Mindful Nature Mandalas: A Restorative Practice
Not familiar with Mindful Mandalas, read more about them here –
Mindful Nature Mandalas
Whether you create mindful nature mandalas by yourself or within community, it is a restorative practice. With nature as our guide, we step into a quiet, nurturing world where time moves at a different pace. By slowing down and listening to the voices of nature, there is much to discover. Nature is one of my strongest teaching companions and I know you will befriend her as well, if you have not already. Making nature mandalas is an enjoyable way to deepen bonds with yourself as well as with Mother Nature!
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
– Lao Tzu
Developing a Restorative Practice
Restorative = Restful = Invigorating = Healing
It’s the ability to reestablish our health, vitality, or a feeling of well-being. It’s knowing how to take care of ourselves when we’re feeling low, out-of-sorts or perhaps just plain old tired.
I know the restorative power of long walks in nature.
I know the restorative powers of collecting found objects from nature.
I know the restorative powers of making things from my collections of feathers and seed pods.
I love when I’m in the groove of practicing taking care of myself.
But sometimes when I get extremely busy, I lose my way. I get so wound up in my lists and my doing and my accomplishing things that I inevitably find myself exhausted and depleted. This used to happen to me quite frequently and each time I’d be exasperated with myself. How can I continually forget to make time for what nurtures, sustains and restores me?
Well, it is because I am a born doer and a semi-reformed perfectionist. I lose myself in over-achievement. In order to save my sanity and preserve my energy, I have developed many restorative practices over the past 20 years. Honestly, I try my best to stay true to these practices but sometimes I fail. I forgive myself and get back to the work of practicing. What is important is that I have these saving graces in my back pocket.
Practice = Repetition = Regularity = Habitual
It’s something we try to do again and again with regularity in order to become better at it and to have it become an ordinary part of your life.
Walk for a Still Life
For over two years, I have been walking almost every afternoon with my 30-something daughter who lives just down the street from me. Late afternoon is our time to pull ourselves away from our work and set our bodies and souls free. We walk in the rain and bitter cold, the blaring sun and humid temperatures, as well as those perfect, balmy, blue-sky days. For about an hour, we wander. This practice has become our island of calm.
I walk to get out of my head, away from my monkey mind and into the physical world. I consciously slow down and observe what is around me, breathe in what is around me, feel what is around me. I stop and photograph things with my phone. I pick things up – a feather, a rock, a rusty bottle cap, a wasp nest, a seed pod, a bit of moss. Sometimes I’ll stop and create a small roadside nature mandala with what I have gathered.
Nature Inspired: Slowing Down
Last week, nature inspired our first-ever Darr cousin reunion. We gathered in Estes Park, Colorado, about 5 miles from Rocky Mountain National Park. Nature inspired the beginning and ending of our days. It was rutting season and the elk were out in full force. Each sunrise and sunset greeted us with a huge 14 point antlered male, followed by his harem of 10 females. Our morning and evening mantra was “Shhh. Hurry, they’re here.” We’d gather together with our coffee or our wine, depending on the time of day, and quietly, silently watch. Slowing down to marvel at what was before us, placed a holy veil over our time together. As I watched this majestic antlered creature, I whispered, “Can you imagine what it must be like to carry that 40 pound set of antlers on your head every single day.” Nature provided a powerful symbol to ponder.
This abiding image quietly guided my thoughts throughout the weekend, keeping me mindful of the different kind of weights we all carry. I am thankful that nature’s beauty and wisdom set the tone our gathering. Slowing down into her rhythm, I felt my mind quiet and my heart soften into our wild and crazy and joyous cousin reunion. Planning what hikes to explore was our next “mission.” Glacier Gorge Trail was my trail of choice.
Taking the Time to See
“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia O’Keeffe
There are two kinds of hikers. Speed hikers who walk as fast as they can so they can get to the “destination” in the quickest amount of time possible. While I respect this tradition, it is not my style. In order to speed hike successfully, your eyes need to stay on the path before you almost 100% of the time so you won’t trip over a tree root or slide over a patch of uneven rocks. Speed Hikers have a somewhat competitive solid end goal – who can get to the “finish-line” first.
Admittedly, competition is not something I relish. I prefer to establish a steady, even hiking cadence so that I can feast on the call of the visual. Serendipitous surprises lie right in front of us. When I see something of interest, I want to stop and investigate, ponder and photograph it.
The Importance of Lingering
As I lingered to take in the exquisiteness of this Alpine Lake on the Glacier Gorge Trail, nestled in the grasses at the water’s edge was one such serendipitous surprise, a hidden gem. A creation from Mother Nature. My cousin Deborah spotted it first. It looked exactly like an amulet, a talisman created just for me to place in the center of a nature mandala. Take a look at Amulets and Talismans: Mindful Healing and see what I mean!
Guided by Nature – Ordinary Oracles
As I mentioned early, I collect nature things. I always have. Leaves, rocks, feathers, butterfly and insect wings, bones, mosses, seashells, bugs and beetles, seed pods and the list goes on and on. I have drawers and baskets filled with amazing things that I’ve found while hiking and just wandering around outside. Objects of nature have always called me to take them home – to study them, to draw them, to let them have conversations with each other, to make art of them.
What if nature inspired how we began and ended our days? I wonder how our lives might be different.
Creating a Nature Mandala Practice
Consider if you took a slow mindful a walk every day. If not every day, what about every other day? What slowed down to pay attention to the color and sounds, the shapes and patterns, the leaves and feathers, the rocks and butterflies. You get the idea. What if you picked up a couple of things that appealed to you while you were walking. What if at the end of that walk you placed those things in a bowl or on a plate.
What if you pondered, reflected upon what was in your collection bowl. All these treasures hold a different energy, a different meaning. A feather conjures up something far different from a rock. An autumn leaf is far different than a spring leaf. Be playful in your associations.
Let the Conversation Begin
After you let the elements in your collection bowl have a conversation with each other, think about creating a mandala. What if at the end of a month or so of collecting you arranged these things in a circular pattern. As you are creating your nature mandala, you might think of something you want to intuitively express – a worry, a stress, a gratitude, a feeling, a thought, an anger. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Just follow the lead from what you have gathered. Feel free to add things as you get into the flow of mandala-making.
Create your nature mandala outside in your garden, on the edge of your front yard so neighbors who pass by can see what you’ve made or on your kitchen table. Think of what your nature mandala could symbolize. Is there any relationship between its meaning and your life? For example, a person struggling with a life threatening disease might choose to place soft leaves within the mandala to represent the tenderness and vulnerability of life. Another might pick up an acorn and realize they have been neglecting their life’s potential.
Creating Intentions for Mindful Nature Mandalas
Make nature mandalas celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, friendships, births, deaths. Make nature mandalas honoring cultural holidays and as community building rituals. Make nature mandalas with the intention of healing something intimate and personal. Make nature mandalas filled with thoughts on global issues. Make nature mandalas honoring and welcoming the seasons.
Make nature mandalas for the pure joy of celebrating life.
Consider sharing some thoughts with us.
Do you collect things from nature? If so, what? How long have you been collecting these things?
Where do you keep them? What do they remind you of?
If you created a mandala, what would its intention be?
What if nature inspired how we began and ended our days? How our lives might be different?
I really appreciate the beginning quote about nature not hurrying but everything is accomplished. As I get older I am gaining a new appreciation for that tempo. It’s not even “slow and steady wins the race” any more, it’s more about enjoy the journey each step of the way. This is a beautiful reminder to be present in each and every moment. Thanks, Heidi! I will try leaving some mandalas when I walk the trail at the zoo…maybe bring a wondering smile to some other “zoo walker”!
What a wonderful idea Donna. Nature mandalas at our Riverbanks Zoo! I will be on the lookout!
I like the idea of the Nature mandalas. My view right now is a deck littered with leaves, acorns and pine branches from the heavy winds this morning. I love looking at the tree bark and the differences between them. They are so distinctive, like skins light and dark. I thank God the trees are so strong. I will use whatever nature offers.
Selena, have fun creating from the gifts that nature sends us. Nature holds such endless possibilities for inspiration.
Donna, what do you do after creating the nature Mandala? Do you leave it there or do you destroy it like the monks? Just wondered. Beautiful mandalas!