The Mandala Forest
Long before the birth of Christ and the major religions of today, the shamans and medicine men of traditional indigenous cultures were making use of various natural mind altering and psychedelic substances, from mushrooms, peyote, coca leaves, marijuana, and ayahuasca, to connect with the spiritual world, the natural world, and the people in their community. They used these substances as a source of wisdom and inspiration.  The illegal status of such natural substances in today's world is more than an abrogation of individual rights as human beings: it is a restriction on religious freedom, even as the religions that made use of these substances for tens of thousands of years are dismissed and eliminated from the planet.  This sort of hostility and repression is happening side by side with the systematic destruction of the natural world.  It is for this reason I have created the marijuana mandala, which celebrates the beautiful, psychedelic experience that was fundamental to human spirituality since the beginning of  human history.

Today in the United States, where naturally growing mind altering plants are deemed illegal, the War on Drugs is leading to increasing unnatural violence, as products like marijuana, which are extremely inexpensive to produce, become artificially expensive due to their illegal status.  Because the upper level individuals selling the buds of these  plants cannot appeal to the law for protection of their property, they resort to immoral and criminal violence to protect an unnecessarily high priced substance, which can grow peacefully in the wild without human interference.  The War on Drugs in truth is not a struggle to protect individuals, but a war on consciousness and people's ability to make decisions for themselves.  Another side effect of the the prohibition of marijuana in the US is the outlawed status of industrial hemp, which is a highly nutritive food, supplying omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.  Hemp is a hardy plant which requires less water and pesticides than many conventional crops, and can be used in producing fiber and biofuel. This marijuana mandala, which could also be viewed as a hemp mandala, is an energetic call for sanity in a world which has criminalized and subjugated nature and erected in its place forces of violence and destruction.

In December of 2010 I completed what I have entitled the Earth Ascension Mandala, which was a mandala designed for the purpose of helping to foster peace and spiritual progress on the planet.  The ring of light around the earth on the mandala is a rainbow, and the fact that the Earth in the center is seen from space, and is then surrounded by a square form, gave me a sense that this was resonating with an earlier post I did about a specific Bon mandala and the five elements of that tradition.  My sense was that this mandala would be a great tool for people to place either in plain view or in a sacred space to serve as both a focus and a reminder for creating a positive future on this planet. 

The world is filled with so much suffering, and in the West we are hearing all sorts of speculation around end times, or radical new beginnings.  The notion of a "post 9-11 world," climate change, and "Change we can believe in," along with hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown, have created an environment of radical uncertainty.   There are a whole host of apocalyptic narratives out there to chose from whether they be 2012, the Rapture, technological singularity, the rise of the New World Order, Islamo-fascist takeover,an upwelling of "socialist traitors" and "enviro-fascists" in the United states, looming widespread economic collapse, global warming, Peak oil, among others.  These narratives circulate within segments of society that range from major religious organizations, to fringe new age groups, to scientific bodies, to online conspiracy theory communities, to governments and economic think tanks.  What we are witnessing is either real or perceived crises on nearly every level of human existence.  We could argue whether or not these narratives accurately reflect reality, but in a way it doesn't matter, because a significant number of people from widely dispersed cross sections of society believe in one or more of them.  This means that we will likely face a derivative of one or more of these crises in actuality, or we will face a crisis created by our own powerful and misguided anticipations.  In essence, we have set ourselves up for some sort of shock, from which will either emerge a stronger, more uplifted and resilient humanity, or a further degraded and enslaved one.  It seems to me that neither outcome is clear at this point, though we hear all sorts of declarations of certainty about a coming technological salvation, spiritual ascension, or an approaching apocalypse. 

Reality is created by both what is already "out there" as well as what we believe, and the way in which we interpret our experiences.  Believing that there is no crisis, can in fact de-escalate some situations, while screaming about the way everything is falling apart can incite a crisis that may have been averted.  Yet it is a mistake to think that our belief supersedes the "outside world."    It would be nice to imagine that in today's world, we could just take a deep breath, keep calm, and move on, and the apparent storm clouds would reveal themselves to be little more than transient water vapor.  But if we recognize the fact that billions of people are living in poverty, that war is real, that the environment is under assault, and so forth, it becomes clear that there are tectonic problems in the world that are not going away.  When taken alongside escalating revolutionary rhetoric and declining standards of living in the West, we see tensions are ratcheting up on all fronts, and the so called War on Terror and War on Drugs are leading to governments that are increasingly positioned to do violence to their citizens should things get out of hand. 

A spiritual or meditative practice is extremely important during this time.  The notion that our practices will spark our kundalini, usher in a global awakening, keep us centered, or attract the attention of enlightened entities and compassionate energies, may help us to forge a vision for a better future which contrasts with the dark narratives that have been laid before us by the powers that be.   When we remain grounded, our efforts to create a positive future effect us and those around us, making ourselves and our communities stronger and more resilient.  Therefore these visions of bright possibility should be entertained and exercised. 

At the same time, idyllic manifestations should not be the foundation of our beliefs.  There are forces greater than any single human, no matter what their station in life, affecting us on levels which we do not understand and cannot predict or control.  While our hope and vision should be dedicated to bringing about the best possible outcomes in our world and in our lives, our  faith must rest in something beyond all of this.  While images like the Earth Ascension Mandala and countless other pieces of visionary art and music can act as points of inspiration and focus or lighthouses in troubled waters, behind this is the very notion that we can even have a boat or a body to pilot life's waters, both calm and choppy.  This is where the heart of faith resides, beyond specifically anticipated spiritual or worldly scenarios.

I don't believe this is something easily tapped into.  But if we are to look at the world and recognize the fact that genocide has occurred throughout history, that human slave trafficking exists today, that over a hundred billion animals are slaughtered each year often in conditions as bad as any concentration camp, we have to recognize that an ascended planet or an awakened mind achieved here on Earth in our own lifetime could not be the pinnacle of existence, because it would leave behind  the trillions of life forms that never got to see these things come to pass. If the universe is content to allow so many beings to pass on without tasting the Utopia that many of us anticipate, then surely we should not cling too tightly to our idealized visions of what we believe should be.  And for those who truly believe that an afterlife will reveal greater awareness, integration, and love than this one could provide, then surely they must possess the faith to not struggle too hard or put too much stock in an immanent spiritual golden age here on Earth, knowing that in time, all things are revealed that need be.  At times it is through letting go of constricted anticipation and single pointed goals that we open up and allow the universe to breathe its life more fully into us.

This is not to say we should abandon bright hopes, radiant possibilities, or faith in good things.  Instead, I think, we are here to help each other as best we can, with our chosen guideposts for a better future. In our imperfect attempts to move closer to our idealized visions, our deeply felt understanding of the darker aspects of reality allow compassion, charity, kindness and the like to become truly miraculous acts.   For myself,  this journey is aided by the belief that beyond our current and limited experience, beyond our dreams and nightmares and a world of dualism, beauty, and suffering, all is well with the vast, expanding universe of which we are all a part.