The mandala is an ancient symbol that represents the universe. It serves as a microcosmic representation of all that exists within us and in the external world. Mandalas have an intricate circular symmetry made of geometric patterns.
Years ago, I came across a practice that hooked my mind – I couldn’t stop thinking about it because it was just so intriguing. Tibetan Buddhist monks gather to create exquisite mandalas with special colored sand during rituals (see video below). At the end of the ritual the sand is gathered, destroying the deeply significant and symbolic mandala that was created with hours of diligence. The hours of perseverance and focus on the meaning of the mandala of course brings about an attachment and connection to the work and the final piece in its last stages. In destroying what was made, the monks practice letting go of the end result marking the knowledge that all things are ephemeral.
In our everyday life, we get attached (varies by age) to grades, accolades, physical appearance, money, and social status. While students may get caught up in their grades (the end result) or the number of friends they have (again another number that is the end result of social interactions), adults also face the same experience. Adults may get obsessed with how much money they make or with climbing up a social hierarchy ladder, which are the end results of hours of work and maybe degrees.
It is no surprise humans are wired to value the end result of endeavors and hold onto them as if their worth depends on these end results. Based on evolution, we are wired to hold on to all that helps us survive – the results of tribal wars over land or the competition for a mate. The only difference is that most of us reading this article are not struggling to survive and so the intense hold on end results does not benefit us. Instead, it breeds anxiety, insecurity, mean competition, and probably a whole list of related physical ailments.
It is said that, when asked about what is most surprising about humanity, the Dalai Lama replied:
Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;
the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
We are literally afraid of loss as if our survival depends on one home, one job, a more than sufficient paycheck, one SAT score, one state exam score, and one performance review. In order to practice letting go, we must immerse ourselves in the process of each moment unfolding with childlike curiosity – not like a machine that is just intent on creating an end product.
The action of this blog post revolves around a mandala coloring practice in which we rewire the mind to engage in the process and let go of the result. Read on to practice!
Action for this post:
Print out or draw your own mandala. See this site for mandalas you can print for yourself or get inspired to draw your own: https://printmandala.com/
Every day, spend only 5 minutes coloring the mandala (preferably with colored pencils or crayons) bringing your attention to the sound of the utensil on paper and each stroke of color filling the empty space. Put your crayon or pencil down at the 5 minute mark. Do they same every day until you complete the mandala, suspending any judgement of your work.
Then, upon its completion, recycle the mandala paper in your bin. This marks the end of one exercise, a process and experience in which you let go of the end product.