I recently had what I’m calling a “mandala moment” while I was visiting my family in South Central British Columbia last month.

For those unfamiliar with mandalas, they are circular works of art found in several Eastern cultures. In spiritual traditions, they are used as a meditation tool.

In Buddhism, the mandala developed into sand painting and after the work is created, it is erased.

This sand mandala is what came to mind for me as I stared the the blank LCD screen of my camera that had just seconds earlier contained nearly 100 photos.

My mother, my sister, my 8-year-old son and I visited a camping area my family had spent many summer weekends at when I was a kid. It’s not the kind of campsite you usually find, where people are packed in like sardines. There are small clusters of 2 to 5 campsites and these clusters are at least 500 metres apart, all along the Similkameen River.

I haven’t been there in years and since we all love it there, we decided to take a day trip. I brought out my digital SLR camera with the plan to capture us being back in this place as well as the scenery and the flora that’s unique to this semi-desert region.

My son and I are having a great time taking turns with the camera. At one point he decides to take a photo of me and my mom. He’s clicking away and checking each photo, then suddenly says, “Mom, it’s not working.”

I take the camera and, sure enough, there’s an error message saying it can’t save the image.

I turn the camera off, eject the memory card, reinsert it and then turn the camera back on. I press the play button to check the last image and it says “No image”.

How can there not be any images? I stare at the black screen in disbelief. I can’t see how he could possibly have deleted all the photos, which is a multi-step process.

I go through the settings to check the folder where images are stored.

Zero images.

I am completely deflated and yet I think maybe when I plug my camera into a computer, the images will somehow show up. When we get back to my parents house, I try that. Nope.

Later on that day, I was going through some notes I’d taken from books I’ve read, and I come across something Sue Monk Kidd wrote about mandalas in “Travelling with Pomegranates”. She describes it as “a sacred art that is more about process than product.”

And it strikes me that my day of taking photos was a mandala of sorts. The beauty was in the experience of sharing a place from my childhood with my son.

The art we made wasn’t as important as the fact that we created it together.

I love how excited he got as he snapped his photos and then quickly flipped open the LCD screen to show me what he’d captured.

He was keen to explore the area, scrambling up an embankment to get a better view of the river; in another area, he tip toed from rock to rock across an offshoot from the main river.

He scoured the ground for interesting flowers to photograph.

He picked a huge puff ball for me and told me to make a wish before we blew all the seeds off.

And, most important, he didn’t once tell me he wished he could be playing his video games instead.

When I look at it from this perspective, yes it sucked that I lost my images, but the real joy of the day was the time spent with my mom, my sister and my son in this beautiful place and in a time that will never be again: the mandala that is every moment of life.

So what is your “mandala moment” today? What beauty did you find by focusing on the process instead of the product?

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