MANDALA MIND #1: There are no mistakes

Mandala Mind is what I call the head space I enter when I am creating mandala art. When I am using brush and ink, I call it my ink wash mind. It is the experience of being “in process.” There is something creative going on within the body/spirit, a riding of a wave, a leap without looking, wire walking without a net.

Sometimes I feel exhilarated, at other times very still and intensely focused. The sense of being within a body or being a body is absent; I am bodiless. There is only the pen or brush or stick which is in a state of doing-ness while the eye/mind looks on. A choiceless awareness.

During this most fulfilling activity the everyday thinking mind is suspended. By the everyday thinking mind is I mean the little voice in the head which judges, evaluates, opinionates, criticizes, comments and scorns. There is no faster way to exit the creative process than to listen to this commentator. Instead of being a writer, for example, you become an editor. Instead of being a painter, you become an art critic.

Therefore, one of the things I repeat constantly to myself and my art students is “There is no such thing as a mistake. There is only a new direction.”  (Ink is one of those mediums that does not easily accommodate correction. Unlike oils in which you can paint over, or scratch off, or pencils in which you can erase, ink is unforgiving and mandala design is strict.)

At least once in every mandala painting, my attention jerks and a line is drawn in the ‘wrong’ place; or I ink in a segment that breaks the symmetry. If I allow the thought, “I’ve made a mistake,” or “That’s wrong,” or “S***” to reside in my mind, I have not only unbalanced my creative flow but given the editor/art critic an opening to dominate.

Within seconds I start to hear, “That was a dumb thing to do. You should have paid closer attention. You’ve ruined the mandala. How can you cover it up now?”

You’ll also notice that I speak to myself in the second person – you, you, you. Not I should have paid closer attention, or I have ruined the mandala. The boss in my head is yelling at me, castigating like an unruly child. No wonder I have problems with authority figures, I have one in my head.

Once I get into that bad girl/shame on you mode, I lose confidence, lose the flow of the creative process and start to feel sad because I am such a failure as an artist. Do you see where I am going with this?

So when I make an ‘unexpected turn’ in the art, I instantly say, “There is no such thing as a mistake. This is good. I am taking a new direction.” What a difference that makes to my creative mood. All of a sudden I am curious about where I am going, what will happen next, how will things turn out? I am excited!  I put my trust in my intuition. I allow fallibility in my creative powers. I am proud of my humanness.

Perfection is for machines. I am not perfect nor is my art work perfect. I am beautifully flawed as is what I create. By allowing imperfection I am allowing randomness, admitting chaos, building on the unexpected. Since I do not recognize mistakes, I bless myself with the gift of freedom.

In the longer view, some mandalas may be more beautiful or more powerful than others but that is not because of any mistakes that might have happened. In fact, some of my favorite mandalas are the ones in which I chose some outrageous colors or designs turns, “mistakes” that had to be celebrated rather than hidden.

It is not the well-designed mandala that is important; it is the joy or peace or excitement or stillness that was experienced as part of the creative process. I could throw away all of the artwork I have ever created and not lose anything important – the act still exists in its purity and has become part of my soul.



Art news

In the middle of May, the Mandala class participated in an art show at Hart Senior Center. I’m guessing that more than 100 people stopped by to see the work, talk to the artists and have some refreshments. This was a big deal for our artists, a great turnout from the local community and certainly the high point of the year so far. We’re already planning another event for the holiday season.

Meanwhile, I’ve held one series of mandala art classes at Colonial Heights library with a follow-up series set for July. Local libraries are great supporters of the arts and sponsor these classes free to the public.

I also began a new monthly class at Hart Center I’ve called Adventures in Art, sort of a combination of art history and open studio. Our first artist was Georgia O’Keeffe. We learned a little about her life and artistic vision, than made some art in her style. Next month we’ll feature Piet Mondrian, followed by Jackson Pollock in August.  We had a really good response to the class and I’m hoping it will continue to draw in (no pun) more interest.

I’ve been putting out feelers for some new places to teach and have classes set for later in the summer at the Asian Community Center and in the fall at University Art Store in Sacramento.

I originally planned my curriculum as a once-a-week for four weeks class but am finding that I need to rearrange, at times, the way I’ve organized things. For example, I’m breaking down the Mandala topics differently and rather than approaching it as skill levels I’m looking at it as ‘types’ of mandalas; i.e. geometric mandalas, natural mandalas, and meditative mandalas.

I was surprised to find that rearranging them opened up some new ways to look at how I am teaching so it is very exciting. Also, I am putting together a workshop format for longer, one-day events.

In the midst of all this teaching I decided to put more effort into my website and start selling directly from here. This site will now focus exclusively on the mandala work, with the ink wash painting featured on the site.

My thinking was that although I love teaching I don’t know how long this forward movement will last – or I will. I was 72 last birthday and although I feel fine, I have to acknowledge I may not be able to continue this work in a few years, so I want to have alternate sources of communication and income.

I have to remind myself to carve out some personal time to continue with my own mandala practice. In creating mandalas it seems that every few months there is a new wrinkle to explore – maybe something in design or maybe color.  At the bottom of the page is some recent work.

I’ll keep these on my studio walls for a month or two just to make sure they are complete and have nothing more to say, then I will add them to the for sale gallery. In some kind of crazy way it’s like raising puppies and you don’t want to let them go until they are stable (or I am!).

Now that I’ve got this tighter focus on what is going on in my art life, I’ll write shorter and more frequent blogs and not another l-o-n-g one like this.