Archives for posts with tag: mandala sand paintings

I’ve been doing a lot of snow shoveling lately.  We had two big snow storms last week (the first major storms of the year) that left about a foot of snow on the ground.  In lieu of lifting weights or running (my usual fitness regimen), I’ve been following the snow-shoveling workout.  Perhaps I should develop the concept for a DVD or maybe it’s a franchising opportunity.  But first I have to figure out how to make it work in warm climates.

And that may prove important because it seems that many biomes which were once reliably cold throughout the winter are now mutating into climates that would be found much farther south.  Here in the Northeast, for example, last week’s snow was followed by warm days with temperatures in the 60s.  With the accompanying warm breezes, it felt like December in Florida, if not Hawaii.

The balmy days melted most of the snow, the remainder of which was washed away by an almost-tropical rainstorm that followed.  Today, it is as if the snowstorms of last week never happened.  It makes me wonder, why did I bother shoveling that snow in the first place?  Is there a deeper motivation than simply getting from my front door to where the car is parked?

The cycle—snow, shovel, melt, repeat—reminds me of the mandala sand paintings of Buddhist monks.  (Last year, the wrapping of Christmas presents put me in mind of the same thing; see December 22, 2012).  A snowfall creates a blank canvas on which we carefully create an intricate design (although because this is a process of removal, it is more akin to etching or carving a woodblock).  We plow roads, clear pathways, and dust off our cars, taking away only what is necessary to reestablish the transportation routes that are the otherwise invisible patterns of our daily lives.

And then the weather changes and our creations vanish, melting away into oblivion.  Here, the analogy to the sand paintings is more literal, as the carved snow transforms into water and is absorbed into the earth or trickles into storm drains or streams and thence, eventually, into the ocean.  We realize the impermanence of life, recognize the relative unimportance of material things and are healed in the process.

If only it healed my aching back as much as my psyche.

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While engaged in elf duty these last few days, I realized that wrapping gifts is a good example of when accepting a less-than-perfect level of “good enough” can be a good thing.  Regardless of the choice of paper and ribbon, the crispness of the folds and the precision of the taping and bow-tying, the wrappings will be torn off and discarded by the gift’s recipient.  Often, in the case of an excited child for example, the opening will be done in a frenzy with little notice paid to anything except, maybe, the gift tag.

This is especially true of stocking stuffers, which in my house are numerous.  If I tried to precisely wrap and ribbon all of the candy, toys, novelties and other tchotchkes that go into our oversized socks, I’d be up all night for a week.  I know because for many years this is exactly what I did and exactly how long it took.  A few Christmases ago, however, I discovered the efficacy of tissue paper.  It is easy to cut and fit around small and often oddly-shaped items and with its soft and crinkly appearance can hide a multitude of taping sins.  Since then, I’ve been getting to bed a bit earlier this time of year.

In some ways, the wrapping and subsequent unwrapping of holiday gifts is similar to the mandala sand paintings created by Buddhist monks.  Packages are assembled (starting with the Black Friday ritual), decorated (albeit with varying levels of care and precision) and arranged under a tree, within stockings or on a table (or some other centralized location) to create an elaborate tableau, a detailed picture of generosity and love.  Then, on Christmas morning (or whatever holiday is being celebrated), the scene is ritually deconstructed as paper and ribbons are torn away and discarded (and aren’t we all excited children in this context?).

But there the similarity ends.  In the Buddhist tradition, the sand would be returned to nature (usually a river or other body of water) to symbolize the impermanence of life.  In our more materialistic culture, the wrappings are discarded (without ceremony) but the goodies remain.