Dancing Mandalas

Why would a rational human being bother to invest the effort into learning to dance? What is the payback? What is there to show for it? Don't we have better things to do with our time and money?

At the end of the tanda you bid adieu to your partner and leave the dance floor and all the glitz and feelings behind.

On the other side of the world, in the Himalayas, we learn something about what is important in life and how to value it.  Steeped in  the ethereal beauty of their surroundings, the Buddhist monks respond by creating stunning beauty of their own:  


mandalas — incredibly detailed geometric designs made out of coloured sand — by building them out, grain-by-grain, as a form of meditation.

The creation of the mandala is meant to represent the world in divine form, in which everything is perfectly balanced and designed. Literally translated as “circle,” the mandala is a representation of wholeness, as the distance from its center to all points on it remains the same, no matter where it’s measured.

The process of creating a mandala is rigorous, requiring millions of pieces of sand to make a five-by-five foot square mandala. Vivid colours and ancient symbols are incorporated into their work, the monks bending over the piece for hours as they drop one grain at a time into place to create the detailed symbolic patterns.

 Once the last grain of sand has been placed, the monks pray over their creation, and then the entire mandala is swiftly swept away, with handfuls given to participants of the closing ceremony, and the rest thrown into the nearest stream.

 The point is to let go of what once was, because nothing is permanent — not the mandala, not your suffering, not the shoes on your feet, nor the smile on your face at this moment in time. Everything is constantly moving, called to balance and enlightenment. This realization allows you to forget the small things, and focus on the bigger picture. This shift in consciousness opens the doors for more wisdom, and for boundless compassion. It is beyond greed, status, or world dominance, religion or opinion, comfort or discomfort. When the walls of permanence are shattered, the real journey begins. (Wikipedia)


The above, for me, describes exquisitely the meaning and experience of dance: it totally engages one in the momentary experience of movement, beauty, sensuality and creativity. And when the moment passes, when the music ends, everything goes with it.

Honouring the ephemeral nature of reality is so foreign to our Western way. We live in an outcome-focused society where the measure of a life well-spent is what we have to show for it: a bigger car, a bigger house, more airmiles. As the bumper sticker correctly captured, “The one who has the most things when they die, wins.”

 Life is not about winning. It is about experiencing, expressing, creating, loving. And the only time and place these happen is in the present moment. After the moment passes the experience and reality goes with it.

 It is precisely this  “in the moment” nature of dance that creates a safe container for intensity, beauty, creativity and passion. We walk off the dance floor enwrapped in a soft glow that dissipates the moment we step out the door. If we could hold onto the experience, bottle it and put it on a shelf to admire it in posterity, we would remain entrapped by the past. We would lose the miracle of the present moment.

 This is the last lasting gift of dance, or creating a mandala, or gazing into the eyes of a child or being held in a nurturing embrace. It teaches us to value  those precious fleeting moments as the true treasure of a life well-lived.