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Across The Universe

We’re all searching for our rightful place in the universe. Some people find it′s right in the middle.

By definition, preoccupied people are the ones too absorbed to watch feet in diameter and still growing. They seem mesmerized by the slow
where they’re going. Their minds are busy rummaging through piles and painstakingly accurate work.
thoughts, while the body navigates on autopilot. Their gaze, by default, “The mandala doesn’t only represent a concept of wholeness and harmo-
drops to the floor, which doesn’t demand too much attention. ny between all things - it actually brings it to life” Joe repeats his former
That was me, staring absently at the dull pavement, until my foot nearly statement before the assembling audience “it’s a tool that serves to free
crushed the delicate, curving line etched in crimson sand on the side- the thought from the windowless cell of “self” . The construction of the
walk. this unexpected shape branched into three more nearly identical Mandala is a form of meditation, which draws the individual to experi-
spirals, each of them tipped with a ence the relationship between himself
glittering blue circle ringed with a and the world he is a part of.’
sequence of tiny alternating red and
yellow dot. Joe has their rapt attention.
I traced the flow of glittering lines “Imagine yourself as a single speck of
,curving out of each other like bud- sand, one atom in the larger scheme of
ding ivy, to the focal point of the the mandala. that is your “self’. each
entire web - where a wild haired elf- grain in the mandala has a specific
man sat and spiced the rim of each place and purpose, for along with the
sphere with a dash of colored sand. few grains surrounding it, it creates a
The man was Joe Mangum, a mul- smidgen of color - much as we our-
timedia performance artist, and the selves would look like when viewed
circular phenomena growing on the from high above, from the top of the
sidewalk was called a mandala. empire state, for example. This small
-Amanda who? granule of color borders with others,
-”A mandala - an ancient symbol and together they weave into a single
of continuity and oneness”, Joe an- vein, like a blood vessel, or a street,
swers, not once removing his eyes or a mountain range. these veins split
from the perfect circle trickling and branch and repeat the same pat-
from his balled first “officially de- tern till they fade into the horizon, but
fined as a ‘any map or pattern which they all spout from a single dot, from
attempts to symbolically represent the universe’”. one invisible focal point in the very center - which brings us back to
After graduating from the Chicago art institute nearly a decade ago, Joe where this started - the “self”.”
took to wandering. For five years he roamed the globe – India, China, this hasty guided tour joe offers his transient congregation is a simpli-
Thailand, Uzbekistan – going anywhere affordable, but drawn particu- fied abbreviation of a Buddhist meditation. Originally it’s an hours long
larly to sacred places. Through his journeys Joe nursed a growing obses- practice, in which the initiates divide their attention between mentally
sions with, um, circles. following the intricate weave of the Mandalla on one hand, while focus-
“Everywhere I went, I encountered the same symbol, over and over again. ing on their own physical presence on the other. This intense cerebral
In ashrams, in the church’s Rosetta windows, in Indian dream catchers, exercise stretches the boundaries of consciousness, allowing awareness
in the Cherokee’s healing circles. The more i studied the mandala the to one’s simultaneous existence in different scales , thus endowing the
more fascinated I became - it’s like a metaphysical onion, encasing layer practitioner with an insight of his own place in the scheme of things.
upon layer of meaning. it doesn’t merely represent the concept of whole- Joe suggests to the crowd to try it..We all fell silent and devoted our-
ness - it brings it to life”. selves to the task. In fact, We were so in engrossed in dividing our at-
Well, I see a pretty round drawing on the sidewalk, but if he gets a one- tention that none of us noticed the boy walking towards us, cell phone
ness out of it – good for him. in hand. When people are preoccupied, either with meditating or with
texting while walking, they just don’t see where they’re heading....
There are many types of mandala’s. The sand mandala, beside symbol- The kid walked right through the mandala, dragging his feet, absent
izing the universe and all, demonstrates the all time favorite Tibetan no- mindedly ravaging the delicate weave of our symbolic universe. I guess
tion of transience. After toiling for hours or days over the placing of each he also had headphones on, since he was oblivious to our cries of protests.
colored grain of sand in its exact position, the initiates of the mandala Only half way through the mandala did he finally lift his eyes off the cell
will take a big ceremonious broom and with one ceremonious swoosh phone screen and realize the situation. Slightly flustered, he rushed to the
they scatter the minuscule universe back to the raw chaos from which it other side, leaving behind a wide trail of destruction.
emerged. That’s exactly what Joe’s about to do: within a few hours, all Joe was flushed with rage. “How can people be so freakin’ stupid?! how
that will remain of this intricate sprawling creation is a photo. can anyone ignore something this damn big?”
Joe embroidered sidewalks around the world with mandallas made of
sand, candy, rose petals, papers and even household garbage. The deci- “It’s supposed to be scattered it in the end anyway” I tried to console
sion to work with bio-degradable materials and in open public spaces is him.
integral to Joe’s personal philosophy. This choice has a charm to it, an “But i didn’t photograph it yet”! Joe protested, on the verge of tears.
inherit modesty and ecological reverence; it also bears a heavy price: the “A moment ago you said we all have our place and purpose in the scheme
exhibit’s life span doesn’t extend beyond the time of it’s making. a few of things - that means he must have had a purpose as well” I remarked,
hours and it’s gone. Despite their obvious beauty, Joe’s creations will just because there aren’t many things as amusing as an enlightened per-
never reach the coveted retirement spot in a collector’s salon. Nor can son losing his temper.
these works sell. All that’s left for Joe to trade with, in the end, are sou- Joe chokes down a curse, grinds his teeth and falls to his knees to repair
venirs: photos, videos, posters and other reproductions, which he distrib- the damage. I immediately regret my tactless remark, but Joe won’t lift
utes through his web site and Facebook. The bulk of his income comes his eyes from the pavement , and frankly i don’t blame him.
from donations which he collects on the spot. I drop a few dollars in his donation box and slowly drift away, my eyes
joe sits crossed legged on the pavement in union square, in the midst of on the floor. We’re all connected, we all have our place and our purpose,
the noise and traffic, drawing a map of the universe with a trickle of sand. but we sure have a lot to learn before we can live side by side in har-
Bystanders slowly gather round the mandala, which is now almost 10 mony.

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