Melissa Glorieux’s glorious “ritual mandalas” inspire calm just by looking at them. They are immaculately styled and so gorgeous to look at, but their meaning runs deeper than just being a pretty picture. See: most of these works of art could be destroyed with the wind or a wave, and each one is made out of organic materials—which is special because Melissa herself found a new life as a flower farmer in New England. I learned more about the genesis of these mandalas, Melissa’s zen-like process, and the significance of it all…
How did you get the idea to start these mandalas?
A year and a half ago I went trekking in Bhutan. One day, as I walked along in the Himalayan Mountains, I just couldn’t stop collecting little flowers and leaves. When I got to camp I had my pockets full. I started playing with the pieces, arranging them on the ground outside my tent. Initially I had planned a more geometric shape but the circular mandala just appeared. I ended up doing that each night after hiking and when I got back home a friend suggested I keep going—make it an ongoing project—and I have ever since. I make them wherever I go, and I especially like to make them when I travel to get a sense of the different natural components available in each different locale.
What is the meaning of a mandala?
In general, mandalas symbolize the universe or the cosmos in Buddhism and Hinduism, and are often made as spiritual offerings. Many mandalas, including Tibetan sand mandalas which are destroyed soon after many hours or even days of creating them, also symbolize the impermanent nature of life.
Have you always been drawn to them? If so, why?
Before you asked this question I would have answered no, not really, but thinking about it now I have always been drawn to the shape. Oddly enough the first tattoo I ever got when I was 20 was shaped exactly like a mandala. At the time, I called it a Hopi symbol of the sun but it could also be easily called a mandala. Also, my favorite doodles have always been the sun and daisy-shaped flowers, both of which are very similar to the shape of mandalas. I guess that arrangement of lines appeals to me and has for a very long time. As for why, my only guess is that I’ve always been a sun lover. I live for summer. I’m happiest on a sunny day.
What’s the most unusual materials you’ve ever used in a mandala?
I haven’t done anything too whacky. My first mandala with edible components was made with Concord grape bunches and apples all grown on our farm. Recently on a super cold windy day I “foraged” in my fridge for veggies. Another interesting one was made of huge pieces of seaweed—each piece was up to 6 feet long. That one was hard to photograph.
Which is your favorite mandala you’ve made and why?
That is a very hard question. I thought I had it narrowed down to two but then I realized, no, there are many that I really love. If I have to pick one it might be my feather and acorn mandala. I did that one at the beach by my house on my birthday and my two boys contributed a bit. It includes this Phragmites weed/grass that I’m having a love affair with, as well as feathers. And it has a beach-y, almost native American vibe to it which I just really love.
A few other faves include my fallen leaf mandala because I’m crazy about the yellow ferns and the wooden path I made it on, and the seaside mandala from Scotland because it combines beach and flora, including the awesome pink valerian flower that grew everywhere and I adored while visiting North Berwick.
How do you get them to stay in place?
Ha! I don’t. The vast majority of the mandalas I’ve done have been outside, and for the majority of those I have battled some type of natural element, be it wind, waves, bitter cold, setting sun, dogs or kids. Give me a warm windless early morning or late afternoon and the mandala juices start flowing.
At the same time, getting them to stay for much longer than it takes to make them is not my goal. For me, I enjoy the fact that I make them and then walk away. I enjoy the process of gathering the pieces and putting it together—that’s a zen-ish moment for me. But I also love to see the wind whip up or a wave crash down and take them: the impermanence of life!
I call my mandalas ‘nature mandalas’ and my intention is for all of them to be out of doors in nature. I especially like to do them next to paths or beaches where I know others will pass by and see them. Being in nature ensures they are truly impermanent. (I have cheated a few times and come inside when I just really had an urge to make one and the weather wouldn’t cooperate, but those never have quite the same feeling to me as the ones truly in nature.)
What is the meaning of your arrangements?
The meaning of my mandalas is very simple: a reminder to myself and anyone else who may see them to be present. Look what’s blooming. Appreciate what’s in season. Notice your surroundings. Enjoy this fleeting bit of art.
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