The Mandala of Listening
“Each person’s life is like a mandala- a vast, limitless circle.
We stand in the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life. We enter a room, and the room is our mandala. We get on the subway, and the subway car is our mandala, down to the teenager checking messages on her iPhone and the homeless man slumped in the corner.
We go for a hike in the mountains, and everything as far as we can see is our mandala: the clouds, the trees, the snow on the peeks, even the rattlesnake coiled in the corner. We’re lying in a hospital bed, and the hospital is our mandala. We don’t set it up, we don’t get to choose what or who shows up in it. It is, As Chogyam Trungpa said, “the mandala that is never arranged but is always complete.” And we embrace it just as it is.
Everything that shows up in your mandala is a vehicle for your awakening. From this point of view, awakening is right at your fingertips continually. There’s not a drop of rain or a pile of dog poop that appears in your life that isn’t the manifestation of enlightened energy, that isn’t a doorway to sacred world.
But it’s up to you whether your life is a mandala of neurosis or a mandala of sanity.“
(From Pema Chodron’s newest book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change)
I LOVE how REAL she gets. Certainly, we can embrace the exaltation of a pristine mountain vista, but
Holy Dog Poop? Holy Hospital Bed?
Would your life be better if you allowed for this possibility? Would things flow smoother? Could life be less “neurotic?”
Inclusion is a concept we embrace in my “Mosaic from the Mind’s Eye” classes. Mosaic can be a metaphor for all the pieces and fragments of oneself, so this includes the neurosis and the sanity…We must start there. We use the mandala form as the container for the work, and as both Chodron— from a spiritual perspective, and C. G. Jung, from a psychological perspective—have pointed out, the Mandala is a container for Life. Working with the Mandala can be a pathway to wholeness.
Regardless of your technical abilities or medium, if you can approach your ART with that same sense of ‘sacred allowing’—much is revealed. Not to say we don’t discern, or edit, or make choices. This is a process.
One tool we use in the process is Deep Listening.
Let’s begin with a simple exercise. 5 minutes:
in a chair, on a floor cushion, sitting on your sofa… be comfortable and supported
Close your eyes or lower your eyes to the ground, focus on a spot about two feet in front of you on the floor
Simply take a few breaths— deep breaths if you like— relax and feel your sitz bones resting on the seat
Now soften your breathing, allow it to refine, cycle, and quiet down.
Relax your eyes. Relax your ears. Feel the bone around your BRAIN…
Allow your hardworking brain to relax and soften inside your skull
Feel the shift in your sensations as you do this
Bring attention to the SOUNDS around you, Actively LISTEN
Take your awareness OUTSIDE the BUILDING
If a thought comes up, just let it pass for now and gently come back to breathing, listening
Listen to the distant sounds, a car passing, a faraway plane, a dog barking, a leaf blower…
It’s all the same… just distant sounds.
Now bring your listening closer, to INSIDE the BUILDING
Perhaps there are movements in the next room, a distant conversation, a refrigerator rattle…
Continue to breathe gently, let what you hear pass through you
It’s all the same.
There is nothing to do. No action needed.
Now, bring your attention closer to you, inside the ROOM
Sense how this is different from your focus on the larger space
Perhaps you hear a ticking clock, the hum of a computer, a purring cat…
Now, come closer. Inside your SELF
Listen to your own BREATHING
Listen to your HEART BEAT
Hear the blood in your veins, feel your pulsing.
Listen for your breath coming in, breathing out —
the warm In breath,
the cooler Out breath
If a thought comes up, let it go for now and gently bring attention to your breath.
This is You, right now.
Perhaps you sense aches or pains, a flutter of memory, a dull headache, a quickening of joy in your heart…
It’s all the same. Embrace YOU
Take two deeper breaths, in your own time
Exhale, release judgement
Thank yourself for taking this time, this little Journey to Center.
Gently bring your awareness back to the room, relax the muscles in your face, relax your ears, your throat…
Inhale and release an audible *s i g h* … feel gratitude…
Open your eyes slowly and sense how you feel.
Note any differences in your awareness.
In what ways do you feel differently from when you initially began?
Check whether you are holding an expectation about how you’re ‘supposed to’ feel.
Stay curious and see if you can identify what arrived into your mandala.
Do you feel differently just from reading through the guided prompts? How?
LISTEN to your HEART
Mosaic from the Mind’s Eye with Lillian Sizemore. Some student explorations can be seen here.
If you’re curious about classes and want to be informed, please state your interest in an email to Lillian here.
Pema Chodron’s story may surprise you. Her teachings are invaluable in helping to find Peace within while dealing with the inevitable discomforts of life, pointing the way from neurosis into sanity. I honor my teacher, Mare Chapman, who has shown me the way, so many times.
A couple favorites:
LetitRipple.org – Mobile Films For Global Change short film series, launched in 2011 by The Moxie Institute.
The mosaics photos are details from the ancient pavements of the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna Italy, by Lillian Sizemore.
Would love to hear from you!
Send me a comment – let me know how deep listening works for you in life and art.