The Mandala Forest
 
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I originally designed the Reconciliation Mandala as a submission for the Mandala Journal, which is "an online student-run multicultural journal for poets, writers, artists, and thinkers."  The image I ended up submitting is actually a derivation of this original work, and I will post that more recent version some time in the near future.

Most of the mandalas I have created up to this point do not have specific symbolic connotations, but this one is a bit different.  In order to symbolically represent reconciliation in the mandala, I placed two circles within a larger central circle, which at the time of initial design, symbolized for me an act of coming together for mutual understanding.  The colors of the spectrum signified diversity of perspective, variation, or movement toward specificity.  The the hexagram or Star of David is composed of two individual triangles, one pointing up, the other down, which in this mandala were meant to illustrate polarity, punctuated by the spheres at the top and bottom.  Upon further reflection, I realized the mandala was really about an energetic process of creation, individuation/separation/complexification, and then the wisdom of remembering, recognizing, or witnessing the underlying interconnection.  If you click on the thumbnail image, you will see a larger version within the Mandala Gallery. 


 
 
In today's fast paced advanced societies, we are constantly faced with a myriad of stressors that in moderation can help us gain a sense of strength and accomplishment, and in large quantities can make us constantly anxious, overwhelm us, and cause us to feel that our lives are spinning out of control.  Playing out in real time in the background of this high speed modern stage of ups and downs are the harsh realities of war, widespread poverty, and environmental devastation.  For the minority of the world's population that live within the neat confines of the suburbanized and walled off wealthy Western nations, the chaos and destruction of the world at large exists in a sort of cultural subconscious.  It is through this lens that I touch on the mandala and address one of the technological approaches to the challenges we face. 

Searching the internet for interesting articles about mandalas, I came across a video that demonstrates the integration of technology and human brainwaves.  I had first encountered a similar biofeedback program when a friend of mine lent me a copy of the  new age themed video game Wild Divine.  Using a pulse and skin conductivity sensor that clips to the fingers and plugs into the computer, the game teaches the player to modulate mental states and achieve relaxed focus.  Today, personalized and integrated brainwave sensors, pioneered by NeuroSky (SkyNet anyone?) and Emotiv, are on the cutting edge of high tech self monitoring, which groups like Quantified Self take very seriously.

A man by the name Beer van Geer recently developed the Dagaz app for use with NeuroSky's hardware.  The program, as demonstrated in the video, teaches viewers to enter into a meditative state through the interactive biofeedback based process of creating mandalas with one's mind.  A fascinating goal put forth by van Geer is to eventually refine the Dagaz application so that "players" across the world can co‐create mandalas in cyberspace, and perhaps even develop a sort of technologically mediated "telepathy."

Certainly we can see the potential benefits of biofeedback in general, whether they be overcoming addictions and phobias ,to improving focus in the classroom, to deepening our meditative practice.  Yet as programs like Wild Divine and Dagaz and the Dalai Lama's virtual tour of a three dimensional virtual mandala illustrate, technology and spirituality are openly fusing.  This is not entirely problematic, in the sense that through technology we are able to transmit significant or spiritual matters to wider audiences.  Yet through technology, the very landscape of human experience and what it means to be human, is changing.

And this is where we should be asking difficult questions, because things are getting a bit strange.  At some point we may very well come to regret the actualization of technological forces which, through a convergence of advanced self monitoring and biofeedback, genetic manipulation, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, computer mediated communication interfaces, high tech security monitoring, augmented reality, facial recognition tech, 3D geometry video scanning, state of the art rendering, digitized monetary transactions, RFID chips, cybernetic implantation and transhumanism, and virtual lives created through online worlds like Second Life, we become fully integrated into a global technology net, a complex quasi living electrical grid.  At a time of great turmoil and environmental degradation, we are fast approaching the merging of man and machine. Even today, this sentiment may sound a bit sci‐fi, but the rapid pace of innovation has set the stage for such a convergence, barely noticeable to those of us in the advanced cultures who take these high speed transitions as the norm with little consideration of long term systemic effects.  

As we ponder these seemingly inevitable crossroads, it would be good to ask ourselves a question that echoes the words of Terence McKenna: is it humanity, nature, or technology (0r some combination of the three) which we put in the center of our mandala? To what ends?  It is interesting to note the interconnections between the advent of the world wide web, open source code, wikis (and wikiLeaks), social networking, and the like, alongside the notions of technological singularity,  environmental systems awareness, and the "oneness" spiritual movements we see emerging in the West.  Perhaps we can see some trends coming to the fore, but it remains to be seen what the ramifications in human consciousness will be if increasing numbers of the historically unprecedented human populace are further separated from the natural life sustaining processes of planet earth.  Perhaps there is a way to balance our newly developed, technologically mediated lives with the necessary natural processes that sustain us.  And perhaps our increased interconnection through the internet will function to create a more integrated collective human conciousness.   It is up to us to decide what is valuable, what content we will emphasize, and how we apply it to our 3d lives. 
 
 
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Mandalas first appeared in ancient Buddhist and Hindu art, and their use came to involve complex ritual visualizations and meditations,as in the Buddhist Kalachakra initiation still practiced today.  Those of us who are not steeped in these millenia old traditions may wonder what significance the mandala holds for us.  The answer is not simple, but certainly the mandala is important today even for those of us who are not making use of it in a more traditional context.

First and foremost, the mandala is a static reminder of deeper consciousness, interconnection, and our spiritual or energetic nature.  Having spiritually significant art work in one's living area, meditation room, or workspace helps us to stay connected to larger and deeper realities even in the midst of stressful circumstances.  The mandala does not erase the daily challenges we face, but puts these challenges  into a context in which they are more easily managed.  The mandala can remind us to take a breath, to get some perspective.  The mandala can also help us find solutions we may not have thought of, by reminding us of the way things subtly and mysteriously connect and affect one another.  Knowing this, we can remember that difficult situations often work out in unexpected ways. 

A beautiful mandala can be a source of  spiritual solidity that remains constant in the face of a constantly changing world around us.  Because the mandala can be a source of beauty, inspiration, and spiritual connection without specific reference to any particular religion, some contemporary mandalas have a way of speaking to people of different beliefs in a way that perhaps a deity laden Buddhist or Hindu mandala can't.  While in some traditions, mandalas were given to one's teacher or guru as an offering of the cosmos, the mandala can still make for a powerful gift or celebratory gesture, without the need for specific ceremonial references.  Clearly the mandala can easily play an authentic and important role in today's hectic world. 


 
 
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The circle appears in various forms in nature, but humans have also made use of the circle for practical and culturally symbolic reasons.  The coin is one such example.  While it might seem strange on the surface to connect the mandala with the coin, as they apparently only have in common their circular form, there are a few deeper connections.  The coin, like the mandala, is a physical, cultural manifestation symbolic of something intangible.  In the case of the coin, this symbolic representation is that of the value of work.  The Alcoholics Anonymous chip represents work done in the name of staying sober and becoming a healthier individual.

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The quarter is the kind of currency one carries as the result of work done at a job or a profession.  In a perfect world, this type of coin, circle, mandala, or symbolic token would represent the type of reward given for providing a good or service that helps the wider community.  While true perhaps much of the time, we cannot really make that generalization.  Unlike the AA community, the societies that issue such coins work internally at crossed purposes often with unethical and manipulative intent, which in some professions is actually encouraged rather seen as contradictory to the value structure.

Like the mandala, these two coins serve as tangible reminders and reinforcers of a certain type of reality, and the types of reality that these mini metallic mandalas stand in for are quite different.  One is a reality of spiritual growth, mutual support, and psychological healing.  The other is of competition and materialism.  It is interesting to note that the AA's sobriety chip, a loosely run organization literally by the people, issues the statement "To Thine Own Self Be True," whereas the coin of the more centralized and militarily backed US government tells us "In God We Trust."  This is not an indictment of trust in God, but a question about the intent, genuineness, and effect that these statements have within the context they are presented.  Do we really trust in God, as the quarter indicates (or perhaps commands), or is it money that is the real religion of advanced societies?  If we recognize the centrality that money plays in human lives, it is not a stretch to realize the power our culturally selected mandalas have over us, and the power they have to shape our reality.

 
 
I just completed the three black and white mandalas below which can be downloaded and printed off from this website for free, and used as coloring pages.  They can be found under the Mandalas heading, under Free Mandala Coloring Pages. Enjoy!
 
 
Last night I completed a new mandala design which I have transformed into two mandala posters.  The first mandala, to the left, I've entitled Ancient Intuitions, named for a quote from the book The Theory and Practice of the Mandala, as well as the earthy colors and mysterious geometric elements, which called to mind a lost and mysterious civilization.  The second version, on the right, which uses the same design with different coloration, is entitled the New Dawn Mandala.  I was amazed at how the different color schemes alone created two totally different mandalas, in spite of their common design.  The New Dawn mandala has a real warmth to it, and a bit more of a delicate or ethereal quality.   Both of these images can be seen in greater detail by clicking on them in the Mandala art gallery, and can be purchased as 23"x35"  prints.
 
 
Just seconds before the clock struck midnight and 2011 officially began, Terence McKenna's voice came through my computer and spoke the following lines from his speech on psychedelic society.

"In the moment of being human we have the unique opportunity to figure things out. And I have the faith that it is possible to, some time somewhere, to have a conversation, perhaps no progress would be made until the ninth hour, but to have a conversation in which reality could be literally pulled to pieces beyond the point of reconstructing."

Just as McKenna finished this sentence, the loud crack of fireworks erupted outside, punctuating his words through the disintigrations of pyrotechnic light and mandalic sound.

What did McKenna mean by pulling apart reality beyond the point of reconstructing?  The notion sounds a bit frightening, in its apparent call for a process of fundamental destruction.  As a self proclaimed anarchist, one would have to wonder what sort of world he is envisioning as he describes the necessary process of ideological breakdown, which he compares to a friend's fourteen hour LSD  induced annihilation of a brick using nothing more than a toothpick and his fingernails. 

In another speech, which he entitles Nature is the Center of the Mandala, McKenna puts forth the following image. 

"What we’re looking toward is a moment when the artificial language structures which bind us  within the notion of ourselves are dissolved in the presence of the realization that we are a part of nature, and when that happens the childhood of our species will pass away, and we will stand tremulously on the brink of really the first moments of coherent human civilization."

In 1992, at his Camden Center talk, McKenna said

"What we have to do is swallow hard, in a similar way that the Russians had to swallow hard, and admit we did it wrong, and now the only way out is back, we must return to the archaic world of shamanism, mutual respect among men and women, a sense of seamless cohesion with the living world. If this is not done, then the experiment fails."

In his speeches, Terence McKenna said both that nature is the center of the mandala, and we as individuals are the center of the mandala.  While it might seem somewhat contradictory to interchange impersonal natural systems with particular human consciousness as the central element of reality,  McKenna was suggesting the deep reconnection between man and nature.  This state of reintegration into the the natural world was part of what McKenna saw as the eschaton, or "the last thing," a time beyond history.  He believed that we have entered a sort of cosmic bottle neck, that time and the rate of complexification are speeding up, and that massive transformation is immanent.