Today is What You Think Upon Grows Day. It’s a day to remind oneself and others of the power of positive thinking. Studies have shown that there is a major difference in the lives and health of optimists and pessimists.
Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life’s less pleasant situations. Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.
Positive thinking like this does lead to health benefits, such as:
Increased life span
Lower rates of depression
Lower levels of distress
Greater resistance to the common cold
Better psychological and physical well-being
Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
If you consider yourself a negative thinker, it’s a good idea to identify those negative thoughts and begin to reprocess them as positive. For instance, if you think to yourself, “There’s no way this will work,” you can rephrase the thought to say, “I can try to make this work.”
Remember, these thoughts and actions do not go away overnight. It takes time and practice to become a positive thinker. Why not start on What You Think Upon Grows Day? It might be the perfect start to a new, healthier lifestyle.
Keeping a nature diary has spotlighted how often I look for and at birds. Bird feeders just outside my kitchen provide many opportunities as I eat breakfast or lunch. Until now, my focus was mostly on beauty, dominance, and learning the names of the locals.
Now, it seems I have a very narrow window on birds of the world: there are approximately 10,000 different species worldwide! They have a few things in common, however: they have feathers, wings, lay eggs, and are warm-blooded. They are thought to have evolved from theropod dinosaurs. They have hollow bones which help (most of them) to fly. (Kiwis are an exception. They are flightless. And, FYI, they lay the largest eggs relative to their body size.)
About 20% of bird species migrate long distances every year. And birds have the same five senses as humans: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.
Butamid these commonalities are enormous variations.
Sight: birds use sight for flight, evading predators, and finding food. They are especially good in perceiving motion and detail—2 to 3 times better than humans. Those with more widely positioned eyes have a wider field of vision, including being able to see directly behind themselves. (Think evading predators and evading attacks.) They have an inner eye membrane to help protect their eyes and clean them often. During flight they often spread their wings to protect their eyes, and when attacking they go for the eyes of their adversary. The owl, famously, has to turn its whole head to see.
The ostrich is the largest bird in the world, and they have the largest eyes of any land animal. They are approximately the size of billiard balls, and are actually bigger than their brains. Also, FYI, ostrich eggs are the biggest and they have the fastest maximum running speed (97 kph, just over 60 mph).
But in spite of eye size, other birds (e.g., murres) have been shown to see, and recognize, it’s partner several hundred meters away out at sea.
Compared to mammals, birds have relatively large eyes. In general, bigger eye means better vision. In fact, bird eyes are bigger than they look, because all but the pupil is covered with skin and feathers.
Diurnal birds that become active at dawn have larger eyes than birds that become active later after sunrise. Nocturnal birds (with the exception of kiwis) have relatively larger eyes.
People have three types of photoreceptors in the retina: red, green, and blue. Birds have these AND ultraviolet—which they use to find food as well as partners.
Birds use their right and left eyes for different tasks. Domestic chicks use their left eye to approach their parent. Male black-winged stilts are more likely to direct courtship displays toward females seen with their left eyes. When peregrine falcons hung, they rely mainly on their right eye. New Caledonian crows show individual preferences for one eye or the other when constructing tools or prying prey out of crevices. The stronger the preference for one side is, the better the bird is at problem solving, foraging, etc.
So far it is know that songbirds, ducks, falcons, and gulls can sleep with one eye open. A study of mallard ducks showed that those sleeping in the center of a group were more likely to have both eyes closed, whereas those on the edge were more likely to keep the eye facing outward from the group open.
There is also evidence that birds can sleep on the fly, e.g., swifts and glaucous-winged gulls.
Hearing is the second most important sense. Their ears are located behind and below the eyes and are covered with soft feathers for protection. The ears are funnel shaped to focus sound. Here again, owls are special. Their face plates (facial discs) help direct sound. Surprisingly, so called “ear tufts” of owls and other birds have nothing to do with hearing.
Birds’ hearing is much more acute than humans for sound recognition, though with a smaller frequency range than humans. They are especially sensitive to pitch, tone, and rhythm changes. They use this sense to recognize other individual birds, even in flocks. Birds use different sounds, songs, and calls in different situations to identify predators, mark a territory, or offer to share food. FYI: owls simply devour small prey whole (think insects, mice, etc.) and regurgitate indigestible bits like bones and fur.
Bats and oilbirds (and perhaps others I haven’t read about) use echolocation. Bouncing chirps and clicks off solid objects is used to navigate through dark caves.
Touch is more important to people than to birds. Even so, birds are very sensitive to changes in air temperature, pressure, and wind speed, changes which are transferred down the feather to nerves in the skin. Some have special feathers around their bills that seem to serve a purpose when feeding.
Mutual preening—which involves manipulating one another’s feathers—is important in courtship for many bird species. On the other hand, they have fewer nerves in their legs and feet, which makes them less sensitive to extreme cold. Shore birds have extremely sensitive touch receptors in their bills, aiding them when feeding through mud, water, etc.
Taste is not well defined in birds. Depending on the species, they have fewer than 50 or as many as 500 taste buds, compared to 9,000-10,000 in humans. Birds can taste sweet, sour, and bitter, and can identify suitable and most nutritious food sources—but this is less important than sight and hearing. For those of us who hope to discourage squirrels and raccoons from a particular food source, birds are impervious to spicy-hot, as in cayenne pepper infused birdseed.
Smell is the least developed bird sense. They have small olfactory centers in their brains. Therefore, some claim this debunks the myth that nesting birds will reject a fledgling that has been handled by humans. In fact, songbirds cannot detect the human scent.
That generality aside, vultures, kiwis, honeyguides, albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters all use keen senses of smell to locate food, often from treat distances or when the odor is not noticeable to humans.
And now to some interesting (to me) facts about birds.
Hummingbirds can fly backwards. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest living bird in the world, with a length of just 2 inches. Larger hummingbirds, on average, weigh less than a nickel. The smallest ones weigh closer to a penny
Chickens are the most common species of bird in the world.
Homing pigeons are bred to find their way home from long distances, and have been used as messengers for thousands of years. During WWI and WWII, Pigeons were used in this way, but also for reconnaissance.
Pigeons can learn to play pingpong, among things.
They are excellent at visual signal detection and other similar tasks.
A great tool-making bird is the crow. Not incidentally, they (along with ravens and rooks) have large brains compared to other birds. They mainly make probes out of wood, twigs, or wire to catch or impale larvae. But crows are among the only that create their own tools.
Tool use in other birds is mostly shown in intricate nest building.
Although not making tools, other birds use them. For example, a parrot may use a tool to wedge to crack nuts. Gulls often drop shellfish in front of cars to crack them open.
Although parrots are renowned for being able to talk, ravens in captivity are even better at mimicking human speech, as well as the sounds of car engines revving or toilet flushing. In the wild, they sometimes imitate other animals, such as wolves or foxes as a way to get them to make carcasses bird edible.
Acorn woodpeckers store acorns in holes they drill in trees or other wood items. They have been known to store up to 50,000 acorns (each in its own tiny hole) in a single “granary” tree
While on the water, the black and white coloring of penguins camouflages them both from above and below by blending with the surround.
One bird I especially like is the northern cardinal. It’s one of the most popular birds in the U.S. Indeed, the cardinal is the state bird for seven states: Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and North Carolina.
Although male cardinals are brighter, females have more elaborate songs. One cardinal may have more than two dozen song variations. Both sexes sing, and sing year round.
Cardinals are territorial—the territory defended against competitors by the male—and are noted for trying to fight their reflections in mirrors, windows, and other reflective surfaces. Cardinals are monogamous while together, and may mate for life.
They eat various seeds, fruits, berries, grains, and insects depending on what’s available.
Another favorite is the bluebird. They can be found throughout North America, including my back yard. Bluebirds, too, are monogamous throughout a breeding season, and may breed together for more than one season. Also like cardinals, they are territorial. The male tends to defend the outer territory while the females defend the nest.
A bluebird can spot caterpillars and insects in tall grass at a distance over 50 yards. They especially like live mealworms.
In my experience, bluebirds tend to come to the feeder in pairs—sometimes more than two pairs at a time. I think of them as family birds.
My backyard aviary is alive with goldfinches, purple finches, titmice, mourning doves, robins, grackles, starlings, house finches, and sometimes mocking birds, hummingbirds, crows or hawks. Right now, I know less about many of these birds. Sufficient unto the morrow.
Bottom line for writers: Nature writing can enhance any genre. Consider bird details for your next story.
Today is International Tiara Day, a day when all women embrace and celebrate their powers of leadership. Real or virtual tiaras are encouraged!
History of Tiaras
The word tiara (Persian in origin) is used interchangeably with its predecessor, diadem. These were head ornaments worn by both men and women of high status in several different countries. Once we reached the 18th century, tiaras became a typically female accessory, inspired by the wreaths worn by Greek and Roman leaders. Currently, Queen Elizabeth II is said to have the largest and most valuable collection of tiaras in the world, many of which are heirlooms of the British royal family.
Tiara Symbolism and Use
According to London jewelry expert Geoffrey Munn, “Any woman may wear [a tiara], but ancient tradition has it that they must be a bride or already married. The tiara has its roots in classical antiquity and was seen as an emblem of the loss of innocence to the crowning of love.” Tiaras do not represent the rank of people who wear them (like a crown would); rather, they represent the importance of an event (such as a royal wedding).
Bottom line: You don’t need to be royal to wear a tiara! Celebrate this day with whatever degree of opulence suits you.
On the first day of my Nature Writing class, we were assigned to read a book of our choice that had a strong nature theme. It could be anything, from fiction to poetry. I chose Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods (1998) for several reasons. From the time I read Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, I’ve been a Bryson fan. Then, too, my roots are in Appalachia. Last but not least, I had the book on my shelf—still unread. Now that I’ve read it, I want to share.
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is approximately 2100 miles. If you read the book, you will understand why the exact length is unknown, but for my purposes, it is sufficient to know that it’s hugely long and stretches from Georgia to Maine. Bryson (not a hiker) starts with a chapter describing his almost whimsical decision to walk the AT and the buying frenzy of assembling the necessary equipment. And right away I was drawn in. As a reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times said, “Bill Bryson could write an essay about dryer lint or fever reducers and still make us laugh out loud.”
It’s difficult to cite representative funny passages because (1) there are so many of them; and (2) often the humor is in a whole situation, scene or exchange, not a succinct quip. He started in Georgia in March, intending to end in Maine in October, a timetable intended to avoid suffocating heat in the south and New England winter. In the even, that March brought a record cold snap, and the first day of spring came in the midst of a blizzard. And that’s pretty much the way the hike went: never quite what was planned.
Bryson’s writing is take-you-there-with-him vivid. For example, “…we were half-blinded by flying snow and jostled by gusts of wind, which roared through the dancing trees and shook us by our backpacks. This wasn’t a blizzard; it was a tempest.”
I like the insights he shares. “Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way. . . .The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know.” This is true only for those of us living the typical American life or a similar one in another developed country—but that’s true enough for most of his readers.
Reading a Bryson book is always a learning experience. A Walk in the Woods is packed with history, geography, and botany. The idea of the AT started with Benton MacKaye in 1921, work actually started in 1930 under the auspices of Myron Avery, who mapped it out, extended it from 1200 to over 2000 miles, supervised construction, and convinced hiking clubs to provide volunteer work crews.
Bryson is a skilled observer. The details he notes allow the reader to see how the trees of the north differ from those in the south, identify denizens of the flower-strewn meadows, and quake beside sheer drop-offs. And he is wonderfully in touch with real people—people who can cite statistics about the rarity of a hiker being attacked by a black bear, and the greater rarity of one being killed, but still have anxiety attacks because “It does happen!”
The only thing that put me off a bit about the book was a somewhat stereotypical disdain for fat people and hillbillies. Perhaps that’s where the book’s age came into play. Bur it never tipped into meanness. In any event, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the book overall. There are moments of tenderness, and a budding awareness of the danger to our environment.
I’ll end by mentioning his walking companion, Stephen Katz. It wouldn’t have been the same book—and probably not as good—without Bryson’s unexpected fellow traveler. It’s a feel-good book from beginning to end. Other than that, I won’t tell you how it ends—except to say, “They both lived to tell the tale.”
Bottom line:Read this book—or any Bryson book—and be prepared to be drawn into non-fiction.
As you may recall from my previous blog about pigs, the relationship between humans and pigs has been all over the place, from despised as filthy animals to being eaten by the millions. Actually, pigs and humans have so much in common that live tissue can be transplanted from one to the other, pig insulin is a boon to humans, and pigs are often the surrogate of choice when testing potential new drugs. According to some South Sea cultures, pigs were created so humans wouldn’t have to eat each other!
Experts guess that pigs were introduced to Papua New Guinea (PNG) from elsewhere, maybe as long ago as 10,000 years. Whether they have thrived or not is a matter of definition. PNG pigs are distinctive, and scrawnier than pigs with which we are more familiar. Wild pigs in PNG are slaughtered for food, but domestic pigs are eaten only when no other protein is available. Mostly they are kept for social and political uses, and are particularly important among tribes in the Central Highlands.
My interest in PNG pigs was triggered by my reading about pigs in general. I came across the fact that in Papua New Guinea, women sometimes nurse piglets. I had to know more! It turns out that in Papua New Guinea pigs have enormous economical, political, and mystical importance. They are used to buy brides, and to pay debts (for example, compensation for killing members of another tribe). Pigs are killed for important ceremonies, such as cremation, marriage, initiation rites, and to appease ancestral spirits. Pig killings are often followed by days of celebration. An exception is pigs that are sick or stolen, which are eaten as quickly as possible.
A man’s wealth is judged by the number of pigs in his household, and every few years, huge pig-giving festival are held to impress other tribesmen. The importance of pigs can scarcely be overstated. They are the only domesticated animal. And the care and feeding of the pigs falls to the women—along with virtually all the other work of the family, such as gardening, cooking, hauling water, gathering firewood, caring for children—and pigs! The men hunt or fish occasionally and protect against enemy attacks.
Someone named Adam, who reports working in PNG, posted the following online: “. . . And I have seen the women breastfeeding pigs. And there is a simple reason for it. Pigs are worth more to the tribe than children. You cannot eat or sell or trade children. . . A child eats your food, which in ten, leaves less on your plate.” Pigs must be kept alive until needed at all costs.
The women have very close relationships with pigs. The pigs accompany the women everywhere. Sometimes they spend the night in specially built sties, but others sleep in the same huts as the women and their children. They eat with the family. They are often given names and are treated as pets are here, being stroked, fondled, and cajoled in tender voices. Although women are the caretakers, the pigs are the property of the men. I can’t help wondering about what happens when a man decides to kill a woman’s favorite pig.
Although some people recoil in disgust at the thought of women nursing piglets, others cite more familiar examples of cross-species care throughout the animal world—for example dogs nursing kittens—and point out that people are animals, too.
The idea of a woman nursing a piglet is strange to us, at the least. But This has been the culture in Papua New Guinea for centuries. Who are we to judge?
You may know from previous blog and FB posts that I’m enrolled in a class on nature writing. As a result, I’m even more aware of nature around me—of plants, birds, and squirrels in particular. But I’ve also been reading more about nature—particularly plants and animals, but I may move on to weather or geology at some point. But tonight, let’s talk pigs.
I grew up in farm country, with friends in 4-H who took their project pigs to the county fair, and uncles who butchered hogs on their farms. But most of us grew up hearing pig doggerel:
To market, to market
To buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again
To market to market
To buy a fat hog.
Home again, home again,
This little piggy went to market.
This little piggy stayed home.
This little piggy ate roast beef.
This little piggy had none.
And this little piggy went wee, wee, wee
All the way home.
Virtually everyone knows the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” If not that classic, there is always Porky Pig, and even more recently, Miss Piggy—who is cited as saying, “Never eat more than you can lift.”
Pigs have been all things to all people throughout history.
From the 11th through 13th centuries, the sow and the boar were symbols of all sorts of vices in the Bestiaries, collections of fables involving animals meant to provide morality themes for sermons, or personal reflection. Pigs in 16th century art often represented sins of the flesh.
Pigs as unclean: both Islam and traditional Judaism forbid eating pork. Hindus eat no pork, while Sikhs eat very little pork.
The contradictory roles of pigs in Greek mythologyis beautifully illustrated by the legend that a sow was supposed to have suckled Zeus and a wild boar killed him. In ancient Egypt a pig represented the spirit of Osiris when crops were planted and the spirit of Seth when they were harvested. Nevertheless, they were considered unclean, and drinking pig milk was thought to cause leprosy. Tantric Buddhists worship Marici the Diamond Sow. The Kaulong section of Papua New Guinea is a pig culture—which is fascinating, and too much to go into here, but there is a saying there: “Pigs are our hearts.”
On the positive side: 2019 is the year of the pig in the Chinese zodiac. It comes around every twelve years. In 2007, it was the Year of the Golden Pig, especially auspicious because a Golden Pig year comes only once in every sixty years. The personality of Pigs is supposed to be kind and understanding, an able peacemaker. Pigs are excellent conversationalists, truthful and to the point. A Pig believes in justice and law and order, rejects all falsehood or hypocrisy.
Pigs for sport.
Greezed pig contests
Pig races at the Michigan Spree Festival
Pigs are the most ancient of nonruminant mammals, existing forty million years ago—long before humans.
Pigs exist in one form or another in every part of the world.
In three months, three weeks, and three days, a sow can produce a litter of eight piglets. With competent treatment, they can be ready for market in six months.
Toothbrushes were invented in China and originally used boar bristles; today, industrial and consumer products are practically limitless, from plywood adhesive and dye to glue and bone china.
Beyond bacon: because of similarities to humans, pig heart valves, insulin, and porcine bur dressings. These are just examples of pharmaceutical uses, which rank second only to meat in importance.
You can’t sweat like a pig because pigs don’t sweat.
Pigs put on one pound of weight for every three pounds of feed they consume.
If there is an option, pigs do not wallow in their own waste.
Pigs can be housebroken.
Pigs in phrase and fable:
don’t cast pearls before swine
don’t buy a pig in a poke
can’t make a silk purse from a swine’s ear
graceful as a hog on ice
hogging the (x)
eat like a pig
eating high on the hog
living high on the hog
sweat like a pig (see above)
going whole hog
going hog wild
looks like a marzipan pig (i.e., prosperous)
fat as a pig
happy as a hog in shit
in a pig’s eye
hogging the road
pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered
being a porker
Bottom line: Pigs are ubiquitous. Is there a place for pigs in your writing?
I am currently enrolled in a four-week class on “Nature Writing” at the VMFA Studio School, taught by Amy Ritchie Johnson. Frankly, I took this class because I like taking writing classes with Amy and this was what was on offer. To my surprise, I’m loving it!
If you do an online search for books on nature writing, you will come up with approximately a gazillion choices—not that I am urging you to do so!
I just want to share with you an insight that was surprising, at least to me: nature writing can happen in any genre. If the work explores, draws on, or uses nature in a significant way, it’s nature writing. Think about it. Here are several examples (merely examples) mentioned in class.
science writing (Lab Girl)
memoir (also exemplified by Lab Girl)
mystery (e.g., Where the Crawdads Sing)
poetry (e.g., Mary Oliver)
fiction (The Secret Garden)
creative non-fiction (H is for Hawk)
description (think field guides to anything, from snakes to edible plants)
Two weeks in and I am already wishing it were twice as long! Indeed, because of class discussion, I bought The Naturalist’s Notebook, a five-year diary for recording daily observations about nature. So, in my own way, the class will continue.
Assignments in this class, including keeping a nature diary for four weeks, are honing our skills in observing and describing. The short version of the advice is observe in minute detail and be specific in your descriptions. This last is an oft-repeated injunction: avoid vague words such as beautiful, stuff, blue, comfortable—words that can mean many things to many people. In nature writing, that means the name of the flower, the kind of tree, the shade of green, the breed of the dog, the type of clouds, etc.
BOTTOM LINE: lessons from nature writing are lessons for good writing. Go for it!
As you may know from previous FB posts and my weekend blog, I recently visited the VMFA during the creation of the Tibetan mandala. As with many special exhibits, the VMFA shop offered many items related to mandalas and Tibetan culture—and thus I became aware of dZi (pronounced Zee) beads for the first time. The Tibetan word “dZi” translates as “shine, brightness, clearness, splendor.” The name in Mandarin Chinese translates as “heaven’s bead” or “heaven’s pearl.” FYI, I’ve seen it written Dzi as well.
The dZi are stone beads worn as part of a necklace or bracelet. Many Asian cultures around Tibet also prize dZi as protective amulets and for positive spiritual benefits. As with many things thought to have good vibes, dZi have and have had multiple uses: ground into powder, they are sometimes used as an ingredient in traditional medicine, and sometimes used as a tool to burnish the gilt on paintings or statuary.
The most highly prized dZi beads are ancient, and made of smooth, natural agate. Those being hard to come by, modern-made dZi are even making inroads in Tibet. The designs can be almost anything: circles, ovals, squares, waves, zig zags, stripes, lines, diamonds, dots, etc. The colors are mainly brown to black with a design in off-white. The number of “eyes” in a design is significant, as is their arrangement.
DZi stones appeared between 2000 and 1000 BCE. Although the geographic origin is unknown, they are now generally known as Tibetan beads. In Tibetan culture these beads are believed to attract protectors, maybe beneficial ghosts or ancestors. Thus the beads are always treated with respect.
As long ago as the early 19th century, “modern era” beads in this style were made in Germany. New dZi have been produced in Asia. The most convincing replicas of ancient beads came from Taiwan during the 1990s, and good-quality ones from mainland China over the last three year.
New beads are less likely to appeal to purists. However, attitudes toward new beads vary widely: some believe the new stones function as well as the old ones; some believe the protective energies are missing but can move into a new dZi under certain circumstances; at the same time, the ancient beads have absorbed energy—both good and bad—from all the previous owners whereas these new beads have no need to be cleansed in the same way. In any case, one should purify one’s beads and ask them to bond with you. There is an interesting and informative article online titled the Myth and Mystery of Tibetan Dzi Stone Beads that tells how to do this, and how to care for your beads in general. It also identifies the meaning attached to the number of eyes on the bead, from one to twenty-one.
Imitation dZi are made from materials other than agate or calcedony—virtually any other material. Some of these imitations were created a couple of hundred years ago. Some of the older mock dZi are valued in their own right. The dZi beads available in the VMFA shop are made of traditional materials (agate) and designs, but they are obviously mass-prodced and thus some would consider them to be imitations.
If one believes in the power of stones, these would still have the positive properties of these varieties of quartz. Agate and chalcedony are two commonly-encountered varieties of quartz.
Agate: all about harmony and balance. Although different varieties/colors of agate have their own properties, all types of agate stones have these agate properties at the heart of their meaning. All agate mineral rocks vibrate or resonate at a slower, less intense rate than some of their more high-frequency quartz relatives. These less intense vibrations impart strength and stability. Agate meaning includes yin and yang energy, providing a balance between the positive and negative.
Carnelian is known as a stone of motivation and endurance, leadership and courage. Carnelians have protected and inspired throughout history. A glassy, translucent stone, Carnelian is an orange-colored variety of Chalcedony, a mineral of the Quartz family.
Chalcedony is a nurturing stone that promotes brotherhood and good will. It absorbs negative energy. It brings the mind, body, emotions and spirit into harmony. Chalcedony instills feelings of benevolence and generosity. It alleviates hostility and transforms melancholy into joy.
Black Onyx is another variety of Chalcedony, which ranges from white-colored stones to black. It is one of the many gemstones believed to have amazing healing and spiritual properties. The story of the origin of this stone varies from culture to culture, but it does go back a very long way in time. Today it is available in pure black, as it is heated and polished.
BOTTOM LINE: Get thee to the VMFA, enjoy the exhibit, and learn a bit about Tibetan culture. You never know what information a writer can use down the line!
A mandala (emphasis on the first syllable) represents the universe, and has symbolic and ritual importance in Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism is an Indian and Southeast Asian religion and dharma (way of life). Buddhism is a practice, like yoga, and can be practiced by people of any religion.
Mandalas may be used to focus attention, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and to induce a trance. The basic form is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point.
Vajrayana Buddhism has developed sand painting mandalas. And that brings us to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which has a special exhibit “Awaken: A Tibetan Journey Toward Enlightenment” open now. According to the VMFA, “From May 2 through May 5, a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery will create a sand mandala near the exhibition’s entrance, which—in accordance with their beliefs and practice—they will dismantle in a return visit on Aug. 3. Their visit is part of the Mystical Arts of Tibet World Tour that has traveled for more than 25 years and is endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
This week, I saw the Tibetan Buddhist Monks beginning that sand painting mandala. I could stay only little while, long enough to watch as they used a protractor to mark reference points on the circle.
They chalked thread or thin rope which two monks positioned across the circle. A third monk then picked up the center of the thread and dropped it, leaving a faint white chalk line.
No doubt by today, May 5, the mandala will be an elaborate and beautiful work of art. I intend to see it completed. I heard that when it is done, they will cover it on glass to preserve it during its time on view. And I will appreciate it all the more because, in accordance with their beliefs and practice, they will dismantle it on Aug. 3. I also heard that it will end in the James River—but that may be just gossip.
This sand painting is only a small part of the exhibit, which occupies ten spaces. The exhibit is on view April 27 through August 16.