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Mindfulness In The Wilderness

Posted by Cassidy Miller, MA, MFT, Therapist at Cascades on November 18, 2015

CassidyCroppedMandala, [muhn-dl-uh], noun

1. A schematized representation of the cosmos, chiefly characterized by a concentric configuration of geometric shapes, each of which contains an image of a deity or an attribute of a deity
2. A geometric figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism
3. (Jungian psychology) a symbol representing the effort to reunify the self.
4. “Such mandalas are symbolic of the mandala you create for yourself without even realizing it. Whatever you take as your chief motivation is at the center.” –Lodro Rinzler

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It is challenging to be rigorously honest with ourselves about how we organize our lives and what we focus on, what we take as our “chief motivation”. Our ego may want to say something pretty like “family”, “love” or “connection”. And while we likely do honor these things, what is often at the center of an unchallenged mandala, an unchallenged life, are ideas like “protecting myself from hurt”, “making money”, “being right”, “making other people happy”, “proving myself to so-and-so”, “getting ahead”, etc. Looking at our unfiltered chief motivator can illuminate our core beliefs and deepest fears. By leaning in to this exploration of our center we can see where our work is and we can become more mindful about what we place there.

This week Group 5 at Cascades worked on their personal mandalas and on the mandala of the group as a whole. We read from “A Path With Heart” by Jack Kornfield and the group members shared with each other how they related to it and to one another. Our reading started with this excerpt:


To bow to the fact of our life's sorrows and betrayals is to accept them; and from this deep gesture we discover that all life is workable. As we learn to bow, we discover that the heart holds more freedom and compassion than we could imagine…We must look at ourselves over and over again in order to learn to love, to discover what has kept our hearts closed, and what it means to allow our hearts to open. –Jack Kornfield


As we sat around the fire ring taking turns at speaking, listening and stoking the flames, we talked about feeling states like hurt, anger and sadness. We talked about experiences of suffering, loss and stuck-ness. The group members shared about the things that have happened in their lives that lead to acquiring “chief motivators” that were no longer serving them. Without thinking about it the group members, like the reading suggested, were bowing to their sorrows and working through them, here and now, with each other. Of course, the process invites and demands that we return to this place “over and over and over again”. And we will.

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