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Lions Roar : September 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2013 65 the lama’s translator. When they stopped at a red light, however, Stathacos suddenly bolted from the car. “It’s not time for me to do this yet,” she blurted out. Now Stathacos speculates that she wasn’t ready to go with the lama in 1975 because her focus was so much on art that she had nothing to spare for spiritual life. She was only five years old when she announced to her mother that she was an artist and “that was that,” she says. Stathacos—born in 1951 in Buffalo, New York—was raised Greek Orthodox. But, she asserts, “I was precocious in Sun- day school. I never understood why there wasn’t a female in the Trinity and I would always ask, ‘Where’s Mary?’ At that time women couldn’t go behind a certain point in the altar, so I would ask, ‘Well, why is Mrs. Pappas allowed there to clean?’” It wasn’t until the late 1990s that Sta- thacos finally connected with a spiritual female voice. She was traveling in India when a friend invited her to a talk by Jet- sunma Tenzin Palmo, a Western Buddhist nun who’d been in retreat in a Himalayan cave for twelve years. In the middle of the talk, Tenzin Palmo asked the audience, “Do you understand?” And Stathacos thought: Oh, God, I understand that I don’t under- stand, and now I have to get a teacher. Today Stathacos is a student of Gehlek Rinpoche and a founding director of Dongyu Gatsal Ling Initiatives. It’s an organization dedicated to reclaiming the lost traditions of Tibetan women practi- tioners by supporting nunneries in India and Tibet. Stathacos’ Buddhist practice also informs her art. This can be seen most clearly in her Rose Mandalas, one of which she made for the Dalai Lama when he attended the 2006 conference Law, Buddhism, and Social Change at the Uni- versity of Buffalo. The Rose Mandalas range from ten to sixty feet in diameter, and Stathacos makes them by plucking apart roses and circling the petals around mirrors. When the mandalas are fresh, they’re florally fra- grant. Then over time the petals shrivel. Finally, the mandalas are dismantled in a ritual performance; they’re swept up or blown away with human breath. In Tenzin Palmo’s words, “The Rose Mandalas symbolize the gradual unfold- ing of our innate spiritual potential. Con- versely, these mandalas remind us of the inherent impermanence of even the beautiful.” Ritual is at the heart of much of Sta- thacos’ creative output, particularly the ritual of wish-making. In 2001, Statha- cos visited rock gardens in Japan and at one temple in Kyoto, the monks showed her some large stones covered with snow. They said that taken together these stones were in the form of the Buddha reclining. This inspired Stathacos to create Refuge, a Wish Garden, an interactive public art- work that she has presented on both Ger- man and American soil. Refuge, a Wish Garden comprises a cir- cle of sand with a large tree in the center. Around the tree there are eight wooden benches, painted eight different colors, and between the benches there are baskets filled with strips of fabric, rocks, sticks, and flow- ers. The public is invited to sit and engage in quiet contemplation. Then they can make a wish and take an action—to tie a piece of fabric to the tree, place a rock or flower, or use a stick to draw in the sand. Stathacos is fascinated by the fact that people across the globe tend to make wishes on natural objects, such as when they see a shooting star or when they toss a coin into a body of water. More than that, she’s fascinated by wishes themselves and has collected them from the public world- wide, including from homeless youth. “When you give people the opportu- nity to write down their wishes,” Statha- cos says, “you might think most of them would say they want something mate- rial.” But in fact people frequently think beyond themselves. They think compas- sionately. Here is one that has touched her: “I wish that bullets would turn to roses and hatred to friendship.” ♦ ANDREA MILLER is deputy editor of the Shambhala Sun and the editor of the anthology Right Here with You: Bringing Mindful Aware- ness into Our Relationships. Above: The Dalai Lama with the Rose Mandala created for the conference Law, Buddhism, and Social Change. Below: Two photos of Stathacos’ interactive artwork, the Wish Machine, which is a refabricated vending machine that dispenses wishes. PHOTOSCOURTESYOFTHEARTIST