Fighting the Scrambled Mandala

“A labyrinth, of course, is a scrambled mandala, in which you don’t know where you are. That’s the way the world is for people who don’t have a mythology. It’s a labyrinth. They are battling their way through as if no one had ever been there before.” – Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss


My clinical depression is a scrambled mandala.

The formerly clear road has twisted itself into a labyrinth. The air has become more dense than water. I can’t breathe, nor do I want to.

I once believed I was either too smart or too stupid to become clinically depressed. My journey (way, pilgrimage, path) appeared so clear to me that the next step was always apparent whether it came to me out of logic or intuition. Where I was going didn’t matter, for I was en route. Perhaps these was a certain arrogance to such certainty in spite of the fact that—Kabbalistically speaking—certainty is what each of us requires to manifest our highest dreams.

But logically, we’re easily addicted to trends, small, but negative ripples in the force, so to speak, that when they follow upon one another cause us to doubt our certainties, our passions, and even the road itself. Experience has taught me, though, that when the mandala becomes scrambled, it only becomes more scrambled if I fight it. And, depression itself is the same in this respect. What one resists, persists, we are told. When I fight those moments when the air has become more dense than water, I find myself sinking deeper into the ocean of hopelessness where the pressure and the darkness are greater.

The more scrambled the mandala becomes, the more difficult it is to find Ariadne’s linen thread that will lead me away from the dreaded Minotaur to the light-hearted safety of the world outside the labyrinth. When depression is deep, I have neither the willpower nor the energy to search for that thread, much less build wings like Daedalus, the labyrinth’s designer, and fly out of the maze of twisted roads.

Getting Above the Fray


I like the title of Kris Jackson’s 2009 novel about the Civil War era balloonist Thaddeus Lowe, “Above the Fray.” It was so apt, for it described exactly the service Professor Lowe was offering Union commanders. He showed them what they couldn’t see on the ground from what—in my perspective—might also be called the labyrinth of the battlefield.

Like both Lowe and Daedalus, there are times when I want to rise above the fray and get my bearings. Lowe was an advocate of tethered balloons, and shortly after reading Kris Jackson’s novel, I had an opportunity for a brief ride in a tethered balloon. How light the air was and how fine the view of the fields and woodlands below. What might have appeared scrambled from within, now was clear, even orderly.

Like Daedalus, I am the creator of my own labyrinth and—on days when the air is denser than water—my own scrambled mandala. I have been there many times because, I suppose, it meets a need I do not consciously know. I’m lost into the clutches of deep lunar mysteries and the dark worlds of the underworld that my subconscious mind has led me to experience. Truth be told, I’m embarrassed to be there, to have to admit that my apparent certainty about the clear road ahead as led me into the forest primeval where I wander blindly as though there is no road at all.

Once my shame passes, I see that there is much of value here in the scrambled mandala I have built and the hopelessly dense air I have placed with its clutches. I know better than to fight it. Fighting it makes me too heavy to fly above the fray and too sleepy to see Ariadne’s thread.

I have escaped from my labyrinths many times. Though there should be a fair amount of certainty in that, I never remember it while I’m staring into the Minotaur’s eyes. My goal is the goal I gave protagonist Robert Adams in my novel “The Sun Singer,” and that is to survive the journey and to return to the known world with something of value for myself and others.

The scrambled mandalas are my nightmares, the places where the road has become twisted, the places where I think I’m awake even though I’m asleep. But when I wake and see the morning sunlight, and it’s “whew, that’s over,” and for now I’m not depressed and I see my reasons again for wanting to be on the journey I have chosen to take.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of “The Sun Singer,” a mandala masquerading as a novel.

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2 thoughts on “Fighting the Scrambled Mandala

  1. Interesting post, Malcolm! Personally I have never liked labyrinths, simply because they imply that there’s only one way to where you want to go, and that ordained by someone else: I don’t seem to be able to accept that. And yet I enjoy following trails, at least as a general direction.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the journey of Robert Adams, perhaps because I felt as though I travelled with him!

    • I like the symbolism of mazes and labyrinths, but I’m not much of a fan of them in any literal way. However, I suspect that if a genie plunked a city guy town into the mountains where you hike, the guy might think he was in a maze of sorts before he figured out how to get out.

      Robert was in rather a maze himself. 🙂

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