Everything living dreams of individuation, for everything strives toward its own wholeness.
—Carl Jung from Memories, Dreams, Reflections
I recorded Jung’s words on the first page of the journal in which I started drawing on June 6, 1995. The first picture I drew I called Sunflower. In it I tried to commemorate a moment I had experienced in the woods of perceiving a perfect circle in an aster blooming beside the trail.
So, in the beginning, I was simply walking in the woods. I wrote about that beginning in “Nine” which appears in Dreaming the Mandala Cafe.
Years ago, I walked the woods in June and was shown something complete in the growth beside the trail.
aster by my path
yellow sun with purple rays
circle bright and whole
So, I took up the simple tools—compass, straight edge, pencil, pen—and taught myself to trace the lines in black, fill the empty spaces with all the colors.
But my first mandala, I realize now, was a circle I made of stones in those same woods. The picture on this page, Ring of Stones, was the fourth drawing in my journal. It recalls that stone circle, built in the fall of 1989. I carried heavy stones up a steep hillside and through tangled undergrowth to construct it, but making that stone circle felt very important. I buried two smooth stones from the shore of a lake in the center; the buried stones seemed to me like a yin and yang of phallus and womb. During my walks, I would, from time to time, sit quietly inside the circle. But my work creating circles had just begun.
In 1989, although a career had ended, a calling remained. Making the circle represented an attempt to recenter and reorient my life. Themes that will unfold in the pages that follow are hinted at in Ring of Stones. The idea that “all the colors” are needed begins in this drawing. The stones would reappear in a new form some years later. And the bringing together of the masculine and feminine as a central concern takes its first shape.
I didn’t know what I was doing in June of 1995 when I started drawing pictures in circles, although I felt the same sense of urgency I had when building the stone circle. And I see the confusion I felt in the way the colors are rendered here. The white stone also looks a bit like a head being struck by a black cudgel. Wake up! And the circle of stones suggests rending teeth in an open mouth—imagery that reappears rendered in iron.
I feel compassion for that young man walking in the woods in 1989, who felt so devastated and disoriented. But he, just a few years later, was able to write:
Many beginnings go unseen. An acorn splits open in the
ground, a caterpillar changes into a butterfly; these go unseen. If we split
open the chrysalis or dig up the acorn, if we breech the mystery, the process
aborts, no new leaves unfurled in the morning sun, no new wings spread out to catch the
spring air. (When we read, In the beginning God created,
that’s one telling of the beginning of the story we live in,
the story of time, beginning, middle, end. But there’s also
the mystery of no time and no place from which time and space
sprang miraculously.) So we await some transformations, they
begin within us unseen, then unfurl into our lives, miraculous
for having been hidden in their beginnings. We may wait years, we
may wait a whole lifetime, for some miraculous grace
which grew patiently inside us unseen.
Unseen beginnings seem to me poised to unfurl change. Temenos mandoorlas open, wide with sunshine and fresh air. Great trees stretch branches into clouds and stars, so we can climb in their branches to touch clouds and stars. A wonderful road leads toward mountains where fire flickers. We stand winged and rooted. We walk the new path toward the fire which does not consume.
I still embrace those words, even treasure them. And they point, I think, to what this work with circles does for me, again and again.