Always a Work in Progress by Cathy Sandeen

One of the best things about working at a university is the opportunity to participate in a variety of lectures, exhibits and activities that occur on campus.  I recently viewed The Mandala Project, on view at the Hammer Museum, UCLA’s contemporary art museum, October 26 – November 7. The project consisted of a group of Tibetan monks who created a highly intricate 4 x 4 foot pattern out of colored sand over a period of two weeks.  As the program brochure states, “Within Tibetan tradition, mandalas are created as tools for visualization and meditation . . . they are physical representations of our collective interdependence, symbols of the interconnection of all things and all beings. “ 

Here’s the incredible part of the project, once completed, the sand mandala was dismantled or “swept away” and the sand was cast out to sea in a special ceremony.

Photos courtesy of the American Foundation for Tibetan Cultural Preservation.


The mandala itself was intricately beautiful. Moreover, the calm and peaceful focus, concentration, and talent of the artists (while surrounded by many mingling and photo-taking observers) were amazing to see. But what was even more impressive was the artists’ willingness to spend hours creating a work of art that was never meant to be permanent. In this case, the process of creation, of becoming, was the whole point of the project.  

Walking back to my office from the museum, I realized the mandala could be seen as a metaphor for our own becoming, our own learning.

Like creating a mandala, learning, changing, and growing are often difficult and painstaking processes. The result may be something that is uniquely beautiful, but it is never completely “finished.” We are always reinventing ourselves in some way. Like the sand mandala I saw being created, the most important part is the process, not the product fixed at a single point in time.

And so I circle back to where I started this post. Universities are indeed wonderful places where one can learn something new, see something different, or experience another culture. They are also great places for us all, throughout our lifetimes, to continue our own process of becoming.



One response to “Always a Work in Progress by Cathy Sandeen

  1. I agree with your comments about the “process” being as important, or more than the “end product.” In fact, I have spent time mentoring high school seniors, college and graduate business students about education and career opportunities. One of the most important skills for the future is to be “fungible.” Thus, being able to change, replace parts or the whole and see different ways to accomplish tasks is critical. The pace of innovation, particularly with the web and our global community, gives new meaning to the phrase that “the only constant is change.” Those who stay open and embrace continuous learning will thrive versus just survive in the future.

    Anne Miller

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