Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it
no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.*
“Mandala” is the Sanskrit word for “circle,” but a circle that is coordinated or symbolically designed so that it has the meaning of cosmic order. When composing mandalas, you are trying to coordinate your personal circle with the universal circle. […] Making a manual is a discipline for pulling all those scattered aspects of your life together, for finding a centre and ordering yourself to it. You try to coordinate your circle with the universal circle.**
We live in a time of flux, having moved away from ancient paths that have guided our ancestor’s lives and only beginning to find new ones. Add to this the speed and complexity of change that previous generations could not have imagined and we can be left feeling disconnected from ourselves, others, the world and something larger.
I don’t see these paths, what have been traditionally labeled spiritual disciplines, as linear but as patterns. Some words from Ed Schein on an industrial accident ring true for our personal lives:
‘The problem is that in a [linear] search for a root cause, the organisation is likely to overlook that the situation just before the accident was a complex, messy one and there generally is no root cause, only an unfortunate combination of circumstances.’^
With such complexity and randomness at play, we require patterns of thinking, feeling and doing that allow us to be more than a force to meet these – as Frederick Buechner intimates in our opening words for today. Patterns provide us with adaptive advantage.
We need to understand how those who have gone before us were not expressing something we don’t need now, but, in their own ways expressing something we all need as humans – perhaps more so than ever. Bruce Chatwin shares about the the Aboriginal Australians’ ancient longlines:
‘[Arkady Volchok] went on to explain how each totemic ancestor, while travelling through the country, was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his his footprints, and how these Dreaming-tracks lay over the land as “ways” of communication between the most far-flung tribes. “A song,” he said, was both map and direction-finder. Providing you knew the song, you could always find your way across country.’^^
Country … life … times … complexity. There are ways of finding our way. Those who have gone before have left us clues to help us. Chatwin continues:
‘Aboriginals could not believe the country existed until they could see and sing it – just as in the Dreamtime, the country had not existed until the Ancestors sang it.’^^
Which feels like connecting with the universal circle, something each generation must be creative in doing, and which is helpful for every person up to a point, but when complemented by an individual’s personal “recreating the creation,” this becomes even more powerful.
(*Frederick Buechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Jospeh Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^From Edgar Schein’s Humble Consulting.)
(^^Arkady Volchok, quoted in Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines.)