Flow And Form

Flow State is described by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as that moment when, “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Mandala making gets me into flow state. Confusion fades and clarity peaks. Ideas coalesce, and problems that I’ve struggled with for months suddenly find their own solution. I am so focused the physicality of the the paint, the rhythm of my pencil or brush, and the simple joy of shape recognition, that the burden of my constant judgement is suspended and higher quality ideas are released.

The central or beginning concept that I use for a mandala is usually symbolic, something with broad, universal significance that can be expanded or refined to my own personal, individual experience as I work.

For example, my first mandala was focused on agape, or brotherly love. The piece morphed into something unrecognizable later, and the only record I still have of it is a post on Instagram. Right away, though, this new work got a big response and touched on something I knew was important and instantly relatable.

I decided to explore this mandala making process more fully and I chose a symbolic concept that I could deeply investigate, turning it over and unpacking it while the work developed. I chose the chakra system, but I could’ve easily chosen the elements (earth, fire, air, water), or the five senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste).

Sahasrara (Crown Chakra, 7th Chakra), Watercolor, graphite, and gouache on paper, 22 in X 22 in, 2018.

Written language forms the beginning structural pattern, shapes randomly forming where my handwriting overlaps. Colors are chosen in relation to the initial concept (each chakra is traditionally associated with a certain color), yet may change over time. Working automatically, each mark or color determines the next. Freed up from overthinking, I let colors blend and break up, lines form and fade. I use simple materials for which I have respect and wonderment, as I watch them play.

Muladhara took over a year to complete. As I worked, playground structures developed, and then strange rose petals or blood cells over them. Twisting, thorny vines grew through the soil. Very like our childhood memories and perfect for the root chakra, which is our foundation and our earthy, primal root of manifestation.

Even a subtle reminder of the complexity inherent in our very being–our birth, our ancestry, the foundation of “I” as we understand it–is enough to provoke a lifetime of inquiry.

Manipura (Solar Plexus or 3rd Chakra), Watercolor and marker on paper, 22 in X 22 in, 2018.

In each mandala, I trust whatever arrises and I never plan. The above image is of the chakra in our solar plexus, close to the navel. It’s element is fire and color is yellow, and I wrote “will power” and “instinct” and “drive” to build the pattern. The layers blended like they had a mind of their own, however, and formed squiggles very similar to the intestines in our gut. And of course, that is our digestive fire–our metabolism. Often overlooked, but now thought to be our other brain, and known to house billions of organisms, it’s an entrance to the cosmos in our bellies.

Like the concept of fractals, the mandalas grow and expand from a simple pattern. Deceptively simple, because the pattern is made from something incredibly complex, abstract, and symbolic: written language. Each piece–with sometimes over a hundred layers–may be reduced or amplified, and yet still remains basically the same throughout.

Svadhisthana (Sacral Chakra, 2nd Chakra), Watercolor, gouache, marker, and colored pencil on paper, 22 in X 22 in, 2018.

The original paintings are large, so to appreciate the details you must get up close and personal, the way I do when I’m working on them. Surprising structures develop within the layers, and it’s no shock that this one turned out looking rather sensual. The second chakra is our center of sexuality.

My own inner state is inevitably and intimately recorded while working. Just look at how cluttered my own intuition felt while I was flowing with my Third Eye, in the image below. I used words like “protection” and “projection,” in an unconsciously defensive way, spiraling to release all the tension. Dark clouds obscure areas, but they all seem to be rotating outward with a lighthearted abundance of new information.

Ajna (Third Eye, 6th Chakra), Watercolor, gouache, marker, and colored pencil on paper, 22 in X 22 in, 2018.

Honest, yet incredibly complex, a meditation on the Third Eye can both energize a space and provide pause for contemplation. Like ourselves, and something as primal and unique as our own energy and drive, each piece can stand on its own or be understood as a part, integral to the whole.

Whatever the finished product, the most rewarding part for me is the process of mandala making.

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