Mindfulness: Ephemeral Art
by Susan Keijo Sensemann

 photograph by Susan Sensemann

photograph by Susan Sensemann

I’ve made art everyday for fifty years. The accumulated racks of paintings, flat-file drawers full of drawings and stacks of photomontages weigh me down now. I continue to make ‘my art,’ but I have also begun to construct ephemeral art that requires no storage at all - mandalas of fallen leaves, flower petals, sticks, shells, stones and recently, colored sand and salt. My meditative art practice begins as I gather flowers, separate the petals from the stems, pick up fallen leaves, and sort everything by shape and color. I dye sand, salt, and lavender seeds with vegetable pigment for mandalas that are particularly intricate.

I place one flower in the center of the given space - yard, floor, table - and make concentric circles until I have used up my materials. Two feet to twelve feet in diameter for various kinds of celebrations and rites of passage: an eightieth birthday, a wedding, a passing, a remembrance. After I sit with the completed piece, I sweep up the component parts, put them in a woven bag, and release it all into a nearby river, ocean, lake or pond. 

I document the process and am surprised by what my camera catches: red rose petals floated into the shape of a heart the day my dog died and lavender seeds seemed to hug a reflection of a tree as I remembered the death of a friend’s granddaughter. In my tribute to Western medicine for saving a friend’s life, the wind carried one zinnia blossom out into a small lake and the flower’s soft landing created concentric ripples well off the shore. The petals and leaves eventually float with the current, but sometimes they cling to the bank or shoreline before they sail away. I sit on the water’s edge and witness transformation and ephemerality as what was tangible joins a greater ebb and flow until it disappears entirely. As an artist making pieces that are impermanent, I surrender my control and will to what is unpredictable, spacious and magical. I am always reminded to go with the Flow.

Today I gathered autumn leaves for a mandala to mark the one-year anniversary of the passing of Leonard Jikan Cohen - poet, songwriter, performer, scholar, prophet and ordained Buddhist monk. I began making my tribute mandala with a Buddhist verse that calls for benefaction and liberation of all other beings.  Then, I cranked up Jikan’s music and danced as I arranged the leaves to “Traveling Light,” “True Love Leaves No Traces” “Dance Me To The End of Love,” and “Hallelujah.”  Leonard wrote that everything is in flux. Nothing is permanent. Thank you, Jikan.

True Love Leaves No Traces, 1977, Leonard Cohen:

As the mist leaves no scar /  On the dark green hill /  So my body leaves no scar /  On you and never will /  Through windows in the dark /  The children come, the children go /  Like arrows with no targets  / Like shackles made of snow .  As a falling leaf may rest /  A moment on the air /  So your head upon my breast / So my hand upon your hair.  And many nights endure /  Without a moon or star /  So we will endure  / When one is gone and far .  True love leaves no traces /  If you and I are one /  It's lost in our embraces  / Like stars against the sun.

 

 

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302