At exactly 6pm on New Year’s Eve, like a premature ball dropping in Time’s Square, I was felled by the flu. One minute I was admiring the whole sea bass, pink and rosy against the grassy green of the chopped parsley, figuring out weight to minutes to oven temperature for doneness and the next minute I was swaying toward the couch with a chilled fire brewing in my muscles.
I did get the fish in the oven and watch the real ball drop on those millions of frozen revelors who could unbelievably still sing along with Frank to ‘New York New York’ and kiss their partner without getting their lips stuck together. I’ve never been more grateful to live in California where it was warm and three hours earlier so I didn’t now, especially now as I felt so crappy, have to stay up until midnight. Mother Nature had laid off on us with her fires of hell and turned her attention to the east where she was discharging freezing wind blasts, snow and ice storms to make Niagra Falls almost stop falling. Fire and Ice. A portentous beginning to 2018.
Back to the flu. Or ‘flu’ as the Brits say. However you say it - an unwelcome guest - especially one with which to ring in the New Year. After sampling the fish - delicious! even for my greatly reduced taste buds - I dressed in two layers of sweats, cashmere, socks and hat, looking and feeling like the ghost of Christmas past and went to bed. The only ringing going on was in my ears.
Mandalas are spiritual and ritual objects of devotion in Hinduism and Buddhism. They are used in religious contemplation and meditation as a guide to focusing attention and establishing a sacred space. They can be elaborate colorful weavings, drawings, or paintings on paper, wood, stone, cloth or they can be sand paintings, such as the Kalachakra Mandala created by Tibetan Monks over weeks, only to be swept away upon being finished. The word mandala (Sanskrit) means ‘circle’ and Carl Jung’s in-depth study, beginning with his own “small circular drawings’ led to his interpretation of the mandala as “... the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious.”
Back to the flu. I shall skip over the next three days, believing that to trot out my physical symptoms would be worse than forcing you to watch family vacation videos, although you could regal in the pleasure of your good health as compared to my poor state and pride yourself on never being so weak as to get the flu in the first place...oh grandmother what great immune systems you have! Although I will say that the aches and pains, chills and sweats, coughing and nose blowing, bad dreams, nightmares, and a hammering in the sinuses was on par with the exquisite torture offered by an Iron Maiden - where one is packed into a tight wooden box spiked with sharp nails on all sides so that one can not lean in any direction without being pierced. The only message I received during this time, blaring through the land line, was a call for burial plot and cremation. How perfectly perfect! I felt so sorry for that poor woman who had the job to call people on the day after New Year’s, hung-over with their positive resolutions and ask them to think about death - “Take me!” I cried with black gallows humor, although I had no wherewithal to get to the phone. If I die I shall be buried in the Iron Maiden I thought.
Eventually, on the third day I rose. My hair was sticking up in an exploded beehive do, my nose was not doing anything a nose was supposed to do, my breath was rattling in my chest like the tin man and I had no sense of the world beyond a three foot circle where I carefully placed my sock covered foot. I took a weak cup of tea, slithered down the steps to the studio and perched on the short step stool out of breath from the exertion. I gazed into the middle space in front of me. All seemed unreal. Absolutely no connection to the world. Time had elongated, become plastic, without my scheduling and delineating time had taken itself back into itself, and, away from human interference had no meaning. Things like days, years (2018???) bank accounts, meals, appointments, friends, job responsibilities, even habits, had fallen away in those three days and they had not yet returned. My sense of myself as a person with agency evaporated as simply as blowing dust off a book that had been sitting on a shelf too long. ‘Dust to dust’ I believe is the phrase.
In that moment of disconnect my eye fell on the mandala I drew when I was five. This relic from my childhood came to me after my mother died, amid folders of saved artwork, school essays, and report cards, in a carefully labeled box with my name. There were plenty of things only a mother could love and save, but not quite willing to throw away my youthful art attempts I lugged the lot home. The mandala was drawn in pencil on the back of a get well card I made for her when she tripped over my baby brother and broke her kneecap. A defining memory, I can transport myself to that moment anytime: my mother on the kitchen floor, her kneecap a deep gully, holding the crying baby, and me, standing on the front lawn, my braids undone, barefoot on the damp fall leaves, shivering, watching as the ambulance came. I held her hand as long as I could, fearing I might never see her again. The medics, fully aware this was no emergency, had no patience for a shoeless little girl. They unceremoniously disengaged my hand and shut the door. I was bereft. Was she going to die? Would she forget about me? Would I be ok without her? But friends pitched in and I was sent to stay with my friend Dougie and it was from there that I drew my get well card, complete with a doctor arriving to tend to my mother lying in bed with a compress on her head, my five year old quaint vision of health care. And on the back was a mandala.
Many years later I have a much deeper appreciation of the place the mandala holds as a practical and symbolic object in spiritual and psychological wholeness. I have viewed and studied mandalas through their Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian uses in spiritual, religious, meditation practice, and ritual. I have read and studied Jung’s journey with the symbol. Obviously I know so much more about mandalas now - certainly things I wouldn’t have any way of knowing at the age of five. But there is a deeper knowing, an ancient wisdom that can be accessed at any age, sometimes more clearly seen in a child, as it was here with my get well card. In my intense desire and desperate need to make my mother and I whole again, to heal us, I drew a mandala.
So with my child self in the lead I picked up a pencil and drew a mandala. And when I finished I felt better. That’s it. Simple. No miraculous healing, I still had the flu, but I felt myself stirring; as when you catch sight of someone in a hidden mirror and realize it’s you. I wasn’t quite ready to join the world, I couldn’t start shaping time again with my human designs, but I could pick up a pencil and draw, feeling myself slowly return, mandala by mandala.
Happy Harmonious New Year.
~ Megan Rose