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Seeking Silence

Photo by Faye Cornish

While I sat at one side of the human “sandwich” enclosing my hysterical 4-1/2 year old son, in a dual attempt with my husband to be supportive while he screeched and flailed his way through a tantrum, the shrill tone was clearly not a sound bath.  It felt like every effort I had made to bring myself to a more peaceful state – after several weeks of my son’s consecutive colds, the flu, an ear infection, and even a mysterious microbial bacterial lung infection (thank you, Pre-Kindergarten) – unraveled and melted away with every shriek.  My husband was initiating a psychological test he had thought of to see if we could get him to calm down, so neither of us were allowed to move until my son became 100% calm.  But in the midst of this, I was losing all sense of sanity I had going for me.

As tears welled up in my eyes, I suddenly remembered I could focus inward, as I do often when I cry, and realized that if there was any good time to apply the meditation skills I’d been dabbling in for several years on and off, there could be no better time to test its efficacy than now.  I closed my eyes and tried to remember a mantra to repeat, but couldn’t recall anything specific.  I’m not good with other languages….after living in Miami for 14 years, and spending 12 of them with a Cuban, you’d think I could speak a little Spanish by now, but I’m pretty bad at it.  So Hindu mantras don’t stand much of a chance either. 

One thing I do know how to do is breathe….thank goodness!  I took several slow, calm, deep breaths before my mind started to wander.  Although following the thoughts in your head is not the goal of meditation, I realized that they were an achievement over allowing my son’s pterodactyl screams to deafen me, while I was sure my heart was about to implode.  Suddenly my thoughts became my meditation, what began to save me, and what I thought of put me into a deep contemplation.  I plugged my ears to tone out some of the pitch, and began to wonder whether being deaf is really  such a terrible handicap in this world.  I’m sure there are many deaf people that would claim they miss out on a lot of communication, music, as well as face other challenges, and I’m sure that’s true.  

But from an effort to find peace in my life, especially through practicing meditation, I began to wonder if losing the ability to hear could be a benefit, at least temporarily.  I know some meditation practices take on several days of not speaking, which in some way might help to reduce the chatter of the mind, but what about the chatter of the world?  If I could just silence the world, I think I could easily silence my mind, and more quickly attain a sense of peace.  I doubt this would be doable from loss of any of the other four senses: sight, smell, taste, or touch.  No, just hearing….true, pure silence.

About an hour after my son finally calmed down, I was perusing my email, and came across an article sent by Conde Nast Traveler.  A man named Gordon Hempton has been documenting places that offer “one square inch of silence”.  He found a few spots across the US…the guidelines entail there being no air traffic, or any other noise for at least 15 minutes.  It seems that Gordon has allowed forest creatures in his “silent places”, just not man.

There are some days when I hear a male and female cardinal chattering outside my window, and I welcome them joyfully to stop by our bird feeder.  Other times during the winter months in Florida, a giant flock of “snowbirds” never fails to land on the electrical wires on the streets around my home, and their chirping peppy choir for hours is enough to make me consider shooting off a few fireworks.  I know everyone’s levels of patience varies…but I’m still trying to find my one square inch of quiet…even if for only 15 minutes every now and then.

How and where do you find peace and quiet?

If you’d like to try 3 minutes of meditating in “silence” (there is soft music playing in the background), try following this meditation.

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Making Mandalas

Mandala Colored, Aimee N Youngs

Somewhat recently, I discovered Mandalas… oh, I’ve seen them hundreds of times, but just thought they were some sort of funky hippie doily design art.  False!  Mandalas are SOOOO much more than that, and I’m so happy to have discovered them and adopted them into my life.  There is a lot to learn about mandalas that I have yet to know, and I hope to share that journey with you here from time to time.  What I have learned so far is impressive.

The original definition of a mandala is a symbol from Buddhism and Hinduism meaning the universe.  The word “mandala” is Sanskrit for the word “circle”.  But mandalas are not just some ancient symbol or image of the new-age.  Mandalas are a creative healing tool, but you do not have to be “creative” or “artistic” to use them (we are all creative, but that is a post for another day).

Aimee N Youngs MandalaTo the left is a mandala in progress that I worked on.  Start with a circle on the page.  Draw 4 lines through the center, cutting it just like a pizza pie so there are eight equal segments.  One line vertical, and another line horizontally across, like a ‘+’.  Then split those with two lines, like an ‘x’.  Here I split them into sixteenths, but for starters, I recommend eighths.  Then, you may simply start drawing from the center, and work out.  There are endless approaches to mandala making, so you can’t do it wrong.

The way I have been learning to look at it, is that there are two personal approaches to decide your method for drawing.  They can even be combined, but neither should really be planned out….your intuition will assist with mandala making, and if you ever feel stumped, I recommend doing some brief meditation.  In fact, I recommend starting the process with a brief meditation whenever possible.

The first approach you may take is to think about something you are dealing with in life, either something you are worried about, or something you are going through….it can be good or bad.  It can even be several things….the mandala could represent a period of time, such as your childhood, the past year, or just the past week (I often focus my mandalas on what I have been dealing with over the past week, and find the experience very therapeutic).  Or it could be a subject, such as a relationship with another person, or your career.  Think about how this time period or subject makes you feel.  What comes to mind?  How could you symbolize it?

What is fantastic about expressive art is that you don’t necessarily need the words to describe what you’ve been through… can symbolize it with a drawing tool.  A note on that: although you see I start my drawings with black ink, you are by no means required to do that….you may use pencil, colored pencils, marker, paint, etc.  Any drawing tool that makes you feel comfortable is the best way to dive in.  Then there is the matter of color…. colors can symbolize feelings, so if you were angry about something, you may draw some harsh pointed lines, and they may be red, or colored like fire to represent your fury.  A calm situation may call for blues or greens.  These are simply guidelines to point out how you may use color, and basic drawing elements to symbolize a feeling.

The other approach I use to mandala-making is very loose and free.  Once you’ve drawn your circle and pizza pie, do a little deep breathing or meditation to clear your mind.  Begin drawing entirely based on your intuition.  Every line, tool, color that you draw should come from a sense of your inner conscience.  Here you definitely want to avoid planning, and really allow yourself to get into a flow state of creative freedom…. I find this method is healing too, but takes a different approach.  There are some days when I don’t want to think about the problem, but need some blessed hours of escape, and this method works well for that.

Well, I hope this is a good introduction to getting started with mandala making.  I highly recommend you look up mandalas on Google images or on Pinterest (here’s one of my boards) to learn how endless the possibilities are of mandala-making.  Here are some samples of some of my mandalas (and some of my students) on Instagram.  Lastly, do not give up after making one mandala if you don’t like the outcome.  Try again.  Within a few mandalas, you will actually begin to love what you are making.

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How Stress Affects Your Creativity

Photo by Cristian Newman
Photo by Cristian Newman
Photo by Cristian Newman

Stress is a major inhibitor of creativity.  When we have too much stress in our lives, problems arise, and we cannot concentrate.  Therefore, we cannot create.  Physically, we become weak.  Our minds become dull, fuzzy, and uninspired.  We are distracted and cannot focus on anything good.  Emotionally, we may have some anxiety or even dabs of depression as a result.  Spiritually, we are just lost.  As our minds are dull, so becomes our heart, and our soul dampened, which is what we need more than anything to express ourselves creatively.

We must learn techniques to combat stress in order to open ourselves to creative flow.  We cannot experience flow if we are blocked, and stress blocks us.

How breathing can help relieve stress just a little and open up your creative self.  Something I learned about breathing is that it is really simple.  Anyone can do it, and you can do it anywhere.  But the simpler it is, it seems the harder it is to remember to do it.  There are all kinds of breathing exercises, and some you will take to better than others.

If there is one that I’ve learned, because it is the easiest for me to remember, it’s to take in one full deep breath dedicated to letting go of the past…then a second deep breath for letting go of the future (whatever that may be)…..then a final slow, deep breath for bringing you into the moment right now.  Sometimes this is all I need.  Sometimes I am inspired to do more breathing when I realize I feel a little better.  And sometimes the stress is so rampant, I can barely get through the exercise, let alone continue on… but it’s a really simple place to start, and is the beginning to open you up to breathing creativity.