meditate and to connect to the inner self, the light within. That which we can control. I began to reflect on the piece that you see here which I created perhaps a week or two ago. When I was making this, there felt to be a very gentle energy and light about it and a profound sense of something higher at work.
Oftentimes when we do inner healing work or energy work, things that need to be healed will present themselves into our lives, sometimes quite forcefully and in ways that we might not relish. Reflecting on this mandala, it felt that there is a healing happening on a collective level, something that needs to be brought to the surface in order to be cleared, difficult though it might be, depending on your outlook. When doing personal healing work, it is always important to stay grounded and to self care radically. One thing that I have learned from mandala making, is that what happens on the micro level also happens on the macro level...it is a mirror. The principle of correspondence. So taking that philosophy to what is perhaps a collective healing would imply a need for us as individuals and as a society to stay grounded and for self care and care for those around us.
If you haven’t already read Viktor Frankl’s wonderful book, Man’s Search For Meaning, you should try get yourself a copy. Frankl, a prisoner in a Nazi death camp and also a trained psychiatrist, writes about the psychology of imprisonment from his own experiences during WWII. He describes how he found beauty in the most horrendous of circumstances. One of the most striking parts of the book for me was his observation on the contrasting psychologies of those who survived and those who tragically met their end. He describes how survivors had an ability to find small joys in the every day, be that savouring a hot drink, watching a sunset or simply sharing a smile with a fellow inmate. By seeking and choosing to appreciate the smallest moments, these people were able to focus their attention on what little they could control: their own emotional response.
So the message with this mandala is to take time to savour the good things in life with gratitude, be they big, be they small. Take time to go to a silent space and connect with yourself in whatever way works for you. Random acts of kindness might also be a good one...pay the toll for the car behind you at a toll booth, give your shop loyalty points to the person behind you in a queue and watch how they light up! We have more power to change what is around us than we can possibly imagine!
This work measures 42cm x 42cm and is available for sale. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. If you are in Christmas shopping mode, my book is available in all good bookshops in Ireland and also on Amazon. It would make a lovely gift.