Mandala Offering in a Modern Key

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These verses are a recent arising, but they hint at contemplations that have flavoured my living for many years. As you explore with them, can you sense in the flow of your own experience, a quality of spacious hovering – scuba divers might equate this with a sensation of ‘neutral buoyancy’ – a space of constantly morphing multi-domain knowing in which everything matters, in which everything participates through simultaneously initiating and responding; where every ‘thing’ is, more truthfully a ‘thing-ing’; where your living and my living and everyone else’s living are so thoroughly intermingled and intermeshed that we discover an ecstasy, the bliss of being an immeasurable expanse of primordial multi-dimensional flow; an ‘ex-stasis’ – out of static, not static or fixed? The Avatamsaka sutra refers to realms interpenetrating realms, and worlds interpenetrating worlds. Perhaps it would be helpful to re-express this, not with concrete nouns but with verbs – hints of fluidity.

Smiling, breathing, present,
Entering the contemplation of slow reading,
savouring the kinaesthetic memories,
savouring the deep organismic knowings,
this ocean of your experience.

Mandala Offering in a Modern Key

Imagine grains of sand
Scattered across crystal clear glass floating in space
With light illumining from above and below and the sides.

Now, imagine placing your finger upon this glass,
And scribing shapes according to
Your current desires and the flowing
Process of sensitivity that is your current awakeness.

Smiling; breathing; present;
Imagine each grain of sand is a human life
And each human life is itself an immeasurable expanse of relating,
An intimate inter-responding,
A colonial grain of living mystery
A unique collective of ‘intentions’,
Delicately, sensitively, willingly,
meeting the world.

Imagine fingers of hope and fear,
Fingers of magnanimous aspiration
and everyday ho-humery.
Each feeling its way,
Now pushing determinedly ahead,
Now lingering in its tracks
Initiating and reciprocating,
Exquisite presences, presenting myriad
Patterns in a crystal space of illumination,
Lives evolving through relating,
Shapings of curiosity
Scribing themselves in spaces of knowing,
This space of knowing,
This space of you reading these words.

Imagine each cell of each human;
Imagine braiding rivers of blood and lymph
Mountains and valleys of muscle and bone
Weather systems of breath
Molecular transcribings
Membranes of knowing
The immensities of life and living evolving,
Perfectly compacted
In the form of particular human beings
Busy in the business of being the fullness of their lives.

Imagine each creature of the world
And each creature’s vastness.
Imagine each and every living beingness;
Scribings of patterning,
Melodic flowings, and
Kinaesthetic melody,
Dancings of need and collages of dream,
Transient, translucent
Assemblages of reverence and surprise.

Tracings of sentient sand on crystal tables,
Bountiful banquets,
Offered by everyone to everyone.

Imagine these spacious expanses of knowing
Slipping in and through and with and for each other,
Meeting and mingling
Criss crossing beams of light and lightness,
Mind-scapes of mist and cloud,
Sumi-e paintings of hint and intimation,
Ephemeral horizons of being and becoming
This world of illumination
This pulsating passion:
Humans going about their lives,
Bees in the flowers
Fish shoaling
Spiders spinning
Stars above and soil below
Forests and savannahs
Coral reefs and compost heaps
Seamless life;
These worlds of worlding
Each singing their music,
Collectively, – the music
Arising as the juice of your Body of Being.

Participating . . .

Your finger,
These grains,
Such mysteries,
This beauty.

With heart-felt respect, our offering

In confidence, and ever deepening faith and trust
Patterns of sand,
Scattered across crystal clear surfaces, abiding as space
With light illumining everywhere
This love.


Body of Being
My father used to say that a poet was not able to see all the implications in their creation. After drafting these verses and re-reading them a number of times, the part of me that is grounded in Buddhist terminologies suddenly saw that “Body of Being” was a felicitous phrase, as it could intimate the Sanskrit word ‘Svabhavakaya’– a seamless summation of the three kayasDharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.

Finger as Metaphor
For those readers who have attended retreats with me, the image of a finger tracing patterns might remind you of “finger dancing”. This is a potentially rich contemplative exploration involving two people that can give one an expanded, non-verbal taste of the sensitivities that are possible in mindfulness practice. It is done in two steps: the first, on your own, and the second, done with a partner.

Step One:
Stand with your weight evenly balanced on both feet and knees slightly flexed. Notice how the soles of your feet make contact with the ground. Imagine roots, growing from these points of contact, anchoring you deep in the earth. Now, close your eyes and begin to savour the varying textures and rhythmic processes that together make up your breathing. You may find it enhances your focus to breathe through your mouth and nose simultaneously. You will know that you are doing this if you can feel an alternating warming and cooling on your lips and at your nostrils.

With great sensitivity, relax into this mouth/nose breathing and explore the myriad shifting details of your entire body/brain/mind/community – a constantly changing dynamic of relationships – your body of experience in the act of standing and breathing. Physical sensations, feelings, emotions, memories and flows of thinking are inter-responding with and to each other. At the same time they are responding to phenomena taking place in the environment around you. Feel the subtle ripples of muscular adjustment that facilitate your ability to stand vertically, on the surface of a spherical planet, which is turning on its axis while whirling around a star. If you notice any physical or mental tensions or holdings, invite them to soften and relax. Smiling – Breathing – Present – feel your way into this exploration.

After a while, begin to extend and exaggerate some of the subtle physical movements that together compose this integrated activity of standing and breathing. Eventually, with the exception of your feet which remain ‘planted in the earth’, all you is moving. Chest relating to shoulders, to hips, and legs and arms and face. Abdomen and back muscles – your buttocks and thighs feeling their strength, your entire physiology is ‘dancing’, moving harmoniously with the rhythms of your breathing. Guided by gradients of pleasure and interest, engulfed in the music of your breath, explore the full range of possible movement.

Experiment with this dynamic contemplation while centering in or from your head. Then let the centre drop into your throat. How is this different? Explore moving from your heart. Eventually settle into your belly and stay with this until it become very familiar.

Breathing this body of moving experience,
Gently, lovingly, softly, forgivingly,
Interweavings of space and time and knowing
While rooted in the earth,
Letting go, letting be
Hovering, weightless
This smooth line of bliss.

Finish this session of practice by decreasing the range of movement until you are standing ‘still’, mouth/nose breathing, tracking the very subtle shifts and changes in this – your body of experience.

After you have become quite familiar with the possibilities of this meditation, you are then ready to explore ‘step two’ with a partner.

Step Two:
Begin by standing, facing one and other, a little less than a metre apart. Close your eyes and re-visit the over-all feeling of ‘stage one’ and refresh your appreciation for this fluid, sensitive, smiling, breathing, constantly inter-adjusting presence. After a minute or two, open your eyes. Raise you right hands, and bring your palms close to each other and make contact with the soft pads of your index fingers. Once you have made this physical connection, close your eyes and return to the explorations of stage one. Everything continues as you did before, with the exception that your index finger must remain in contact with your partner’s index finger.

Gradually begin to sway with the music of your own breathing, until it becomes a dance. Explore the possibilities of movement; the range and rhythm and the various kinds of restraint. Sensitively track the shifting landscape of your body/brain/mind/community – the continuously morphing body of experience that you are. Softening and releasing; again and again. Softening in the belly. Softening in your wrists, your knees, your face and arms. Go deeply into your experience while at the same time staying sensitively in contact with your partner’s finger.

It seems to be common for people new to this meditation to find themselves distracted by concerns about staying in contact, and who is leading and who following, and what might the other person be thinking, and so forth. Quite quickly though, most people when exploring this ‘finger dance’ discover a degree of blissful, attentive sensitivity that surprises them. The challenge of being tuned to oneself while at the same time being in relationship with another, seems to bring forth a degree of heightened attentiveness. In this way the exercise points to new possibilities. I can be responsive to a multitude of subtle shiftings in my private experiential field and simultaneously appreciate and respond to changes in the environment I am perceiving around me. Especially marvellous is the recognition that I can be in a state of deep contemplation while at the same time sensitively and appropriately collaborating with another sentient being.

Stage two ends by both partners gradually decreasing the range of movement until they are standing, breathing and contemplating with fingers just in contact. Then break the contact. Lower your hands to your sides and spend a few moment more, tracking these textures of being. Finish by sharing something of your experience with each other.

With a visceral familiarity with finger dancing it can become a metaphor that can be applied in any meditation practice. The ‘finger’ of our attentiveness, of our extraordinarily sensitive body of experience is in seamless contact with the chosen object or theme of meditation and we become one ecstatic experience. If you recognise this, you could try ‘finger dancing’ with your breath, or with a feeling, an emotion, an interpersonal situation.

In the verses of “Mandala Offering in a Modern Key”, I have used the word ‘finger’ to hint at our sensitive, participation in living. Relaxing deeply, opening in wonderment, one’s entire beingness becomes a ‘finger’ feeling its way in this dancing wholeness.