Our students have taken on a new project in data collection and observation. We have created our own versions of the mandala. Inspired by David George Haskell‘s, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, students walked around the property and each chose a small section of the forest where they will observe and collect data about once a week. The mandala is a small patch of land with the purpose of only being natural. The point of visiting the mandala is to come back to the same small patch of land (about 1 square meter) and observe the changes that have occurred.
Haskell writes, “The mandala has significance at many levels: the concentration required for its creation, the balance between complexity and coherence, the symbols embedded in its design, and its impermanence. None of these qualities, however, define the ultimate purpose of the mandala’s construction. The mandala is a re-creation of the path of life, the cosmos…The whole universe is seen through this small circle” Our students have chosen their spot and will be observing this area on a consistent basis through the winter and into the spring.
As a biology professor, Haskell uses this activity in college level courses. He writes, “A group of North American undergraduates jostle behind a rope nearby, extending their necks like herons as they watch the mandala’s birth. They are uncharacteristically quiet, perhaps caught up in the work or stilled by the otherness of the monk’s lives. The students are visiting the mandala at the beginning of their first laboratory class in ecology. The class will continue in a nearby forest, where students will create their own mandala by throwing a hoop onto the ground. They will study their circle of land for the rest of the afternoon, observing the workings of the forest community. One translation of the Sanskrit mandala is “community,” so the monks and the students are engaged in the same work: contemplating a mandala and refining their minds…Indeed, the truth of the forest may be more clearly and vividly revealed by the contemplation of a small area than it could be by donning ten-league boots, covering a continent but uncovering little.”
We will continue to mimic this activity while reading Haskell’s own year long mandala experience in The Forest Unseen.