Mala Shop

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What it Takes...the Agony & the Ecstasy of Mala-Making

Bodhiseed Mala with Different Possible Focal and Marking Beads
(a quick photo of choices for a customer)

It seems that it would be easy and maybe take 20 minutes tops to string 108 beads on a strand of cord or bit of wire.
It's not.  It takes hours sometimes!  

Here's why. (And if you make malas or any kind of prayer beads, you'll understand.)

Things have to feel right. I have to be able to sit and focus for awhile without fidgeting, without becoming too distracted.  That's harder than it sounds, as I am a world-class fidgeter. 
More than that, I try to have a gentle feeling about the beads and the customer receiving the beads.  Starting with a compassionate intention and joining it with artistic standards, one ends up doing painstaking work.

Each bead needs to be right.  No cracks, few irregularities (and only if the rest of the bead has an ultra-interesting pattern), and it has to be the same size as the other beads. I have a digital caliper next to me and measure a bead that looks a bit small or large.  I'm not aiming for absolute perfection; that's not possible.  But I'm aiming for creating something beautiful that will be a lovely tool.  Each bead needs to be a worthy part of a whole.

When creating a new design, I use the same ideas I would use designing anything: do the textures of the main beads, marker beads, and guru bead look and feel good together?  Do the minerals seem to complement each other?  For instance, it's very hard to pair semi-precious stones with woods.  Some minerals seem that they'd be perfect, but when I try them it just doesn't look right. So I use a lot of carnelian, turquoise, quartz, moss agate, and turquoise-colored howlite for markers in wood malas.  Surprisingly, Czech glass goes really well in wood malas, so that gets used a lot.

Once the beads are out on the table, and all the tools are spread out, and things "feel" right in all of the above ways, I can start to string.

Here's where it can get tricky.  If what's going on around me is too distracting or interesting, I end up putting an extra bead here and leaving one out there.  Restringing because the number is off gets old fast. So I generally answer any questions from family (when they're around) with something like "twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one..." just to let them know I'm counting. It's kind of odd, but they get the message.  I can talk to them when I get to 108 or 111.
I'm always counting.  I'm always praying.  I'm always trying to get them right and make them better.

I guess that's what keeps me challenged. This is simple work, but each choice brings in a new color, texture, or feel.  It is endlessly interesting to make malas.

Yes, you'd think it would take half an hour to forty five minutes to string a mala.  But it takes so much more than that.  

The same thing goes with communicating with customers, writing letters about malas and the materials in each one, and packing the malas for shipping. There are also the hours behind the scenes looking for the best materials for the best prices.
Each task gives me another chance to be mindful.  That alone, is reason enough to love this work.

Thank you for your support of Compassion Malas! It's been a wonderful, interesting, and surprising four years since it began.
Peace and Love,