Mandala People

Mandala 1November, it seems to me, is something of a forgotten month.

Not that it means to be, of course. Here in the Great Southern Land, November kicks off in style and ceremony, with all the pageantry (and absurdity) associated with the Race That Stops the Nation.   But once the Melbourne Cup has been run, all the celebratory elements somehow disperse, disappearing into the seven week slog towards the summer holidays and Christmas.

November, however, is not a month to be underestimated.

I have learned this, the hard way, in years gone by — and that’s why it seemed apt to made Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for November the most challenging I’ve selected all year: INTEGRATE.

Because it’s time, people.

It’s time to put all the pieces together.

At the year’s outset I wished my nearest and dearest (and anyone who happened to stumble across this small patch of cyberspace I call my own) strength and ease. And as time went one, we explored a different theme together each month, focusing on a specific concept. I invited you to connect and reimagine. To set your intention and find momentum. To seek alignment and focus. To know and understand your habits. To appreciate the value of honesty and perseverance.

Now don’t panic…I’m not about to start spouting stuff about “journeys” or “spiritual awakening” or “discovering your destiny”.

And please — feel free to insert an eye roll or three here. Seriously.

Mandala 3If you’ve read any of my posts during the year, you’ll know that’s not really my style.  Life is far too full of unexpected twists and turns (of both the totally awesome and not-so-crash-hot variety) for me to seek refuge in fluff and bunkum.

That said, nothing’s going to stop me from having the temerity to add the Mandala as a Symbol of the Month for November.

The mandala, despite its recent and frequent appearance between the pages of apparently calming colouring books, is an ancient symbol with its roots in Buddhism.  For Buddhists, the mandala represents nothing less than the whole universe — and if you’ve ever seen Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala, you will know how well this symbol fits with the concept of integration. It is incredibly beautiful (not to mention meditative and downright humbling) to watch as the monks use grains of coloured sand to form intricate patterns and pictures, working harmoniously together and producing a single unified whole out of many intricate and interconnected pieces.

Mandala 5If you haven’t had the privilege to see a sand mandala being made, you can watch one being created here. For me, it’s almost like watching a life unfold, which is why I believe it to be such an appropriate symbol for integration: it’s what we do, all our lives.  We take the pieces we have within our reach and we arrange and rearrange them until they fit in a way that looks and feels right for us.

In Jungian psychology, dreaming of a mandala represents the dreamer’s search for completeness and unity — those important, intangible things we are all searching for. We are all familiar with the niggling sensation when the pieces aren’t quite fitting together properly, or that the colours are somehow clashing. But we also know the feeling — the utterly glorious feeling — when they do fit, perfectly, and the colours seem to sing.

We are Mandala People.

All of us.

Anyone who is running a business or raising a family or generally trying to succeed in life is a Mandala Person. We are all trying to bring together — to integrate — all the separate parts of our existence and striving. We are all working on our own internal mandalas, making the picture as whole and complete as we can.

mandala 4It’s worth remembering, at this point, that the word integration comes from the Latin word integrus, meaning renew or restore. Each day is an opportunity to renew our commitment to bring all the pieces together, to restore our faith in the knowledge that every last grain of sand we add to our own internal mandalas counts.

Each day is a new beginning until, of course, we reach the end of our days. And once again, the sand mandala provides us with an exquisite reminder of our own impermanence: in the Buddhist tradition, as soon as the final grains of sand are added to complete the mandala, a lama takes his dorje and runs it through the sand. The bright colours fade into grey, resembling ashes or dust, and the sand is swept into an urn. The sand is then poured into running water, so that the healing powers generated by the mandala’s creation flow on and are extended to the whole world, so that it may be re-energised and healed.

Each grain of sand ultimately becomes part of something much larger, just as we are all small — but important, and individual — parts of a much larger whole.

So this month, and every month, I invite you to embrace the spirit of integration. Know that you, like everyone else, are a work in progress. That the only person who knows how the pieces really fit together for you, is you. That it’s perfectly fine to take your time — indeed, to take a lifetime — with the process of putting it all together. That every day is an opportunity to restore and renew.

We are Mandala People.

Mandala 6

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Cover Versions

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Adelaide street art — this is a fairly recent piece, and I love the incorporation of the windows in to the reimagining of this wall space.

So those of you who follow my side hustle at Blue Jai Creative will know that my word of the month for March is REIMAGINE.

I’ve selected the word reimagine quite deliberately — as writers are prone to doing — particularly after last month’s focus on connection, when I delved into the rich pickings that can be gleaned from connecting with people, with your inner voice, and with what inspires you, and then from connecting the dots between all those things to create something whole and meaningful. Hopefully, having spent some time making such connections, you have a stronger sense of what you want to achieve in your work or life.

The first thing that prompted me to select reimagine as the word of the month was a recent trip I took to Adelaide, South Australia. I’d never been there before, but was keen to check out the food and wine and, being a lover of street art, wanted to see some of the amazing work that has popped up all over the inner city in recent years — and I was not disappointed. Seeing the way that hidden nooks and crannies all around Adelaide had been transformed from grotty out of the way spots to beautiful, unexpected spaces was truly inspiring.

So this month, the word reimagine is designed to kickstart an examination of those things in your work or life that need reviewing. We all have pieces that don’t quite fit — procedures that don’t flow quite as smoothly as we’d like them to, systems that have pinch points or regular breakdowns, products that could do with a tweak, ideas that seem to resist attempts to realise them, all manner of things we know could be improved. Because let’s face it: we’re all human, which means none of us is perfect.

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Without wondering and reimagining, would Stephen Hawking’s work would have been impossible.

But the fact that we are human also means that we possess the greatest and most mind-blowing of gifts: we have the power to imagine and to reimagine — over and over again. For as long as we are capable of thinking, we can keep re-envisaging and reinvestigating.  The possibilities and permuations are limitless, endless, for as long as we are consciously able to imagine and reimagine them.

And that brings me to the second thing — or, more accurately, person — who inspired the reimagine theme for March: the brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose passing earlier this month reminded the world not only of his amazing work, but also of some of his more poignant words of advice to his fellow humans: that we need to retain our curiosity and keep wondering — or reimagining — our worlds, and that we don’t ever stop doing so.  In his own words, it matters that you don’t just give up.

I think it’s important, at this point, to draw a distinction between reimagining and reinventing, because I think part of what makes human beings tend to give up on things is that we become caught up in thinking we have to create something completely and entirely new in order to be successful — and it simply isn’t true. As far as I’m concerned, the old adage about not needing to reinvent the wheel is right on the money: the wheel is just fine, thank you, but hats off to the person who can imagine a way to make it faster, stronger, or perhaps even prettier.

So this month, I encourage you to reimagine the things in your work or life that you think could do with some renewal. What would it look like, if you did something differently? How would that feel? Does it really matter that something is not brand new, or is it more important that you’re willing to try doing something in a new way? Sure – it might be a bit scary, but what if it actually worked?

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Some of the many reimaginings of Cillian Murphy…

Which brings me to my third and final inspriation for my March reimagine theme, which was a fantastic bunch of cover versions actor Cillian Murphy played during a recent broadcast on BBC Radio 6. I have a sneaking suspicion that, like me, Cillian Murphy thinks music is about as necessary to human life as oxygen, and as well as being one of my favourite actors (a job which, quite obviously, requires you to reimagine yourself all the time) his recent forays into broadcasting have cemented him in my mind as being one of the most awesome human beings on the planet. (It’s OK…relax, I’ve stopped fangirling now).

Returning to cover versions, though — which are, of course, one artist’s reimaginings of another artist’s work. Some cover versions are pretty much straightforward reproductions of the original song…and to my mind such works are more like tributes than anything else. Other times, however, cover versions take original songs to a whole other level.  They make you aware of a fresh layer of meaning in the original lyrics, or evoke an entirely different mood from the melody, or strip a song back to its essential elements and make you fall in love with it all over again, in a new and exciting way. I’d cite Neil Finn’s cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as being one such a track, and Nirvana’s version of David Bowie’s “Man Who Stole the World”, or even Northeast Party House’s recent rendition of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” as others.

But there was one particular song Cillian Murphy played during his hour of favourite cover versions that he ventured to say was even better than the original — and even though it’s a big call, I’m inclined to agree with him. So I’m going to leave you with it, as a final piece of inspiration to look, and look hard, at what needs reimagining in your life and work.

Here is Stevie Wonder, playing a cover version of The Beatles’ “We Can Work it Out” — at the White House, in front of President Obama and his family, who are sitting right next to Paul McCartney…who wrote and performed the original song. Boom.

If you think you’re scared of reimagining something new, let wheelchair-bound scientist and a blind man show you the way. You might just work it out, too.