For nearly eight years, from 1993-2001, I studied mandala drawing with the late Judith Cornell, an artist and teacher of great inspiration and spiritual power. For Judith, her search for the Divine was the center point of her life and she was completely committed to it. She taught weekend classes and also week long residential workshops for many years at New Age centers such as Omega, Esalen, Mt. Madonna, and the Angela Center. In her final years, she took her work into hospitals, where she worked with cancer patients and others with terminal illnesses. One of her last projects, which required a year of traveling in India, was a biography she wrote about the "Hugging Saint," Amma (Amritanandamayi Ma). Toward the end of her life, Judith converted to Hinduism in a ceremony in Hawaii and took a new name: Rajita Sivenanda. I am not certain but believe this might be translated as "Servant of Eternal Light (God)."
To honor Rajita and all that she taught me, much of which escapes language, I decided to post some of the mandalas I drew in her classes, which were oases of peace, divine light, and palpable Spirit.
Rajita Sivenanda: May 8, 1941--May 18, 2010
Judith perfected a method using black paper as a base to supply the dark values, a white pencil underpainting to supply the light values, and a second layer of color to finish. This made it possible for beginners to achieve a wonderful "success" in their first class with her. Each drawing period was preceded by a short period of meditation. We were then told to draw the image that arose from within. This was my first experience of drawing the Light Within.
These mandalas were drawn in a notebook that measures 10" x 10".
In her residential workshops, we would come in early in the morning, and sit in a circle on the floor. In the center of the circle was an impromptu "altar" on which we placed religious objects and photos of saints and leaders from all religions. Often there were flowers and water offerings. Then Rajita would lead us in a 20 minute meditation, which we would end by chanting "OM." Then we would go have breakfast. It was such a beautiful way to begin a day!
Sometimes we worked all day on a mandala into we had put much thought and care. Judith would then build a fire and we would burn them ceremonially. These were lessons in non-attachment (and in some cases, in how attachment causes suffering!)
The spiritual atmosphere in the room was gentle and allowing. The entire process was one of relaxing and receiving an inner image.
Once I received the image of a beautiful Indian goddess figure. I could not draw the figure so I drew her jewels in the mandala above.
Then I drew the wreath I wished to lay at the feet of my most beloved saint, Anandamayi Ma.
In one class she had us meditate on a person in the class whose name we drew out of a hat and then draw a mandala for them. When we exchanged them at the end of the day, the response to the images was amazing as each person saw something of themselves, their life, or their health that they had not seen before and felt was accurate.
Over the years, the mandalas I drew slowly changed and became more expressive of my inner life. This one wanted to grow off the page!
I was doing a lot of weaving at the time and tried to integrate "woven" iconography into my mandalas.
This was my first "Tree of Life" mandala. This sacred image of the Axis Mundi is one that I have worked with in many different ways at various times.
Inspiration comes from many sources. In the mandala above I was thinking of the Edelweiss flower.
Over the years, it seemed as though the energy in the mandalas grew stronger and more dynamic. This taught me that if I stayed with a "thread" and followed it, it would change and transform itself many times. Note the Celtic chain motif in the mandala below--I lost some brain cells over that one.
During a period when I passed through a "Dark Night of the Soul", drawing my mandalas helped me "hold to the center" and steer my little boat through choppy waters. As a spiritual practice, it is very steadying.
These two mandalas below are variations on the sacred symbol of the Sri Yantra, the union of the masculine and feminine energies:
My last two mandalas on black paper had the addition of glitter glue, which didn't seem to work as well as I thought it would, so I began to look for ways to create luminous mandalas on white paper.
Rajita created an amazingly beautiful book which was recently re-issued in a tenth anniversary edition: Mandala. For this and so much more, I express my gratitude and appreciation. Rajita Sivenendra was the sort of person one meets only once in a lifetime.
Dear Judith, dear Rajita, wherever you are now residing, please know that we remember you and that we cherish what you taught us.