An Interview with Janice Loreta (part 2)
By Loretta Morra
Author's Note: The complete interview with Janice Loreta was recorded over a 3 day period during the late summer of 2005. The excerpt that follows (part 2 of 3) describes her experiences with mandalas, Sacred Geometry, and journal writing. Janice is one of Americas most empowering, inspiring, and creative artists and healers
Loretta Morra: Good morning Janice. We spoke yesterday about your formative years. Today I would like to explore a few topics more current; namely mandalas, energy healing, shamanic work, herbs, that sort of thing. There is so much we have to talk about.
Janice Loreta: Of course, Loretta. Where would you like to begin?
LM: Let's begin with mandalas. You are often called a mandala artist
JL: Among other things
LM: Help me to understand the word "mandala." I'm aware that it involves a circle and has spiritual significance. Could I have your definition?
JL: Great question to begin with Loretta. Mandala, the word, comes from Sanskrit meaning circle. Within any circle there is a center point. These forms, the circle and a center, are universal. Not only are they evident in our physical world, but they are also utilized around the globe in religious and secular cultures.
LM: Forgive me Janice, but I really do not understand the significance. I mean it's a circle, it's a center. Is it mathematics or religion?
JL: Oh, it's definitely mathematical, but I'm not the person to ask about that (laughs). All geometric shapes can be created using only circles and center points. The circle is THE primal shape, no beginning and no end, just unity and wholeness. I understand mandalas basically as a model, a symbol of the universe; both large and small. For instance, nature is filled with mandalas. Starfish, spider webs, blood cells, atoms, eyeballs, roses, snowflakes, and even hurricanes are all mandalas. It is the pattern of our universe, it is literally the universe.
LM: How so?
JL: The Milky Way, the planets revolving around our central sun, the rings of Saturn
all demonstrate on a grander scale magnificent mandalas. The universe is a spiral really energy expanding outward and inward. Spiral energy creates the circle.
LM: I understand the pattern now, yet how did mandalas become so spiritual and religious?
JL: I'm not sure really. I've come to mandala through a more intuitive way than a scientific or mathematical path. I believe early women and men intuitively realized the circle and its power.
LM: Do you mean the first men and women on this planet?
JL: Yes I do. They instinctively gathered in a circle around a central fire. They witnessed the cycles of the earth; sun up and sun down, the seasons, the moving stars. The earliest cave drawings often represent spirals and circles as an expression, defining their lives and environment.
LM: It is definitely a primal symbol, but how was it transformed into a religious or spiritual symbol?
JL: Allow me to expand on this primal symbol if you don't mind. The circle is a geometric shape intrinsic to our understanding of the world. We all respond to geometry whether we realize it or not. I have had a strong resistance to the word geometry, it invoked high school-late night studying of theorems, which was not pleasant. So my inclination was to dismiss any terminology that was even remotely mathematical. I finally got it while working with Charles Gilchrist at Ennis Court. (See our links page: www.CharlesGilchrist.com - Ennis Court Experiment). He has developed this process of working with Alzheimers patients suffering with various levels of cognitive disability. He begins with a basic geometric shape on watercolor paper. He hands them a paint brush, water and paint and allows them to respond to the shapes, with his gentle encouragement and guidance.
LM: Really? These people can paint?
JL: They not only paint, Loretta, they focus, create and become absorbed in the process. The results are amazing, beautiful mandalas created by people in the depths of this horrible mental disease.
LM: What does geometry and the mandala have to do with this?
JL: These beautiful people, many who can not speak, respond to these primal shapes as something they are familiar with. It is intrinsically inside them, this universal archetype. They may not be capable of remembering their own childrens names or faces, but they are able to respond to these basic archetypes.
LM: So the circle is like a cosmic diagram?
JL: I like that, yes - a cosmic diagram. It is a potent symbol for wholeness, balance, unity we really are all one, and a mandala is a symbol of that unity. The historic and religious progression of this symbol created the Mayan calendar, Stonehenge, labyrinths, shrines, temples, altars, medicine wheels, etc. Even astrological charts are mandalas. I believe that by working with mandalas a person can connect to their spiritual center. This process becomes a form of meditation while connecting to this universal pattern upon which everything else has been created. As the beautiful souls at Ennis Court showed me it's already inside us, we respond instinctively and intuitively to it, whether we can give it a name or not. The mandala is a reflection of divine principle, of perfection, of the primal structure of the universe. Creating a mandala allows a person a path to their own center. People have been instinctively creating mandalas forever. Celtic knot work, the peace sign, the color wheel, and quilt patterns are but a few examples of the utilization of mandalas.
LM: You spoke earlier that you did not come to mandalas from a mathematical background, rather intuitively. Could you explain that?
JL: Three years ago I did not really know what a mandala was, let along the significance. Oh I saw the Buddhist monks create these sand circles, and I walked a labyrinth and I even had a Mayan calendar decorating a wall. So I had a little exposure, but I did not have an intellectual understanding.
LM: How in the world did you begin to create such beautiful mandalas if you were unfamiliar with them?
JL: Out of desperation (laughs). We spoke earlier that there was an extended period of time when I did not paint frequently. I obsessively wrote, but created very little artwork. The calling to work within the circle was in me but I needed to write.
LM: There's that writing again. How does writing fit into your work?
JL: I have written, kept a journal for over 30 years now. I have used this process for many purposes, to capture ideas, to observe the world around me, to work out problems, to vent, and through automatic writing; I converse with Spirit.
LM: Come on Janice, this is little on the edge. Sounds like some form of channeling.
JL: Everyone has the potential to experience this form of wisdom and guidance and it comes through my writing. It could be just my imagination, but where does imagination come from anyway? So when I can discern through the process of writing what I need to do, who I really am, or how something in the universe works - then I feel as though I have received guidance through this process of writing.
LM: I understand that, like meditation or prayer.
JL: Exactly. Writing slows down my mind so that I can hear my own spirit, my own inner voice.
LM: I'm beginning to understand. Let's get back to the mandalas. How did you begin to paint mandalas?
JL: I discerned through my journal that I had the soul energy of a healer, of an artist; that this was my purpose, my passion, and the path out of the depression that had settled upon me at this time. So I set up a make-shift studio in my dining room for the sole purpose of painting. My intention was to paint whatever came forward, very spontaneous, no sketches, no preconceived images, just an abstract expression of where I was at the time.
LM: And where were you Janice?
JL: Emotionally lost, spiritually floundering. I had no center that I could feel. Yet I began to paint. I felt compelled to paint, like my life depended on it. Maybe it did.
LM: What had you been painting before this?
JL: I was working with monoprints, abstract images which I would go back into to harvest and embellish, like finding pictures in the clouds. So when I began to paint in my dining room, this spontaneous, abstract, non-structured tendency was very much in place.
LM: Could you explain your process?
JL: I began on canvas paper, the same surface I used for monoprints. I would apply paint and medium, then fold the canvas and rub it together. I would open it, add more paint, fold again, etc.
LM: What made you consider folding the canvas?
JL: I used to do this when I worked at an art center as a teacher; it was what I did with the leftover paint and the paper coverings on the tables. Anyway, I began to draw lines on the back of the folded canvas and when I opened it, there was an impression in the paint. I layered colors and lines in this manner, continuing the experiment. In the first series, I was listening to drum rhythms, Native American, Voodoo, African, and jazz rhythms. I would draw lines (with the blunt end of a paint brush) that felt connected to the music by using corresponding pressures (Fig. #1). The first one I completed with this technique left me speechless; I literally cried.
LM: Was it the beauty of the painting or something else?
JL: Loretta, it was the power the energy the rightness; I had come home. I felt that I was standing on my path. I had found a way to center, a healing. I called this series of paintings (over 100) The Centerline Series, because that was what I was searching for my center. I didn't realize that I was creating mandalas but I was.
LM: Wait a minute Janice, when I view some of your early work there appears to be a mandala like quality. Were you really unaware of this?
JL: I have always been working with mandalas, I just didn't know it. It comes back to that primal shape, that universal archetype. In my early years in the forest; I would create these circular stone structures. And look at this early painting from 1980, created over 25 years ago (Fig. #2). At that time, I didn't even know the word mandala , yet I obviously was working with the energy.
LM: So help me pull this all together, Janice. Let's sum it up.
JL: There are certain unifying principles at work in the universe. They are active and affecting us whether we are aware of them of not. This geometric structure is a gift for us to use. We have been using it since the beginning of time. The power, peace, and the energy that we can attain by consciously using the circle and mandalas are intrinsically spiritual and healing. Whether a person colors an existing pattern, creates an original mandala, or simply meditates with one the process will always bring consciousness into the present moment.
LM: I hear your tea pot starting to whistle, so before we take a break, explain these prayer wheel mandalas that you and Charles Gilchrist are creating. They are mandalas, yet on a grander scale, right?
JL: Definitely. The prayer wheels that Charles and I create are sacred space mandalas. We honor the four directions while offering people the opportunity to physically experience the energy and healing power of a mandala. We offer people the opportunity to participate in collective and individual prayer, drawing upon the divine energy of this sacred space. We drum around it, we walk around it, we create ceremony around the Mandala and within it. Our prayer wheels facilitate a holistic contact, a interconnectedness to all. The unity of the circle expresses the unity of all. At the conclusion of our prayer wheel event, the actual mandala is disassembled, much in the way the Buddhist monks sweep up a sand mandala and then release it back to the elements. This spiritual connection to Mother Earth and the divine, is carried within the hearts of all who participate.
LM: What a wonderful project Janice, but let's take a break. After our tea I have some more questions about Earth energies, crystals, herbs, and other forms of healing. Things I know you currently use in your work.
JL: Sounds good to me peppermint or jasmine?