As much as we could—and albeit, it’s not much in a Japanese shopping mall—our experiment in engaging with holiday shoppers at MUJI this past weekend offered subtle notes: nothing is permanent, slow down, listen to nature, be closer to nature, play with nature, you don’t need to buy anything to do this.
We began by building a small centerpiece for the mandala, and then setting a framework for a larger shape to take form. As people came by, we invited them to participate by placing leaves within the mandala, following three simple rules:
- Slow down and consider the beauty of each leaf, working only with one at a time
- Feel where to put your leaves, rather than thinking about it
- Instead of passing judgment, simply be aware and accept whatever happens in the mandala
As Usual, a Child Shows the Way
Bustle of shopping carts around, people from ages 3 — 70 stopped to pick up single leaves and as they did, their pace noticeably slowed.
The most beautiful moment must have been witnessing a little girl who, for at least half a minute stood there calmly, looking at her leaf so carefully, feeling its shape and texture, peering down at the other leaves in their places, then back at her leaf. Finally, she walked to the edge of the growing nature mandala, bent down slowly, and placed her leaf. As she stood up, her face was determined, almost meditative, as if she had just made an offering. She continued to work in this way until her parents—who were also busy placing leaves, yet not quite as elegantly as their child—coerced her away.
Speaking of parents, a good handful of them were more focused and involved than their children.
Growing Your Seed
I don’t know whether or not these acts ever make a big immediate difference in people’s mindsets or habits, but frankly I don’t think they need to. To measure such things would be a disservice to what this kind of community engagement is about. This work focuses on tending to the seeds inside of each of us, giving them a bit of water and light. You can not easily measure the effect of such exercises. As such, these little moments of beauty are often ignored or brushed aside by most others in the environmental movement.
However, when I see parents, kids, and the elderly, stopping in their tracks to consider the beauty of a leaf, I already have all the information I need to know that something good and useful is happening. I have enough information in front of me in such moments, to know that, whether they sprout today or not, the seeds which our society needs to grow within ourselves are being tended to for a moment.
One of our chief needs as a society is to increase the occurrence of such moments.
Each of us can do this quite easily. We each help to grow these seeds, in ourselves, in our neighborhoods, in our cities. A nature mandala in particular is not a difficult thing to do. You could make one today with your children, or with friends. You could do it in a park, on a sidewalk, or in your backyard. All you need are leaves (or any natural materials), a mind that is ready to cultivate its relationship to nature, and a centerpoint from which to start working.
While you’re doing it, you might just feel that seed within yourself growing, sprouting, flowering, too.