Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
I began the Flower Mandalas project in the midst of a long illness. Initially it was a way to distract myself from chronic pain. I discovered that walking on the beach eased it, and I grew fascinated with the sky and the sea. As I walked, I paused to take pictures. I spent a couple of hours each day doing this. When it got too cold to walk the beach, I began to edit and manipulate these images, and I found that this process, too, took away some of the pain.
Eventually I happened upon a way to rearrange segments of my images into mandala-like creations. I began with my images of the sea and the sky, then experimented with other objects — wood, metal, nature scenes, patterns, people. I came across a photograph of a dying dandelion and wondered what would happen if I took something that was already mandala-like and “mandala-ized” it.
The result was the first of the Flower Mandalas. It felt different from the other mandalas I’d created. As I tried the same technique with other flower images, I found myself feeling not only distraction from pain, but also a sometimes breathless excitement in the initial stage, followed by a deep, centering peacefulness as I brought each mandala to completion.
I joined a photographer’s group and showed these images to the other members. Although they seemed to like them well enough, they didn’t really have much to say, other than that they “aren’t really photographs anymore.” I thought maybe a painter would have a more detailed response and ran them by the wife of a friend, who painted.
My friend’s wife had, it turned out, been making mandalas for years. She suggested that each mandala was trying to tell me something I needed to know. “Put them up around your house. Look at them. Listen to what they’re saying.”
I put them around my house. I hung them in my office. I made them the wallpaper of my computer and let Microsoft Windows change them randomly whenever I rebooted. What I found was that the act of creating mandalas and then looking deeply at what I had made resulted in a spiritual feedback loop:
1) The original flower moved me enough to photograph it.
2) The mandala-making process distilled the initial feeling into something more specific and more deeply felt — something inside that was called out and then embodied.
3) Looking at the mandalas I’d made brought that embodied feeling back to me.
With each iteration of the creating/embodying cycle, some new facet of my self, previously inaccessible, became more revealed, and with each re-experiencing of what I had captured, I became more whole.
As a lover of art I have often been touched deeply. Listening to music, watching a movie, looking at a photograph, reading a poem or story — each of these has often, in small but important ways, enhanced my experience of living, and occasionally has radically influenced my life direction. Creating art has also been a powerful experience at times, allowing me to embody, in a story, some complex set of experiences and feelings, or in a photograph to freeze forever a striking moment. But this process of, as William Blake put it, “creating & devouring,” has been uniquely transformative. I have found a way of self-communion that helped, I am convinced, to heal not only the emotional pain of injury and trauma, but my physical body as well. More important, it also has strengthened, in an ongoing way, my sense of who I most deeply am, and has provided a way to give to myself nourishment I had previously sought from others. The net result of this strengthening of my soul is that I have been able to open my heart to what I now realize is my greatest gift, to be a healer.
Two years after my near-death experience, I was in a support group for people who had survived near-death. I was still finding my way back into this world, and although I knew I had returned from the brink with something of great value, I was also profoundly disoriented, split between the me I had been and the me I was becoming. One of the members, addressing my confusion, made a wide half-circle gesture with his arm and said, “David, I think you’re one of those people who has to take the long way ’round.” He paused, his arm fully outstretched in front of him. “But when you get there,” he continued, closing his hand into a fist and pulling it to his chest, “it’ll be important.”
What I do now, a decade later, does seem important. As a therapist, I know I am saving lives. As an artist, I know I am affecting people I may never meet. As a writer, I hope I will convey what wisdom I have garnered, a kind of boon that, had I not taken the “long way ’round,” I would never have been able to bring back.
For me, the process of creating and consuming art has been vitally important in integrating and actualizing the previously fragmented parts of my self. Now, the whole is greater than the sum of my formerly divided parts.
I’d like to hear the experiences of those of you who have chosen or stumbled upon your own means of self-communion. I hope to share them here, where they may inspire others to further their own becoming.
© 2007, David J. Bookbinder