Monday, January 10, 2011

Mandalas, Time, and Giant Turtles

By Laura Bickle

While doing research for another project, I happened across this image, which seemed to fit this weeks’ theme perfectly (I love synchronicity in action). It’s called “Stopwatch,” by James Koehnline. His work is all new to me, and I stumbled across his book while searching for information on mandalas.

The purpose of a mandala is to be a meditative focal point, to give the mind somewhere to quietly fix. This collage is nontraditional, if one’s accustomed to looking at Tibetan sand paintings of stylized lotus flowers in repeating geometric shapes. Usually, mandalas have a circular component, like Ourobouros devouring his own tail, shapes without end. The goal of meditation with a mandala is to lose time, to enter a state of no-mind that is nothing but an impeccable now.

And being present is difficult. I’m still learning to be wholly present when I meditate or when I write. It’s a challenge for me not to stare morosely at my calendar or jump ahead to an easier task on my to-do list.

But the world runs on time, on multi-tasking, on squeezing every last productive moment from every day. Or does it? At least, that’s what the collage suggests to me. There’s an old Iroquois creation myth about Turtle carrying the world on his back. In the collage, we don’t see the word – Turtle is carrying a stopwatch, instead. The world IS frozen time, and there’s a little mouse curled up inside the watch mechanism asleep. Or maybe he’s meditating.

The world may be ticking away at a feverish pace, but the mouse has stopped it. In the machine’s guts, he’s unaware of it. He’s achieved the no-mind suspension goal of meditation. He’s present in his own thoughts, existing in the now of his experience. No past. No future. Just stopped time.

And that’s where I strive to be when writing – to curl up and forget time. To exist moment by moment, forgetting past concerns and future plans, tasting one word on my tongue at a time.

Image from Magpie Reveries – The Iconographic Mandalas of James Koehnline (Autonomedia, 1992), plate #4.


  1. A fine post on time. Time is a whole big thing, isn't it. And then, when you add in space(or place) to that, it gets down right boggling.

    Still, I find myself compelled to reflect, to wonder, at the whole time/space/being thing on a regular basis, feeling often *Unstuck in time*

  2. Thanks, John! It's strange...time is *everything* in so many ways, but we try to make it *nothing* in order to adequately savor it.

  3. I love this, Laura! When the writing is going well, it feels like meditation to me. In many ways, it is the same thing.

  4. I love that image. Because sometimes time feels that stuffed-full, confused and terrifying. Then, something shifts inside and I crawl inside and curl up, too. Life is far pleasanter when I manage to do that.

  5. I’m still learning to be wholly present when I meditate or when I write.

    Don't I know that feeling. I love when I'm able to pour myself into a piece and move with the story. When I come up for air I realize I've written four or five pages, unaware of the passage of time. But those moments are too rare. It's a skill I continue to cultivate, and (hopefully) always will.

  6. I think that writing is something like the idea of moving meditations - walking in some traditions or the kata in martial arts. Something is happening, but we're still in that state of flow.

    This year, I've decided to try to be more diligent in both medidation and writing practices. Hmm...that has always looked funny...meditation "practice" and writing "practice." But I like the idea of "practicing," because no one's perfect in those pursuits. ;-)

  7. That was beautifully said.
    I myself learned to close myself off to the world and concentrate on what I'm doing very early in life, to the annoyance of people around me who think I'm ignoring them while I'm just so concentrated on my writing/reading that I do not even notice them talking to me.

  8. Timelessly beautiful post. As I write, I'm essentially on a break from the clock. Still watching it, I guess, as I must have some way to mark the margins of stepping away from the job. But breathing, and being, and making an effort not to let it control my life.

    The picture reminds me of Escher.

  9. Meditation achieved through writing, fascinating notion. I feel more like a hedgehog on a wheel when in the throes of creation, but the Mouse in the that is an intriguing goal.

    I may need to (learn how to) meditate on this whilst consuming brandy...

  10. Thanks, folks. :-) I really believe that there's something mystical about writing. I mean - we're all conjuring something from nothing.

    Sometimes, writing can be plain excruciating. Like pulling one's own teeth. But I love the peculiar Zen that comes every once in awhile. Writing becomes everything. Even, like Sullivan said, a shield from the world around us.