Mandala as Container – The Present

Nesting © 2016 Bo Mackison

Nesting © 2016 Bo Mackison

I went on a solo writing retreat at the Christine Center in the Northwoods of Wisconsin for a few days. While there, I spent much time not writing, but instead creating personal art. I worked in the studio in conversation with other women led by Gabriel Uhlein OFM, artist and workshop facilitator. I’d intended to use my time in the mandala studio as a break from writing. Instead, allowing for and following the creative call, I spent many hours each day creating mandalas.

Following Gabriel’s suggestion, I spent studio time before beginning, naming an intention. And the intention that showed up? “Creative Path”

I did a series of 5 mandalas allowing for “whatever” to come forth. When I returned home, I paired the mandalas with Desert Wisdom Cards, then reflected on a different question for five consecutive days. I followed this with a freewrite keeping the intention “creative path” in mind.

Hope. A Desert Wisdom Card © 2014 Bo Mackison

Hope. A Desert Wisdom Card © 2014 Bo Mackison




Three eggs – physical, mental, spiritual.

Incubation. Waiting for birth, waiting to emerge, the wait. Snake protects, she guards in this time of transition.

Transition, threshold of staying safe in the nest, safe in the dark and protected, safe and hidden, and waiting, there is waiting. Now, it is time, the breaking open, come into the light, those first steps, that first vision.

Call upon protection, call upon the strength that is within. Hold onto hope. Yes this is a time of breaking open, a breaking, it feels too open, too out in the brightness. How can I see in this too bright place? My inclination is to hide, but instead I can unfurl a bit at a time. There is no need to break apart while breaking open. Open just a bit. Hold on. There is movement and strength in the tenderest of openings.

Transformation is damn scary work. Hold on. Ease in. Be brave.


Coming in the next post, Day 2. The Past and What Needs to Be Released

Working with the Desert Wisdom Cards – Past, Present, and Outcome

Desert Wisdom Cards - Three Card Spread

Desert Wisdom Cards – Three Card Spread © 2014 Bo Mackison

“One has to live in the present. Whatever is past is gone beyond recall; whatever is future remains beyond one’s reach, until it becomes present. Remembering the past and giving thought to the future are important, but only to the extent that they help one deal with the present.” ~ S.N. Goenka

Although I choose a Desert Wisdom Card each morning for personal reflection, there are days when I want to explore a specific aspect of my day in more depth.

Some days I pull three cards as I am reflecting on a question. This helps me address a question or situation from several directions.

The left card represents the past. Perhaps it is a past experience that has an impact on my present situation or a past relationship that influences my current situation. Perhaps it is a lesson learned, or not learned, that provides information.

The center card represents the present. How do I view my current situation? What influences are at work, both external and internal?

The right card represents the future or the outcome. Perhaps this is a long term or short term goal. Perhaps I decide on steps to take or a decision to make for an immediate outcome.

The cards are guides and encourage me to be open minded and explore lots of alternatives and connections.

I offer a personal example:

Situation and Question:

I have been asked to do an audio interview. While I’ve done written interviews, I’m hesitant to do an audio one. I deeply respect the woman who has requested the interview, I would love to do it on so many levels, for many reasons. Yet, I hold back and delay in setting an interview time.

I want to look at the situation in a new way, so I pull three cards. Courage. Vulnerability. Hope.

Courage Card:

  • The Courage card is a photograph of the remnants of an abandoned 1800s rancher’s home.
  • It is deep within the wilderness of Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, in the most southern reaches of the United States.
  • Cactus and desert shrub has taken over, as seen from the window view.
  • All that remains are the brick walls and wooden frames of this two room house.

Courage in the Past:

  • I connect with the words courage, wilderness, in the desert, being on my own.
  • I remember a situation, not so long ago, when I was on a hike in the high desert wilderness and lost the trail while scrambling on the rocky trail.
  • Late afternoon. I circled the trail several times before realizing that, unless another person appeared, I’d have to spend the night alone and off trail.
  • I recall feeling an odd mixture of fear and courage, knowing I was prepared enough to spend a night in the wilderness.
  • I remember thinking how dark the skies would be, how beautiful the night sky.
  • I realized I was facing a somewhat scary experience and I was capable of  managing.

Vulnerability Card:

  • The Vulnerability card is a photo of a mature prickly pear cactus. Two of its pads have a wounded surface exposed.
  • The plant exuded a protective fluid to cover the wound. It protects and continues to grow. I can allow myself be vulnerable and be OK.
  • Even though a part of the cactus is vulnerable, the remaining plant is vibrant and healthy.

Vulnerability in the Present:

  • I connect with the words “vulnerable,” “feeling exposed” AND “healing self,” “vibrant and healthy.”
  • When I think about doing an audio interview, I feel nervous (exposed) imagining this new experience, but I know I would be doing an interview with a kind and welcoming woman.
  • Though I may feel vulnerable, that is OK. I can feel vulnerable AND feel vibrant and ready to show up.

Hope Card:

  • The Hope card is a photo of a door, its threshold, and an interior stairway at a southern Arizona mission ruins. (from Tumacacori Mission, a protected site, maintained as ruins, and part of the National Park System.)
  • Though I envision myself standing in the shadows, I can look through the portal and see the steps bathed in light.
  • The stairs are stone and in good repair. I know I can climb them as I walk forward. I will have a new perspective from the top of the stairway.
  • In climbing the stairs (taking on the challenge), I come to a place of warmth and light.

Hope as the Outcome:

  • I connect with the words “moving from the shadows into the light,” “the obstacle before me is not dangerous, it is in good repair, I am in good hands.”
  • When I reach the top of the stairs (do the interview) I will be in a place that feels warm and light.

In Summary:

  • I know that I have been in places of fear (lost off trail in the wilderness) AND I have felt courage (I am prepared enough to spend the night alone) and even anticipation and joy (what a show I will see — the dark skies alight with stars).
  • “How lovely are these cards!” I think as I consider the interview.
  • I feel like I can manage this “challenge” an I will enter “a place of warmth and light,” in other words, I can do the interview and do a good job.
  • It will be challenging AND satisfying.


The third series of Desert Wisdom Cards are now available. Two of the above cards — vulnerability and hope — are in the new series. For more information, here is my invitation to you to explore and be inspired by these Wisdom Cards.