I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for LeAnne Nesbitt's reflection "A Circuitous Journey: Reflections on Two Years of Mandala Making."
A little over two years ago I was facilitating a SoulCollage® workshop at a women's retreat and serving as event photographer when I made my way over to take pictures of a mandala workshop also being offered that weekend. After some basic instruction on the mandala form, participants were asked to go out on the grounds in pairs and work together in silence to collect natural materials and create a mandala from what they had gathered. The results were exquisite and compelling in a way I could not quite articulate at the time.
Two weeks later, I headed to the mountains for my annual personal silent retreat. With mandalas still on my mind, I decided to try creating one on a makeshift altar I'd set up in the little hermitage where I was staying. The process was peaceful and meditative. While my hands were occupied with the work, I experienced a felt sense of deep communion with my Creator.
Once home and back to my normal routine, I was out for my Sunday morning walk and found myself mentally scanning the landscape for interesting items and arranging mandalas in my mind's eye. I couldn't resist the nudge to gather up a few materials and create another. This time, I shared a photo of it on Instagram along with the hashtag #sundaymorningmandala. Although I thought I might create a series, I never imagined that it was a practice I would continue every Sunday for nearly two years.
My interest in creativity as a contemplative practice originated many years before on another Sunday morning walk in 2003. Captivated by spectacular Autumn light and color, I immediately ran home to retrieve my camera and through the lens discovered a new way of seeing and a spiritual practice I would come to know as contemplative photography.
It was my interest in contemplative photography that eventually led me to the Abbey of the Arts where I found an online community of kindred spirits who had also made the connection between personal creativity and spiritual life. Photography had also awakened within me a desire for creative expression in other forms, and a longing to lead a more contemplative life. I found an abundance of support, inspiration, and resources behind the walls of this virtual monastery.
The Monk Manifesto offered by our online Abbess, Christine Valters Paintner, resonated with me deeply and I was encouraged that a rich contemplative life was possible even for those of us who were not able to cloister away into a life devoted to prayer. Along with joining in commitment to living as a Monk in the World, I began exploring other creative forms such as poetry, painting, collage, and dance as spiritual practice.
While I found great joy and satisfaction in my creative endeavors, it wasn't until I stumbled upon my natural mandala practice that I understood the unique gifts a focused, sustained creative ritual had to offer.
I have often wondered what it was about the mandala practice that kept me coming back so consistently, week after week, to make this ephemeral offering. Perhaps the simplest, albeit incomplete, answer is that the practice became my teacher. Each week, fresh insights were revealed, and I began experiencing the mandala as a metaphor that illumined my spiritual walk in myriad ways. I simply couldn't let go until I'd completed the curriculum. This is not to imply that I've graduated from anything, but I believe the practice facilitated in a beautiful way the "ongoing conversion and transformation" the seventh commitment listed in the Monk Manifesto calls us to.
In fact, when sitting down to write this piece, I reflected once again on the manifesto and soon realized that my mandala practice unintentionally addressed each of the other declarations in some way as I…
- Worked in silence and solitude, receptive to the voice of the Divine as I gathered and assembled these creations.
- Experienced hospitality towards myself by practicing compassion in the face of my own imperfections and limitations which inevitably extended to others.
- Cultivated a community of kindred spirits by sharing the work with others both through posting the mandalas online, and by offering workshops so others could experience the process.
- Fostered a kinship with creation through an increased awareness of the natural world, its subtle beauty, and how it changes not only from season to season, but year over year in response to humanity's careless disregard.
- Developed a new understanding of what it meant to be fully present to the work and making it an offering of gratitude.
- Incorporated my practice into the rhythm of Sabbath—offering an hour each week even when (and especially when) other obligations made demands on my time.
- Experienced creative joy and a heart overflowing with "with the inexpressible delights of love."
My practice came to an end as spontaneously as it began. Even though I was still a month shy of my two-year anniversary, I simply stopped. Sensing my motivation to complete four more mandalas seemed mostly in service to egoic notions of perfection, I discerned this to be a final lesson in letting go. Thus, the work felt complete in me. It is difficult to express in words the gifts this practice has given me, but I offer this video montage of my final year of mandala making in hopes it will convey the ineffable. May it be a blessing to you as well.
LeAnne Nesbitt lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She holds certificates in Spiritual Direction and Dream Work from the Haden Institute and is a trained SoulCollage® Facilitator.LeAnne believes in the healing power of images and metaphor, using dream work, poetry, and a variety of intuitive creative practices to help others connect to inner divine wisdom.She writes about these topics and more on her blog, thecreativecontemplative.com