I live in Austin, which is a pretty granola kind of town. There’s more New-Age hooha going on here than you can shake a stick at. Which suits me fine, because I’ve visited the ether a few times and I like it up there. So when one of my moms asked me if I wanted to go to a mandala-painting “playshop” based on 5th chakra meditation, what do you think I said?
Hell, yes. I will paint some mandalas all the live-long day. So she signed us up.
The workshop was scheduled for two weekends ago, then got pushed back a week, which bummed me and my mom out because we were looking forward to spending time together. So we were pretty excited last weekend when it was time, and looking forward to painting and chanting and whatever one does (or two do) at a mandala playshop.
I got there before my mom, and the instructor had no idea who I was. So I explained that my mom had signed both of us up, who my mom was, and finally she understood. I looked around at the desks in the room, and asked where I should sit, chose a couple of desks and said I’d take them for me and mom, and the instructor, said, “Actually, it’s better if you don’t sit together, so you don’t influence each other’s work.” Say wha? So I reluctantly walked across the room to a desk she chose for me.
Mom walked in, signed the sign-in sheet and tried to turn toward me, but the instructor shut that business down before it ever got off the ground and herded mom into her desk across the room. We waved sadly to one another over the sea of desks between us.
There were several pieces of literature. Top bit was about art for process and not for product. I had a pretty good idea of what that meant. She talked at great length about being open and being a vessel for whatever wanted to come through. About how when we try to create with a finished picture in mind we get clouded by judgement. We shouldn’t think about it, just feel it. We shouldn’t look at anyone else’s work, lest we go into judgement mode. There were a lot of don’ts. I’m bound to mess it up if you give me a lot of don’ts. Like when you do a meditation and your guide tells you to clear your mind and then all you do is think.
During that conversation, we’d been given a box of essential oils to pass around with the instruction to smell each one, choose whatever meshed with our energy and intention and dab a little on to help with our process. I chose Frankincense. Always a favorite of mine. We also chose a question to have in our subconscious while we were creating.
Then we watched a video about 5th chakra mandalas. There were tons of them and a lot of them were super intricate and beautiful.
We stood up, stretched, HAAAAAMMED (which is the sound of the fifth chakra) shook ourselves out and it was time to get going. Finally.
The instructor had provided some mandala stencils, so I chose the one I wanted. Then I stood over the little pots of paint with my palette and waited for the colors to speak to me. I had my paint, I had my brushes, I had my stencil and sturdy paper. I was ready to go.
When we’d done the meditation and were sitting around being open for whatever wanted to come through, an image formed in my mind of the center of my mandala. And it was pretty symbolic to me about how I was feeling and what I’d been dealing with in my life. So I outlined the mandala, and drew the lines inside separating it into different spaces and I began the picture in the center.
The instructor put on music. You know, at this point I should say that she would probably rather have been called the Guide or the Sherpa or the Art-Light Bearer. She was the mandala midwife, coaxing us gently through birthing the mysteries we were receiving from the deepest, most spiritual parts of our psyche.
She wandered around the room, giving suggestions to help us stay open, reminding us not to judge ourselves, and then telling us that if we wanted to take something out that we had done, to call her over so that we could talk it through first and see if there was anything deeper there. She told us this wasn’t deliberate, but free-flowing; this wasn’t drawing a picture. I looked down at the center of my mandala and raised my hand.
“I drew a picture,” I said.
She looked alarmed. She approached my table cautiously. “Is that from a memory?” “No,” I replied. She looked pained. “Okay…that’s okay. But try to let things just come to you.” “That’s what came to me,” I said. She looked at me like I was an imbecile. “Well,” she said, “let’s just give it some time.” Leaving, “You poor, simple, emotionally-stunted creature,” unspoken.
I sat at the table and stared at my mandala. I waited for something else to come to me. It never came. So I just gave a mental shrug, and thought, “Fuck it. My mandala, my 5th chakra, my way.” And I carried on with what had come to me in the first place.
I listened to her walk around through the rest of the class and ask people about their process. “How’s your process, Adrienne?” “How’s your process, David?” When she made it back to me with, “How’s your process, Meredith?” I defiantly said it was AWESOME and thought that if she said the word “process” again I’d end up violating the peace rule of our New Age Safe Space.
She floated around until people started saying that they were finished. “Okay, before you sign it, I want you to think of the one thing that is too big, too much, too forbidden and see if it belongs on your piece.” Most people were baffled by this. A few of them decided using black was just the craziest thing they could think of. It was the first color I used and the center of my mandala. So I figured I was done and done. I didn’t ask for permission, I traced my hand on a corner of the paper, and then signed my name and owned it.
When everyone was finished she dismissed the class, then asked if anyone wanted to stick around to take some fun photos for Facebook. I wasn’t interested in that. So mom and I walked out together. I looked at her mandala. “I know we’re not supposed to say anything, or judge each other’s work, but I really like your mandala.”
And then I got in my car, ready to go to get things for supper that night. As I drove to the store, I thought about how what I’d made was meaningful to me and representative of how I was feeling. And how odd it was to have someone make me feel like I’d done something wrong in a supposedly safe, non-judgmental space. And I ended up thinking that the whole experience wasn’t ever about my process in the first place. It was about somebody else’s needs and expectations. And that I already know that lesson. As a writer, things only ever go wrong when I write for someone else. And they always go best when I write for myself. And I liked my mandala. It was honest. And that is some 5th chakra business, right there.