Monday, April 26, 2010

Tibetan Sacred Sand Mandala: Part Three (Finale)

Friday night, I had the pleasure of taking Big B on a date. We went to dinner, and then to the closing ceremonies of the Tibetan monks' week-long residence in our community. We were excited to see the finished sand mandala that we'd visited every day the week before.
After dinner, we arrived at the performing arts hall just in time to watch the sunset over the Bay (very appropriate, as we had spent the car ride singing hip-hop versions of Down By the Bay).Before the closing ceremonies began, Big B had a few moments to work on the last of three children's mandalas.The lights dimmed and we went into the theater. I was thankful Noni joined us, because during the interludes between chants and dances, Big B was a squirmy wormy. But the dances kept his attention and he asked great questions. When the head lama (monk) asked the audience to put their energy into visualizing world peace during one of the dances, Big B asked, "How do I do that?"

He made it through to the end of the ceremony on the promise that we'd get to see the monks disperse the sand in the mandala they'd worked all week to create. We left the theater a couple of minutes early to get a spot up close, and I'm so glad we did. Big B stood immediately behind the monks as they encircled the mandala with their voices and instruments. This is their ornate drum.Finally, the mandala began to disappear. The crowd collectively gasped as the first grains were scraped away.
When the sands were piled in the center of the tekpu, the monks began putting teaspoonfuls into little bags for their spectators to carry with them. Big B patiently waited for his, then carried it like a treasure outside and to the waterfront, where we awaited the dispersal of the rest of the sand.The monks followed, chanting a final, climactic chant, blessing the sands' journey through the water to the rest of the world, bringing peace and healing energy.And just like that, it was over. I am so grateful to have shared this experience with my children. I am hopeful that the global perspective they are gaining in their childhood grows into a well of compassion as they get older. They have big hearts and thoughtful minds, and with each new special experience, I am among the lucky few that watch them grow. And grow. And grow.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Shoebox Butterfly Gardens

Today, my amazing husband led Big B's class in the planting of their own shoebox butterfly gardens, in honor of National Landscape Architecture Month. I wasn't sure how smoothly things would go, putting wheelbarrows of soil, rocks, mulch and plants in front of twenty-four five and six year olds, but I was pleasantly surprised by the patience and care the children displayed. Big B was front and center, waiting eagerly for his Papa to help him plant his garden.
Papa taught them about the life cycle of the butterfly and how to take care of their plants. He taught them about different soil types, water absorption and mulch. He was wonderful, and for the most part, they all really listened.And check out these adorable butterfly gardens! I was most impressed. Each child planted one coral honeysuckle, one verbena, and one white guara. Beautiful!Big B took great care to design his garden just right...
...and slowly, carefully carried it back to his classroom. And Mama was very proud of her boys, big and small.Note: If you would like to try this activity, Papa suggests poking holes in the bottom and sides of these biodegradable boxes and planting them right in the ground. Butterflies like warm dark rocks, and a plastic lid filled with water would attract them to drink. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

New Traditions: Earth Day Nature Devotionals

Happy Earth Day! We were inspired by a display of nature devotionals we saw while viewing the sand mandala this week. This afternoon, in honor of Mother Earth, we recreated the activity. We collected stones, feathers, ferns, flowers, sticks, moss, leaves and fruit. The kids in my wonderful neighborhood joined us as we symbolically gave thanks to the Earth by creating beauty from her objects. The kids really just enjoyed being outside together, fulfilling Big B's New Moon intention. In the process, many lovely arrangements were made.
Little b could not be trusted to keep the creations intact. This prompted a conversation, also aided by the teachings of the mandala, about the impermanence of all things. Little b finally complied with the big kids and instead found joy in squishier sensations. Toes in rocks......and fingers in loquats, ripening one by one on our tree.
The fallen fruit became the inspiration for a series of faces. Mother Nature has a sense of humor!
I think I have found our family's new Earth Day tradition. What is yours?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tibetan Sacred Sand Mandala: Part Two

We've been spending quite a bit of time visiting the Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery during their residency here in our community. They are almost finished creating the sacred sand mandala, intended to inflict purification and healing, in the foyer of our performing arts hall.

When we left them on the first day of this process, they were carefully measuring and drawing the white lines that would be the framework for their mandala. When we arrived yesterday afternoon, the second day, we were amazed at what we saw.
The center of the mandala shows the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism.
Big B continued his careful work on the children's mandala. He showed me proudly which pieces were his, remembering his work from the day before.After we left, we walked to a nearby playground. On the way, Big B surprised me by stopping, sitting, and assuming a meditative pose. He told me that meditating is how warriors learn new fighting moves. Hey, it's the journey, not the destination, right? This afternoon, little b and I picked Big B up from school, and the three of us knew right where we were going. Once again, I was absolutely blown away by the progress the monks had made, and by the intricate, tedious, spectacular detail of their craft.Big B put his finishing touch on the children's mandala, which was completed after several busloads of students came to visit the mandala today.As we were leaving, we saw two monks sitting on a bench near the ocean. They saw my boys walking toward them and opened their arms with such loving kindness on their faces, I can only describe their gesture as an embrace of the energy that lives in the hearts of children. Big B and little b reciprocated, and a moment of gratitude was exchanged by the four beings that I was absolutely honored and proud to witness. I didn't dare reach for my camera, but soaked up every breath, every word, and every smile.

On the way home, I surprised Big B with a mandala coloring book I'd made while he was at school. There are many free printable mandalas available (find some here, here and here).
And tonight, after a meeting that let out early, I just couldn't help myself...Noni and I went back to watch the end of the monks' workday. For the third time, I found myself simply awestruck.
When we left, they were drawing their final lines for tomorrow, the last day of the mandala creation. On Friday, they will hold their closing ceremonies.The little silver bowls are holding less sand by the hour. I feel like it is being poured directly into my heart, filling it with the brilliant, vibrant colors of gratitude.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tibetan Sacred Sand Mandala: Part One

When I learned that the Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery were taking residence in my community for a week, I knew I wanted take my children to watch these spiritual masters in practice. What I didn't know was that for five days straight, they would be creating a sacred sand mandala in the foyer of our performing arts hall. Big B, little b, Noni and I went to watch the opening ceremonies yesterday, where the monks blessed the site of the mandala and asked all beings present, visible and invisible, if it was a suitable place for their spiritual practice.

There were altars, near and dear to my heart, dedicated to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, and to the table upon which the mandala would be created.
The monks began their ceremony with a traditional chant, led by the chant master in the center. The Tibetans are the only culture on earth that incorporate the extraordinary vocal ability to create complete chords with their throats, transforming their bodies into amplifiers for their voices. It was a powerful experience to hear.
Once the mandala site was consecrated, the monks began drawing of the design on the base, or tekpu. One monk explained that the design is dictated by ancient Buddhist scripture and mathematics. The artists carefully measured and drew the architectural lines using beautiful instruments, rulers, compasses and white ink pens.Once the diagram is completed, colored sand will be applied to the mandala through the end of a metal funnel. The funnel will be slowly rasped in order to release a fine stream of sand. The artists will begin at the center of the mandala and work outward.
The children present had the opportunity to recreate this practice in a more familiar way. A local expressive artists' cooperative had stations set up for community art, including this simple mandala of circles.Big B also tried his hand at sand art, using the same tools the monks will use to create the mandala.
We plan to go back to view their progress each day until the mandala is completed. The mandala will then be destroyed as a metaphor of “the impermanence of life.” The colored sands will be swept up and carried in a processional to the ocean, where the waters carry their healing energies throughout the world.

When we left the opening ceremonies, I was seeing mandalas everywhere. I can't wait to go back and show Big B a stark difference from our fast-paced world, a lifestyle in which the practice, the discipline, the journey, truly is as important as the destination.

Sand-painted mandalas are used as tools for renewing the Earth and its inhabitants. In general, all mandalas have outer, inner and secret meanings and inflections. On the outer level, they represent the world in its divine form; on the inner level they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into enlightened mind; and finally, on the secret level, they depict the perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind. The creation of a sand painting is said to inflict purification and healing on these three levels.