Mandalas for Harvesting Gratitude

How can we remain grateful in turbulent times?

How do we keep our hearts open when we are swallowed by fear and anger and chaos and doubt?

During our July workshop, Mandalas for Harvesting Gratitude, we used our creative processes to dig into these difficult questions.

Mark Nepo, one of my favorite thinkers and poets, provides one eloquent answer:

How can we stay awake and authentic when our wounds make us numb and hidden? How can we minimize what stands between us and our experience of life? How can we make a practice of wearing down what thickens around our mind and heart? As a cancer survivor, I have found myself like Lazarus, awake again, in the same earthly place but different. Everything has changed and nothing has changed. This wakefulness has led me to be a student of that vibrant edge where our inner life meets the world. Being a poet and philosopher, I find myself there with a particular set of tools to search with.

Art is the unexpected utterance of the soul. Much more than the manipulation of a visual language, it is a necessary art by which we live and breathe. It is the art of embodied perception; a braiding of heart and mind around experience.

Consider how a simple fish inhales water and somehow, mysteriously and miraculously, extracts the oxygen from the water. In doing this, it turns that water into the air by which it breathes. This ongoing inner transformation — the turning of water into air by extracting what is essential – is art.

For us, the heart is our gill and we must move forward into life, like simple fish. The mysterious yet vital way we turn experience into air, the way we extract what keeps us alive—this is the art of living that transcends our earthly experiences.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the forward thrust of life, I like to read Nepo’s poem “The Instrument of Change.” Maybe it will touch a chord in you, too, to help you create your own gratitude-harvesting mandalas.

“The Instrument of Change”
by Mark Nepo

Often the instruments of change
are not kind or just
and the hardest openness
of all might be
to embrace the change
while not wasting your heart
fighting the instrument.

The storm is not as important
as the path it opens.
The mistreatment in one life
never as crucial as the clearing
it makes in your heart.

This is very difficult to accept.
The hammer or cruel one
is always short-lived
compared to the jewel
in the center of the stone.

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