I watched an amazing sand mandala video yesterday (sorry, I can't find it to share with you). As is customary, after the monks dedicate countless painstaking hours designing this gorgeous mandala, they wipe it away with brushes. This is a lesson in both impermanence and letting go. Since the mandala is made of sand, it won't last. That's its purpose, to illustrate how ephemeral the world is. Nothing lasts.
Even if the monks had wanted to preserve the mandala, they couldn't. Today, people have crafted all sorts of creative ways to preserve the moment. We take pictures, then share them with our friends digitally and in person, post them on Facebook and Twitter. Yet the moment is gone. It vanished right after it was over.
Which leads me to the second function of the sand mandala--letting go. These monks have spent hours bent over this mandala, pouring their attentive hearts into it, only to sweep it away when they are done.
Why? we want to ask. Why would someone spend all of that time only to sweep it away?
Why do we anything then? Buildings, books, poems, families, empires, all of these are impermanent, subject to dissolution. The sand mandala is simply a more visceral example of this same principle.
We cannot hold onto or preserve any moment. Sweeping the sand away is a gesture and exercise in letting go of our need to hold on and preserve. Wisdom is knowing when to hold on--fight perhaps for those we love or ideals that we believe in--and when to let go.
My family and I went to the beach yesterday, too, where the ocean taught me a lot about sand and impermanence. My children and I dug holes near the shoreline only to watch them get washed away moments later. It was fun. It can be, if we are playful with the tides of change.