When I was a young child my favorite TV show was The Magic Garden on New York City station WPIX-11. If you grew up in the NYC area in the 70s and early 80s you just might remember it. During this happy half-hour show, two musical, adorable, real-life women, Carole and Paula, would sit on their swings or giant toadstools and sing to me, talk to giggling flowers and receive thoughtful gifts from the branches of a Magic Tree. In one episode, the Magic Tree brought them two six-week-old kittens, two fuzzy chicks and a playful puppy. Oh, how I wanted to be invited into that glorious, enchanted place.
Every so often, a toy box called "the Story Box" would joyfully bob its lid up and down in time to a special tune, bursting forth with costumes and props that would inspire my Magic Garden friends to narrate and reenact a well-loved story. The only sad part of the show for me was when the windows to this beautiful and magical garden would close (as if by magic), and Carole and Paula would sing the final song, "See ya, see ya, hope you had a good, good time, ba dum..."
I loved Carole and Paula because they were sweet, funny and wonderfully creative, but what I loved even more was the magic inhabiting that garden...magic that made astonishing and delightful things happen. There was a part of me that completely bought into the magic and was convinced that a sprinkling of fairy dust and a winged rainbow unicorn could be waiting to surprise me around the very next corner. A whimsical nature was a generous gift to me from the Universe and one that I've managed to protect and treasure throughout the years. I'm still very open to the possibility that magic is everywhere if you are dedicated to keeping an eye out for it.
Sometimes magic comes looking for me and other times it's more elusive and I have to actively seek it. I appreciate it either way. Five months ago magic came looking for me. I was pretty easy to find because I firmly believe that miraculous, spectacular experiences are within reach every day for every sensitive and hopeful soul who pays attention. Five months ago I had no idea what a mandala was. Four months ago I happened to be watching an episode of the Netflix series House of Cards in which over the course of several days, Buddhist monks visiting the White House silently created a mandala, an extremely intricate symbol of perfection and healing. Geometric in design, the outline of the mandala is prepared by monks from memory, with chalk, white pencil and large compasses. The glory of the mandala comes to life as the monks fill in the design with crushed marble sand-like granules in jewel-toned hues.
Creating a mandala is a healing art which depicts the world in its divine form, the transformation of the ordinary human mind into an enlightened one, and the ideal balance of the subtle energies of the body. In order to bring a mandala into existence monks run a metal rod over the grooved surface of a metal, cone-shaped funnel called a chak-pur. This creates vibrations and a sound somewhat similar to an evening insect chorus. The vibrations cause the fine marble granules to flow out of the funnel like liquid.
The monks on the Netflix show worked on their mandala for days only to sweep it away when it was complete, demonstrating the impermanence of all that exists. It was breathtaking and etched its impression on my mind. And then, weeks later, as Fortune would have it, I read in my local paper that Tibetan monks had accepted an invitation to create a mandala in my very own community, just minutes away from my house. Some people might call that coincidence. I prefer to call it magic. I marked the six consecutive days during which the mandala construction would take place on my calendar and looked forward to them with the same high hopes and exuberance I once reserved for each brand new opportunity to unearth magic in the garden with Carole and Paula.
When the week finally arrived, I committed to visiting the site where the monks were constructing the mandala at least once a day, sometimes twice. Their relaxed concentration while creating this incredible, ephemeral symbol fascinated me and compelled me to put my body in that awesome energetic space time and time again. There was a healing power in that room for sure. When I wasn't there, I took great comfort in envisioning the devoted monks in my mind's eye, leaning over their precious mandala, funnels and rods in hand. Just knowing that these same peaceful men I had grown so fond of observing each and every day would be in their same spot, wearing the same type of garb and using the same instruments and materials was extremely calming. The one thing that didn't remain constant was the mandala itself which blossomed into greater magnificence with each passing moment and granule of marble. I found it oddly reassuring that the mandala's unavoidable fate did not deter the monks from lovingly and meticulously applying themselves to its creation and fulfillment. It completely blew my mind.
I've always believed the universal appeal of magic is that it is unfathomable. Magic entertains the mind because it is always a few steps ahead of it if not entirely beyond its grasp. I was drawn to the mandala project because the care and effort the monks invested in the creation process of something inherently temporary was unfathomable to me. My mind had a hard time wrapping itself around this esoteric concept and yet I was clearly entertained, even awe-struck, from start to finish. I suppose then that for me, the mandala qualifies as a form of magic and the monks, in their infinite humility and patience are themselves holy magicians. It got me to thinking that perhaps magic is more about diligently training and taming the mind than it is about pulling rabbits out of hats or producing shiny coins from behind ears.
Even my favorite wizard, Harry Potter, learns that magical powers can not be effectively harnessed with a sloppy, lazy mind. Harry must concentrate on his happiest memories with single-pointed focus and expertly clear his mind to protect himself from the penetration of evil forces. Without willingness, a great deal of mental and emotional discipline and most importantly, love, he is a weak wizard. David Blaine, a wizard in his own right, continually devises new ways to shock and amaze an audience. He accomplishes this by maintaining the upper hand over his body through the complete control of his mind and remaining devoted to his diligent practice.
I wonder if perhaps average, flawed creatures like you and I can dish up a magical potion to ensure that the fairy dust and rainbow unicorns can usually find us. We may not have to worry about Voldemort, the Dark Lord, infecting our minds, but negativity, fear, sadness and anger are often our own self-contained sources of evil. So what could we put in this potentially magic potion to guard ourselves against all that madness? Well, how about unwavering patience and compassion for ourselves and others? Let's put an overflowing cup of that in there. How about a heaping portion of diligence and a willingness to focus without any distraction on what's truly important to us in this perfect moment? That would be far more nourishing to the body and soul than the repetitive, often stress-inducing thoughts that we allow to hold sway over our scattered, frazzled minds. Let's not forget a healthy dose of humility and a pinch of positivity. They are also a welcome addition to the mix. Having faith that come what may, the Universe has our backs is a choice available to each and every one of us. When we are blessed with a new day it can become an opportunity to awaken the magic all around us. Avert your eyes from your devices and genuinely appreciate the beauty of the natural world or the wonder that so readily appears on the face of a child. Feel that gratitude for it is an essential element in this elixir. This is magic deconstructed, my friend, and if we all agree to give honest-to-goodness magic a fighting chance, it can be far more potent than the unrest in our minds and in the world.
On August 15 the monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Tibet swept away all of the fine marble granules that they had so assiduously put into place. Just like that it was gone...simply disappeared as if it had been the trick of an illusionist. The windows to that beautiful, magical world closed and it brought back the sadness I felt when the windows to the Magic Garden would close at the end of an episode. This episode, I realized, was over too. But as life teaches us with every disappointment and every loss, as soon as one episode is over, a new one begins. The finely crushed marble was collected with care and ceremoniously poured into a nearby stream so that its healing energy could bless the world.
Maplewood's Memorial Park is the home of the stream where the mandala I admired and loved was dispersed into flowing water. How can it be just a simple park anymore? It has now become a sacred space for me...my new Magic Garden and it's an episode I've not yet seen. Who knows? Maybe the next time I visit there magic will find me once again and Carole and Paula will be sitting on a bench by the stream singing one of their happy songs. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for them.