I got a mandala scratch kit a couple of weeks back, complete with instructions, a wooden stylus, and 25 scratch squares stamped with mandala patterns – a birthday gift of relaxation from my sister. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been tracing lines and uncovering mandala patterns as my 20 minute morning meditation activity, matching my breathing to my hand’s movements. Faithful to the tradition of mandala creation, I don’t keep the finished mandalas for very long – all things are temporary, and letting go of my own handiwork is a spiritual discipline in its own right.
It takes me three or four days to complete each scratch mandala. I take my time, choosing which shapes to uncover first, which lines to trace, what areas to uncover and what ones to leave alone. I pause every few minutes to see how my latest marks have changed the look of the whole. When the twenty minutes are over, I take some time to look at the mandala and reflect on how it served as a spiritual focus. It’s at this time that I see how my own work falls into a pattern. There’s a pattern to how I’ve uncovered the mandala pattern. If it’s a six section pattern, I reveal the same part of each section: six circles or diamond patterns standing equidistant from the center and the outer edge of the mandala. Six flower petals around the circles, six rays connecting the petals to the center, and so on. For whatever reason, this way of revealing the overall mandala pattern is satisfying to me, providing a balanced if partial pattern as I work to reveal the whole.
I shared this meditation activity with the class of high school learners I see every Sunday. At the end of the 20 minute exercise, everyone held up their mandala. Some had started in the center, working their way out of the pattern. Others had started by revealing the outer edges and working inward. One or two worked in wedges, completing one whole symmetrical section before moving onto another one. Within these overall work patterns, each person chose the order of individual elements to uncover. Each person’s approach was unique – not a single replication. Each way had its own peculiar beauty and sense.
For me, it was an illuminating experience in the literal as well as the figurative sense. Revealing the pattern by drawing out the brilliant color underneath the black surface produced an illuminated mandala; seeing each person’s unique approach to this spiritual practice revealed his or her particular embodiment of God’s grace and holiness. Being a part of such an extraordinary moment in time and space, how can I be anything but awestruck by this sacred place and these sacred people?