Carrying Sand to the River
The mandala is a structural organising phenomenon.
It is ever-present. It is ever originating.
It supersedes ‘beginning’ and ‘end’.
It is a living phenomenon of continuous renewal.
The meaning crisis we are experiencing today is a crisis of the world and mankind – a pivotal juncture of decisive finality for life on earth. This crisis of our time and our world is in a process of complete transformation and appears headed towards a global catastrophe.
We must face the fact that the possibility of this event hinges upon our ability to take responsibility. The task of the present text is to point out and give an account of the emerging integral mandala as a new possibility of self-renewal and self-transformation in this impending crisis. If we cannot successfully survive this crisis by our own insight and personal and cultural transformation – the crises will outlive us.
My direct experience of the living mandala over the last 36 years, has morphed and mutated through the structures of consciousness – a process of elucidation of all the different ‘selves’ in the magical, mythical, mental world-spaces “to open up” the virtue of the imaginal through the integral meta-language of art, poetry, dreams, musings, and memories.
It became a living, self-organising force of a universe in motion.
The remarks above are prefatory to this exposition. It is addressed to everybody and those who create knowledge and particularly to those who live knowledge. This exposition is neither a monologue nor a postulate. It is a dialogue through careful reading and deep participation with others over 36 years – hence the extensive quotations. It is an attempt towards a meta-psychology, an inter-disciplinary approach to explore the complexity of ensoulment and transcendence through serious play in the dynamic round of doing, being and becoming.
We are every age the earth has ever been. We are every age we had been. We are the co-evolving scaffolding of ordering and re-ordering knowing and being in the full circle of expanding and contracting consciousness. We are the irrepressible aliveness that consecrates the present as indivisible, in transparent spirals of a multi-armed reality. We are the ontology of development, ensoulment and transcendence, the forever self-organising mandala phenomenon in all living things.
Dr Louisa Punt-Fouche (M.A,D.Phil, Clin Psych), 2021.
As always when it comes to her singular creative work, it is a great privilege to write a foreword to a book by Dr Louisa Punt-Fouché, this time one with the intriguing title of Carrying Sand to the River. What this title means only becomes apparent gradually, as one traverses this text with its intellectual-mystical aura, emanating from the way Punt-Fouché employs language – or perhaps from the way that language offers itself as a home for her thoughts. The book seems to have been born from the writer’s keen awareness that the present is fraught – troubled as perhaps no time has been before in human history. But while, on the one hand, there are the events that unmistakeably reflect this situation, she guides readers through a process of increasing awareness of the mandala as an innate ordering principle that is forever present. The mandala is not an abstract concept, but a palpable embodied realisation of continuous renewal – a process of ‘opening up’ the different ‘selves’ in the magical, mythical and mental world-spaces to speak their truth through the integral language of art, poetry, dreams, musings and memories.
Early in the book one is given an intimation of these two interrelated phenomena, where she writes (p. 16): "The world has become fractured and has lost its centre. The gates and walls of the inner palace of the mandala have been plundered. A multitude of contending versions of reality clamour on our screens in the cyber world. It is an age unfathomable to us; - the divided human being in the centre of a meaning crisis. This feeling is enhanced by the current threat of the Coronavirus, the unitive vision of the Mandala, completely polarised."
The Mandala, of course, is also the unifying theme threading through the book. Putting it another way, having exposed what might be called the present ‘crisis of meaning’, exacerbated by the coronavirus ‘pandemic’, the book is a very poetic and variegated elaboration on the Mandala as a blueprint of continuous personal and cultural transformation.
As Louisa informs her readers, she has personal experience of the emergence of the mandala in poetry, art, and dreams, and on this basis, she has set herself the task of recreating the “root-image” of the mandala to demonstrate how, as a universal, organic “language” it has the potential to bring unity to the scattered fragments in a world that has been severely damaged by recent events. At the same time, she offers the reassurance that, considering the historical evidence that human freedom has been threatened before, and that the human spirit has always succeeded in overcoming such threats, the current menace to our freedom is nothing new and we can defeat it once again. Hope-inspiring words!
But it is not only a matter of words; beyond her written words, and through her judicious employment of language, she manages to transcend her diction by allowing readers to identify with the experiences evoked by them. Who, for example, can fail to recognise the situation she describes wherewith the ever-“narrowing” of our world (presumably because of so-called ‘lockdowns’ and everything accompanying them) – we wake up at night, “frozen in fear” (p. 17), and who is there among us who does not wish for a centring ‘anchor’ of sorts in our lives in these turbulent times? This ‘anchor’, she avers, is an understanding of the phenomenon of the mandala as an ever-present ordering principle that constantly orders and re-organises life in its myriad manifestations.
What the mandala offers one as a stabilising, sheltering and revitalising source, if not force, in one’s life is worked out in this singular book.
On page 266 she tells us: "The ritual journey toward wholeness starts in the body, as the house or dwelling we inhabit. Our bodies are mandalas. The human body is built of cells, and those, in turn, are built of atoms (all mandalas). With outstretched arms and legs, we form a five-pointed star, and each star is a mandala. As a star-mandala, each of us has a clearly recognisable centre, and we are constantly in search of it."
Although it may seem strange at first to someone not familiar with the concept of a mandala, as soon as one reflects on Louisa’s elaboration on the ubiquity of the mandala in our lives, it is likely that recognition will dawn on such a person. For instance, the writer’s claim that everyone needs a ‘sacred space’ into which one can withdraw repeatedly, while perhaps puzzling at first, makes sense when one reflects on it – perhaps privatively, in the sense of not having such a space, but on reflection realising that you do need it. People who are in the unfortunate position of living under conditions where they have little privacy, let alone the conditions, such as silence, conducive to entering one’s ‘sacred space’, would recognise what immense value it would have for them to discover and explore this space, which is, in principle, accessible to everyone.
Then there is the obstacle posed by the incessant informational ‘noise’ that obtrudes itself on us everywhere today – especially via smartphones. We are living in times of information overload, and to find time for entering our own ‘sacred space’ may at times seem impossible. But it is not impossible, as Louisa’s example demonstrates; it may take some willpower, but it can be done. For myself, one of the privileged times to gain access to my inner mandala is when I am on a mountain path (which is a daily ritual), usually alone, but sometimes accompanied by my life partner. The tranquil surroundings are conducive to centring oneself or contemplatively orienting one’s consciousness anew according to one’s unique insertedness in surrounding nature as a distinctive ‘self’, with palpable therapeutic consequences. Hence, when reading Louisa’s book on the mandala, her evocative, reassuring words resonate with my own experiences. The writer’s emphasis on the importance of orientation (sometimes in elaborate ritualistic ways) is a powerful reminder of the ineradicable human need for orientation, which, etymologically, means ‘finding one’s place in relation to the East’, in other words, the primordial source of light (of the rising sun).
The writer’s elaboration on different kinds of rituals involving the inauguration of sacred spaces by means of geometrical drawings around footprints, for instance, or children discovering the fascination of circular forms – or even the everyday ‘ritual of purification’ when one cleans one’s body or one’s home – is bound to evoke memories of commensurate activities on the part of readers, usually bound up with sensory experiences that are inseparable from our bodies. In this respect, Dr Punt-Fouché’s book is like a travel guide into our own pasts, presents and anticipated futures.
The timeliness of the writer’s reflections on the mandala is underscored by her awareness of the spectre of nihilism, that is, the absence of meaning and value – she writes poetically about walking “In an empty forlorn wilted world” – particularly under current circumstances when suffocating ‘lockdowns’ and everything they entail, may appear to empty one’s life of its customary meaning. In other words, her existential diagnosis is spot-on – never has the human world displayed the features of nihilistic fog to the same extent as today, where nothing seems to matter anymore. Her recourse to the mandala as the quintessential source of edification and restoration of meaning in the midst of the present manifestation of life’s unpredictable vicissitudes must therefore be seen against the backdrop of her keen awareness of what Nietzsche called the “uncanniest of all guests” (nihilism).
The guidance that Louisa offers regarding the activation of mandala-energy that is potentially available to us, is crucial in so far as it is a way to combat nihilism – her observations on ‘centring’ being a “con-centration”, or “making con-centric” of the energy that flows through all people (p. 269), show one that focused activities such as painting, walking deliberately through a labyrinth, or even “mindful breathing” (concentrating on how to breathe rhythmically) can achieve such centring, with its concomitant heightening of one’s receptivity. The therapeutic effects of this process are far-reaching in so far as it enables one to rise above quotidian concerns by drawing on one’s mental and spiritual energy even as it replenishes it.
This should come as no surprise to us; the fact that – as Louisa informs her readers – mandalas have always existed in all cultures, throughout history, in the guise of stone formations, striking configurations of trees, or caves used as gathering places, is testimony not only to the primordial need on the part of human beings for them but to the universal awareness that such spatial structures transcend history. These spatial-material concretisations correlate with our human capacity for embarking on journeys of renewed self-discovery – something conceptualised by psychoanalytical thinker, Julia Kristeva, as the act of ‘revolt’ – more appropriately, ‘re-volt’ – not in the sense of political rebellion, but in a sense derived from its etymological meaning, which means a ‘turning again’, or a ‘re-turn to oneself’.
What does the book’s title – Carrying Sand to the River – mean? And how does it connect with the meaning of the mandala as a centring phenomenon? And later as a potential vehicle of individuation/realisation through which a ‘new’ structure of consciousness may unfold?
On p. 29 the writer dwells on what is known as the “Kalachakra sand mandala”, which involves the ritualistic offering of the sand from a destroyed sand mandala to the sea at its edge by monks, symbolising the flux of the world, and in this way instantiating the “wheel of time”. Significantly, the sand at the sea’s edge what is known as a ‘transitional phenomenon’, in this case – as the writer points out – a “transitional space”, which here functions as a powerful metaphorical reminder of interconnections between different spaces. For the writer, the sand that she ‘carries to the river’ constitutes such a ‘transitional space’, in which the seeds of the future – a better future than the present, technocratically degraded time – can grow.
This is highly significant. In the work of psychoanalytical theorist, Donald Winnicott, ‘transitional objects’ (or ‘transitional phenomena’) are indispensable in the development of children, to mediate between inner and outer reality. The blanket always reassuringly held to his ear by the ‘Peanuts’ cartoon character, Linus, is such a transitional object, but it can also be something like a tune that a child hums to herself when she goes to sleep. The point is that these objects comprise a psychic/ relational space within which the child feels sheltered and safe, and they form the basis for an adult’s psychic space where they find succour. They can therefore be compared to the psychic function fulfilled by mandalas; in fact, the transitional objects Winnicott wrote about are mandalas. It is not surprising to encounter this rapprochement with Winnicott’s thinking in Dr Punt-Fouché’s work; after all, she is also a trained psychoanalytical theorist and practising therapist.
It is impossible to cover all the interrelated thoughts, ideas, and word-images in this wonderful, richly variegated book. Apart from these, there are the artistic images and poetry created by the writer, too – which enhance its value immeasurably. I read this book as a guide to discovering anew – in Kristeva’s sense of ‘re-volt’, re-turning to oneself – what resources there are in the world around us and (importantly) within ourselves, to give us courage and strength to confront the many threats to our humanity that surround us in the world today. One should never forget Dr Punt-Fouché’s counsel (p. 316), that “change starts with the individual”. To be that change, it is imperative that one remembers what she has taught us about “carrying sand to the river”.
Professor Bert Olivier (D.Phil), 2021.
Working with Dr Louisa Punt-Fouché has been an honour and a privilege. What began as an editing assignment, became a journey of immense growth, where I gained from the knowledge and wisdom of a woman whom I soon recognised as my friend, my mentor, and my sage.
Louisa explains that “the mandala emerged as a living, cultural and psychological phenomenon, in the world of civilisational catastrophe in the twenty-first century”.
Jules Evans discusses the concept of “street philosophy” with John Vervaeke on YouTube. He states that philosophical ideas may be translated as “a way of life”, in which integration of theory and practice, could manifest as relevant and significant to real life. I realised that Louisa is a street philosopher in the sense that she combined the different voices of the teacher, therapist, poet, and artist in the text as she explored the mandala as an organising principle of the psyche. I progressively became aware of how these different voices combined/integrated into an evolving text of the emergence of the living mandala in action in a world in crisis.
Through editing the text, I became involved in a living process in which the mandala, as an organising principle transformed and became present through all the structures of consciousness. I experienced this process as informative, therapeutic, and a deeply accessible manifestation of the possibility of change/transformation in an ailing world.
Yolande Singery, Editor, 2021
The year of 20/21 is the time of masks, lockdowns, isolation, desperation, and fear. Belief systems have been systematically attacked, alienated, and destroyed. These influences have led to a loss of individuality and is destroying humanity. When humanity is diminished and a higher good of any kind disappears, we are at the door of nihilism. To have this book published in 2021 is a beacon of hope.
The writer reaffirms our quest for individualism. She eloquently shows a path to personal development, the limitless ability of every human to be better, to grow and for the world and society to keep on evolving.
The answer to the degradation of humanity and society is not to fall back on old patterns. Mankind has always progressed to better understanding through the emergence of new ideas and a better understanding of who we are through advances in philosophy. The answers to eternal questions of who we are and why are we here have developed since Socrates and Plato. This book about the living mandala as a self-organising principle is another step on this path and is especially relevant for 2021.
Dr Ian Punt, (MB ChB, M Med Chir) 2021
Louisa Punt-Fouche, Carrying sand to the river, philosophy, mandalas, lockdown, individualism, emergence, transformation, meaning crisis,