I was wandering around Instagram one afternoon when I came across the most beautiful flower creations I have ever laid eyes upon. Intrigued, I delightfully went through each photo in awe and wonder how on earth the creator, David Bookbinder, made these incredible flower mandalas, each with a deep inspiring meaning behind them. Little did I know there is a fascinating story behind David’s work and he graciously agreed to let me introduce his work on my blog. I am certain you will be as amazed, inspired and in love with David’s flower mandalas as I am.
Following is an introduction written by David about the inspiration behind his flower mandalas and his recently completed book, Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas. All Images and text Copyright David J. Bookbinder.
Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
– Carl Jung
Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas came about because my numbers were in alignment. When I began it, I’d just turned 60, was almost 20 years out from a life-altering event, and had been a psychotherapist for nearly 10 years. My intention was to distill into one volume what I’d gleaned from these experiences. As often happens with art, creating it brought about something more.
The path to the Flower Mandalas themselves goes back to 1993, when a series of medical errors nearly took my life. At the time I was an English grad student at the University at Albany. What happened in a hospital there, which included a near-death experience, divided my life into two parts: who I had been and who I was becoming. To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, it’s been a long, strange trip since then.
Ten years later, in 2003, I was still sorting out who that second David was. I was living in Gloucester, MA, and walked Good Harbor beach nearly every evening, usually at around sunset. It had been almost 25 years since I’d done any serious photography, but I found myself yearning to record the patterns of color and light I saw there, so I bought a digital camera and took it with me on my walks.
I found this round of picture-taking to be a much different experience than the one I’d had back in the ’70s, when I was shooting street scenes in Manhattan and Brooklyn in harsh, grainy black‑and‑white. Then, I’d felt like a thief, grabbing and hoarding moments of unsuspecting people’s lives. Now, I felt more like a painter, taking in and reflecting on the slowly shifting landscape of light. I started carrying a camera nearly everywhere I went.
Because the image quality of early digital cameras was not up to what I was used to seeing with 35mm film, I taught myself how to manipulate images on my computer, hoping to improve them. I soon realized that once a file was on my hard drive, I could do anything I wanted with it.
Experimentally, I used an image editing program to transform photos of the clouds I’d been shooting into mandala-like images. I enjoyed both the effect and the process and tried it on other images – rocks, wood, textures. Then, I wondered what would happen if I “mandalaized” something that was already mandala-like and tried the technique on a photo of a dandelion seedhead. That impulse led to my first Flower Mandala, which accompanies the essay “Acceptance.”
Each of the Flower Mandalas is derived from a flower snapshot I took as I walked through various neighborhoods, visited botanical gardens and flower shops, and spotted interesting flowers in the homes and gardens of people I knew. The process of going from flower photograph to finished mandala can take anywhere from a few hours in a single session to a sequence of multi-hour sessions spread out over two or three months. Working on the images at the pixel level feels like I’m reacquainting myself with the world I saw through magnifying glasses and microscopes as a boy, what William Blake called the “minute particulars.” At its best, the experience is a meditation.
I began making these mandalas at a time of personal turbulence. My choice of the hexagram as the underlying shape was initially subconscious, but I don’t believe it was accidental. Like the mandala form itself, the hexagram appears in the art of many cultures throughout world history. Composed of two overlapping triangles, it represents the reconciliation of opposites: male/female, fire/water, macrocosm/microcosm, as above / so below, God and man. Their combination symbolizes unity and harmony – qualities I needed then, and took wherever I could find them. That the hexagram is also called the Star of David was not lost on me.
Early in the process of creating the Flower Mandalas, I met with a painter who had been making mandalas for years. She suggested that each of my mandalas was trying to tell me something. “Listen to what they’re saying,” she advised. So I hung prints around my apartment and made them the digital wallpaper on my computer desktop.
My painter friend was right. I discovered that looking at these images completed a loop: The mandala-making process distilled a feeling just below my awareness into something more distinctly felt, and looking at the completed mandala brought that enhanced feeling back into me, purified and amplified. With each iteration of the creating/receiving cycle, I felt a little more whole. The Flower Mandalas were more than merely another way to tinker with images. They were part of a continuing reintegration process that helped remedy the shattering aspects of my brush with death and its consequences. Listening to what they were telling me helped put the pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together again, a process essential to my later becoming a psychotherapist.
A year or two later, I began to think about a weekly meditation book that matched Flower Mandalas with a concept and a relevant, meditative quotation. I briefly looked at preexisting symbolic significance for flowers, such as the Chinese and 19th century British and American languages of flowers, but I didn’t resonate with them, so I went with my own associations. The process of matching Flower Mandalas to concepts was subjective and intuitive. Sometimes a mandala led me to a matching concept, and sometimes a concept led me to a matching mandala.
The quotations came to me in a similarly subjective manner. Many of them were pivotal at some point in my life and helped to initiate a permanent change in perspective. Others I extracted from the writings of authors I’ve long admired. A few I discovered only after I started this book, the quotes coming to me in chance comments, something I happened to be reading, or Internet quotation sites.
Once I matched images and quotes, I realized that I, too, had something to say about these concepts. The essays in this book have been a way to discover what I feel and think. I began each with a brain dump quickly poured out onto a blank screen. Then, as I wrote and rewrote, the real knowing began, with each pass through the text homing in on what was there to express.
The essays have continued an integrating process that began in the first moments following my near-death experience. “Acceptance” is chapter one because acceptance initiated a transformational shift – accepting that the path I’d been on as an English graduate student and aspiring fiction writer, although I’d been on it a very long time, was no longer my path, and that I had to embrace the one I was on now. The remaining topics are in alphabetical order, the order in which I wrote them.
The structure of this book reflects how I experience internal change. Most of my major shifts in perspective began in a single moment, but it has taken a lifetime to turn insights into lasting alterations of thought, feeling, and action. The instantaneity of clicking a shutter, represented here by the Flower Mandala images, reflects the felt experience of insight. The linear flow of reading and writing, represented here by the quotations and essays, reflects the necessity of walking through time in order to fully enact new ways of being.
Two years after my near-death experience, I was in a support group for people who had survived near-death. I was still finding my way back into this world, and although I believed I had returned from the edge with something of value, I was also profoundly disoriented. Responding to my confusion, one of the group members made a wide half-circle gesture with his arm and said, “David, I think you’re one of those people who has to take the long way ’round.” He paused, his arm fully outstretched. “But when you get there,” he said, closing his hand into a fist and pulling it to his chest, “it’ll be important.”
What I do now as an artist, writer, and therapist does feel important. Through these skills, I hope to render a boon that, had I not taken that long, strange trip, I would never have been able to deliver.
Carl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychology, believed mandalas are a pathway to the essential Self and used them with his patients and in his own personal transformation. In this book, I hope to carry on Jung’s tradition of using art as a means for healing and personal growth – the primary purposes it has served for me.
-David J. Bookbinder
David J. Bookbinder is a psychotherapist, writer, and photographer. His award-winning Flower Mandala images were inspired by the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe and the flower photographs of Harold Feinstein, with whom he briefly studied. David has been taking photographs since he was six. He came to psychotherapy much later, after a transformative experience that shifted him toward art and healing. He holds a master’s degree in both Counseling Psychology and Creative Writing and is a regular presenter at the Creativity & Madness conference in Santa Fe, NM. He is also the author of a book on American folk music and three computer books.
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If you are interested in ordering David’s book, Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas, please contact David directly at email@example.com. He is currently working on getting it published but has some print-on-demand copies available. You can view a preview here.