Thursday, September 9, 2021

Sand Mandalas


Well, it's been a slow close on a very long summer which only seems to be halted by the spectre of COVID shutting everything down once again. In a familiar repeat of 2020, people are gradually retreating from the big summer concerts and county fairs in favor of smaller gatherings and dinners with family. 

The temperatures have stayed in the 80's to low 90's for months, and if the traffic was worse and the drivers 596% more insane, I'd swear I was still in California. It's hot, it's dry, and when the wind comes off the desert of Eastern Oregon the smell makes you want to hum "Hotel California."

There have been other years here in Oregon when we've had a fire in the fireplace by this time, but 2021 is officially The Year of The Air Conditioner, and we need cooling much more than heating at this point.

We have a few trees starting to turn color, stubborn specimens who insist the old ways are really better, which includes autumn starting in September. I'm with them; more and more as I grow older I realize I liked things the way they were "before," whenever "before" happened to be. 

Of course nostalgia always wears blinders. I miss the restaurants I frequented in my 20's, as well as the pencil skirts and shoulder pads I used to wear when dining out. I miss baseball games where the only music was the organ, played by some kind, old lady from the valley who couldn't play Sunday afternoon games because she was also the organist at her church. 

I miss a world where we all loved science and Saturday Night Live, and when Hostess Fruit pies (the real pies, not what you get today) had a lard-flavored crust which always left a grease stain on the napkin if you left it there too long.

There are things I don't miss though, and if we've had to give up a few things for the sake of progress, I'm OK with that. Imagine, if you will, a world without cell phones, voicemail or email. Or where you needed your husband's signature and permission to have a credit card of your own.

I'll take this century over the last one, thanks.

Like ex-lovers and husbands though, you can miss a few minor things while not missing other more important parts at all. That goes for eras and epochs as well as men. Ambivalence rules all the days anyway, after about age 50 or so. Do we love or hate something? Often at my current age, it feels like a little of both.

I've recently learned to understand the meaning of sand mandalas because of this. You know, those intricate sand "paintings" Buddhist monks create using tiny straws with colored sand in them? They make them, then display them for everyone to admire for a few days, then almost violently sweep them away one morning and move on to a new place and a new mandala.

 I understand them now because sometimes it seems like my entire life is one big sand mandala. At times it's
 hard to not feel like all my best efforts in parenting, gardening or housework go from works of art into colored piles of grit in very short order. 

Larger questions loom even larger, as they always do. How did the internet go from a library that could make everyone smarter to instead being a trove of cat videos, porn, and scientific misinformation? How is it that I think I'm probably smarter than about three-quarters of the politicians directing the course of the planet? Why can't I keep my kitchen floor clean for more than a half-hour some days? None of it makes any sense. 

Maybe this is what the buddhists are talking about when they say in order to have peace you must first let go of outcomes.

Each few days the sand mandala needs to be rebuilt, everyone knowing it will get swept away once it's complete and "perfect." At home, each day the floor will be cleaned only to have something new spilled on it (today it was watermelon juice).

These days I'm more and more into letting go of outcomes. I can't fix climate change on my own. I can't make people more science-literate. I can't even keep the watermelon juice off a clean floor. But I can learn to be happy in spite of all those things, because destruction and renewal are both part of life, repeating itself over and over. 

I guess the moral of this story is to enjoy today, because tomorrow the monks and their brooms are coming to sweep it all away and start something new. So go ahead: watch more Netflix, take more walks and don't mop the floor expecting it to stay clean.

That's the advice I'm giving to myself right now.


  1. Well, this is hitting home. Just returned from my first trip since covid days came upon us, to visit my brother-from-another-mother. Terminal cancer. It's all so fleeting. Do the things, see your people (safely). Time is so fleeting.

    1. Apparently, time is too fleeting to proofread.

    2. I'm a lousy editor so if you made a mistake, I didn't catch it. I'm so sorry about your brother! It really puts things into perspective. If only it didn't take something like this to get us all to be with those we love each moment we can. We lost a friend's daughter last week, 38 years old, and it still seems utterly incomprehensible. There are just some people you never imagined would not be there. Hugs to you and your family as you navigate this.

    3. Oh, thank you for your kind words. And I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend's daughter -- so young, that is just very sad. Life seems harder these days for so many, and on so many fronts.

    4. Agreed. And I don't think it's us. I think it is actually harder, more than we've seen in our lifetimes to date.

  2. Wow, you've both experienced loss recently of someone. Gotta say your writing is so intriguing and keeps one wanting to read more. I agree with so much of what you said but actually i think i could be just as happy without the internet. Maybe not in winter where there is not much to do because of being snowed in but definitely in the other months. On second least let me keep a few things but i could totally do without a cell phone. In fact i didn't get one because I use my husbands. If there is an emergency they can get a hold of us. The last thing I want is a phone call while I'm out hiking somewhere. I started using his to do some stuff on instagram but other than that, no way. I do have a of those straight forward phones (for seniors, geez).. that all they can do basically is phone for help. I only wanted one when he was down the mountain at my son's for so many months and when I would drive down the mountain I didn't want to get stuck without a way of getting a hold of someone. So there it sits on my nightstand, plugged in, charged fully and waiting for me to want to use it.

    So weather is definitely weird and i love the idea of the sand mandala, etc. I liked zen and buddhist teachings, have for years.

    So thanks for a great post.
    and had a laugh about California traffic - you haven't seen anything until u get on a mountain road and people that don't know how to drive on curves either slow down to 20 miles an hour or speed up and keep going until they crash into someone or the side of the mountain. It happens ALL the time up here. And then there are snowy roads - can't even begin to talk about that.

    1. Ha! We have the same problem with people driving in the snow. It just doesn't snow enough here for folks to really know how to do it. I know I have NO knowledge base for it so just stay home! I get it on the cell phones too, I only got a smart phone when we moved up here, before that it was a pay-as-you-go phone and sometimes I miss it. It made life simpler for sure.

  3. I usually can't wait to get out after it snows and the roads are plowed. We have a jeep so it's much easier.

    1. That's brilliant. My husband has a 76 Jeep, it lives in our shop and hasn't driven more than 20 miles in the last five years! So not much good in a snow event lol.