Friday, October 27, 2006

Sand Art

While living in Los Angeles a few years ago, I had an opportunity to visit a Buddhist temple. One of my students who also loved art joined me.

The temple housed the artwork of the monks there. For weeks, they had been working on creating amazingly intricate pieces of art, called mandalas, which use sand as their medium. The hairline swirls and blended colors reflected the precision of the monks in placing each grain of sand.

The stunning beauty of the sand mandalas held a sense of sadness for me as I imagined them soon disappearing. After the monks complete their art, they take their work and dismantle it. These monks dumped their artwork when it was completed into water. We watched as the art floated away.

As I watched the monks faithfully complete the process, I wondered about my own life. How tightly do I hold onto my possessions, my creations, or my time?

My friends who commute into the city for their jobs often reveal their systems of overcoming traffic stress. Some listen to talk radio; others have books on tape. Cell phones help some through the drudgery. My friends who have small children often laugh as they clean up their houses each night when the kids go to bed. Those toddlers will pull out all of their toys the moment they wake up the next morning.

How do we fight the frustration of wasting time? Traffic and clutter often wears down our peace of mind. How can we overcome that sense of anxiety, take a deep breath, and enjoy the moment we have, even if it is an unpleasant one?

In my own life, I constantly struggle with patience. Standing in line at a grocery store or waiting for a slow driver to turn causes me to grow unbelievably anxious. My time in Los Angeles stole my patience. Standing for an hour and a half in line at the bank, sitting in traffic for 45 minutes to travel two blocks down the street, or calling animal control and waiting four days before they picked the stray dog that took up residence on my front porch all compounded all left me with no patience. Why must I always hurry?

Even though I cannot hold time in my hands, it stands as one of my most valuable commodities. Investing it only seems wise if something is gained from that decision.
However, peace of mind might be what I need most.
Throughout the Bible, words of peace, rest, and stillness continually appear in the text. As people of faith, how can we introduce that sort of rest back into our lives? Jesus “went away” for 40 days before he began his ministry. The Gospels tell that he often “went away to a quiet place” just before a major event or turning point in his life. That sense of peace and quiet rarely is found in our modern lives.

On our trip to the temple, we heard people ask the Buddhist monks if they could take some of the sand as a souvenir. The monks gentle refused because they were demonstrating to the rest of us the impermanence of the material world. It would drift away with the water.

Like the sand, my time will drift away as well. I cannot hold it captive. May I use it in such a way that brings peace to those around me, including myself. The solace of time spent in peace can change us by slow us down. May we hold unto it loosely, knowing that beauty comes in experiencing the stillness of it.

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