Moon Mandala Feature with Sylvia Barnowski (interview)
Sylvia Barnowski MSW, RSW is an artist, clinical social worker, embodied awareness facilitator and shamanic practitioner. Her multi-media mandalas are powerfully direct and embodied. This interview is full of treasures and insights. The way Sylvia shares her ongoing journey and thirst for learning and expression will inspire you to immediately pick up any material at hand and create!
April: Where are you right now? Where is the moon and what is she doing?
Sylvia: Right now, I feel like things are slowly unfolding for me. I am in the process of reclaiming some of the parts that had to stay hidden for me to be able to get to this point of my life. I am clarifying for myself who am I and what is truly important. Some days it feels like I am standing at the crossroad and choosing which way to go, other days it feels more like I am “coming out of the closet”. I want to be seen for who I am and that feels scary sometimes. I think mid-forties will do that to you; strip away the unnecessary layers and help you to uncover the essential self.
The Moon is hidden now. In a strange way, I feel the Moon’s presence the most when she is invisible. Probably this is why I connect so strongly to the New Moon rituals. I cannot see her but I know she exists and I learned to trust this lunar process. There are so many things we cannot see but it does not mean that they don’t exist. The Moon is teaching me to tune in, turn inside and to be more sensitive to the subtle shifts occurring in my life. It is a fascinating process!
A: Describe your relationship to creating moon mandalas... Where do you begin? What materials do you like to use?
S: For a few years now I have been more aware of the lunar cycle and I tried in many different ways to connect with the moon on a deeper level. I created altars, participated in beautiful new moon despacho ceremonies, wrote down new moon wishes, pulled oracle cards and did the new moon tarot spreads. I created mandalas for the full and new moon in the past but I wasn’t consistent. Also, I think that timing is important. It seems that now is “the right” time for me. Now, creating the new moon mandalas provides deeper meaning and nourishment. It has become one of my favourite practices.
I have been creating mandalas for many different purposes for more than twenty years now. However, the new moon mandala brings everything that I like together: moon, intuition, creativity, self-reflection, ritual, spirituality and community. Every time I engage in this process it feels like coming home.
I begin with lighting a candle, smudging, offering tobacco and reflecting on the past lunar cycle. I write down my reflections which usually inform and clarify the new moon intentions. Sometimes, at that point, I have some images or colours showing up in my mind and then I try to recreate them. Sometimes, I just look at my art supplies to see which colour is “calling” or which medium wants to be used. I never plan my new moon mandalas ahead of time. I follow my intuition and this is what is the most exciting about this process; watching it unfolding in front of my eyes and being surprised by what is showing up on the page.
Once the mandala is completed, I take the time to witness it and be in its presence. I take the time to reflect not only on what I see but also what I feel. It is like receiving a message from my own soul or a higher self. Sometimes, I will take a break to do a tarot/oracle card reading, or I will pick just one card for this lunar cycle before writing down my intentions. Other times I will write the intentions first and do the tarot reading later or I won’t do it at all. It is an intuitive and a fluid process. And I always include a quote, not that I am looking for one, but somehow right before the new moon I find something that resonates with me and it usually is a perfect fit.
I love using mixed-media in my work. So far, I created moon mandalas with pencil crayons, watercolours, acrylic, fabric, and collage. I am sure that at some point I will add some stitches to the mix.
A: What is one thing that helps you access your intuition?
S: It is a difficult question to answer because there are so many ways to access intuition and it often depends on the situation I am in and on how I feel. I spent a year learning about the different facets of intuition during the Embodied Awareness training and could talk about this topic for hours. The essential component, one that never fails me, is turning my attention inwards and listening to my body. You don’t have to have a special tools or training to be able to do this. You just have to practice listening to this inner voice (or image or feeling) and follow it, because the more you listen the easier it is to recognize it; and the more you follow it the stronger it becomes.
A: In what ways does creating a new moon mandala enrich your life?
S: First of all, the practice itself is beautiful, so even if there were no other benefits that would be a good enough reason for me to do it. I started this practice because I wanted to find a creative way to develop a deeper connection with the Moon. I am still learning to pay attention to the lunar cycles and to observe how the changes in the sky influence my life. This practice helped me to become more aware of these subtle shifts.
I noticed that my ability to witness these shifts deepened. My perception shifted as well; after a few months of practicing, I started experiencing my life differently. The sense of acceptance of what is grew stronger. I started to acknowledge and trust the rhythms of my life; the ebbs and flows and the constant change. I feel more at peace with the change. It is easier for me to “go with the flow”. All of this feels very subtle yet quite transformative.
You know, I am growing with this practice; it helps me to stretch myself into new roles. I found it so enriching that I started sharing it with others. Initially, I told one friend and she was willing to try, then another friend joined and before I knew it I started hosting New Moon Gatherings. This practice gently pushed me into creating a community, and I can tell you that the difference between doing this work alone and doing it with others is huge. There is an opportunity for beautiful exchange, for discovering new ways of seeing, receiving support, and sharing tears and laughter together. However, no matter if you practice alone or in a group, I can promise you that if you let it, this practice will provide nourishment to your soul. But of course, you already knew this!
A: How has your creative process evolved over time?
S: My creative process evolved a lot over time. I finished Fine Art school in Poland and I was working for eight years as an artist, graphic designer and decorator. During the day I was designing posters, brochures and invitations, in the evenings and weekends, I painted to develop a body of work for my exhibitions. At that time I was immersed in a creative process on a daily basis, I used Corel (does anyone still remember this program?) and Photoshop at work and paper and gouaches at home.
This changed drastically when I immigrated to Canada in 2003. I didn’t know English and it took me years before I was able to pursue my dreams. Patience was never my strong suit, so I often felt frustrated and stuck. Even though after a few years I managed to open my own studio and gallery in downtown Calgary my life took a new unexpected direction. I decided to pursue a career in clinical social work. At that point, I already had two small children, so between school and raising my children I had a very limited time for creative endeavours.
This is when the shift in my creative process occurred. Because of so many transitions that occurred in my life in a very short period of time (immigration, becoming a wife and then a mother) and because of this long period of creative deprivation I started using art for self-study, to access my inner voice and for healing. I discovered on-line classes. I started taking photographs, using mixed-media, painting on huge canvases, keeping a visual journal and I signed up for Expressive Arts Therapy training. The way I created shifted. I wasn’t interested in “making beautiful things” as much as I was interested in expressing all parts of myself and that included my shadow. Art became medicine. It still is.
A: What fuels your creative spark?
S: I believe that everything has the potential to inspire. I find inspiration everywhere, even in the most unexpected and bizarre places. At the same time, even though it is very easy for me to be moved or excited by beautiful things, broken things, words, colours, shapes, places, nature and people (the list is endless…) what I learned is that it doesn’t always translate into an impulse to create. Throughout the years, I discovered that what truly fuels my creativity is my inner landscape, my feelings, the things that I question, the things that I want to explore, my dreams, the things that hurt, memories that won’t go away… What truly feeds my creativity is the need for self-inquiry and the desire for self-expression.
A: Would you be willing to give readers some ideas or inspiration for creating their own moon mandala?
S: The beautiful thing is that you don’t have to be an “artist” to be able to immerse yourself in a creative practice. There is no right or wrong way of engaging in this practice. This process is not about creating art it is about letting your soul speak to you. It is a sacred act. According to Carl Jung mandalas reflect the wholeness of the person creating them; yet we don’t have to know much about mandalas to be able to feel their impact. So, trust yourself and trust the creative process.
The only way to find out what works for you and what gifts are awaiting for you is to try. Please, don’t underestimate the power of what will show on the page. Take time to reflect on your mandala, write down your thoughts and impressions, and if you want - give it a title. Most importantly, please don’t judge or criticise yourself and your creative expression! Instead, enjoy the process and don’t worry about the outcome.
Here are some ideas for you to consider:
- Try to capture the feelings you feel on the new moon with colours or/and shapes (you can paint with your hands if you want an extra sensory experience).
- Try to illustrate your new moon intentions. Even if you draw stick people I can guarantee you that your stick people will help you in expressing the energy that needs/wants to be expressed.
- If you have an image in your mind of what you would like to express you could also spend some time on Pinterest or flipping through the magazines to find that image, or create it with a few images and then glue it on the page.
- Take a picture that represents your new moon intention.
- Find a quote that helps you to express your intention.
- If you express yourself with words – write in your mandala instead.
- Don’t be afraid to try your own ideas!!!
A: Three wishes ... and anything else you'd like to share...
S: Interestingly, I noticed a huge resistance to answering this question and I am curious why? When I was a child I strongly believed in magic and making wishes was so easy! I guess I could use one of my wishes to bring that child-like wonder and more playfulness back into my life and to anyone who needs it too.
I think that the resistance I felt is also tied to being afraid to ask for what I want. I am not sure if this social conditioning applies mostly to women, but through my counselling work with women, I learned that we, women, truly struggle with this. I still struggle with this. When we make a wish in a way we are exposing ourselves. We become vulnerable and afraid of being judged or perceived selfish. So, I wish for myself and others to be brave and ask for what we want and what we need.
I love collecting quotes, they often serve as my guiding posts. Because of the recent changes in my life this quote by Howard Thurman strongly resonates with me “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive”. So, this is my ultimate wish – for all of us to “come alive”!
I would like to thank you, April, for giving me the opportunity to use my voice and practice being vulnerable and brave by showing up here on your blog. Thank you for your beautiful work and for sharing your gifts with others. The Moon Is My Calendar definitively helped me to grow and transform my relationship with the Moon. Thank you.
A: Thank you for sharing your wisdom and truth with us. What a gift!
Sylvia Barnowski MSW, RSW is an artist, clinical social worker, embodied awareness facilitator and shamanic practitioner. She lives near the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains in Cochrane, AB with her husband, two wonderful children and a naughty cat named Silver.
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Big Blue Moon cover artwork by Jocelyn Mathewes from her Night Sky Cyanotype series.