I’m wandering around an art show hosted by ARTS: A Reason To Survive, deeply impressed and moved by the youth talent represented. ARTS is founded on the philosophy that the visual, performing, and literary arts can transform kids’ live; it is dedicated to healing, inspiring, and empowering children facing life challenges by providing innovative arts-based programs, education and employment opportunities.
From therapeutic arts programming for youth in crisis to college and career readiness in the arts and creative industries, this is a giant cauldron of creative juice—and it’s making my mouth water.
I’m admiring rocks wrapped in wire trees, hand-sculpted magnets (Heal! Inspire! Empower!), masks, mugs, and all sorts of other marvels…when my eyes are drawn to the most magnetic mandala I have ever seen. It stops me in my tracks—mouth hanging open.
The colors are so vibrant, the detail so intricate, that I am lifted out of myself. I am suspended in its gaze. The mandala penetrates me, reminds me that nothing real can be threatened (A Course in Miracles), that all is love. Then I see another mandala, clearly by the same artist. It, too, radiates the essence of the natural world with unabashed passion, makes me feel like I am swimming in pure oxygen…
My next step is to photograph the name of the artist—Kyle Bowen—with my smart phone so I can look him up later. But Kyle is smarter. He has a table with business cards, postcards, coloring books. Brilliance leaps from each. I am sold.
A month later, Kyle and I are having tea. He tells me about his life and how he started painting mandalas.
A San Diego native, Kyle still lives in the home he was born in 22 years ago. In fact, he was born in the living room in a feeding trough filled with water. This is a young man with some earthy roots—hand-fed and home-schooled by his naturopathic mom, he was given full access to art from the start.
Then, at the age of 18, skate-boarding home from a party with a friend, Kyle got the speed wobbles and crashed into a car. Stunned, he made it home and went to bed—without a word to his mother or anyone else that might have chastised him for skateboarding at night, no helmet.
Becoming an adult in this world is tricky enough, but the next year presented Kyle with a challenge nothing could have prepared him for. Life seemed impossible, confusing, and downright frightening. He thought he must be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, or a nervous breakdown, or some other technical difficulty. Finally, one day, the friend ran into Kyle’s mom and asked how Kyle was doing, since the accident. It was the missing link. A neurologist took a thermal image of Kyle’s brain, revealing extensive damage.
Armed with an explanation for his mental malfunctioning, Kyle’s healing journey began. And, as if orchestrated ahead of time, the right elements arrived: positive people, homeopathic remedies, and from his grandmother, two amazing books (Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung and Divine Forces by Paul Heusenstamm). Kyle was inspired to make his own mandalas, which he painted on rocks. Hundreds of them.
He could feel there was something to it—a deep, soothing power that softened the edges of his mind and opened his heart. As the mandalas moved from rock to canvas, spreading into the world, Kyle was further bolstered by the responses evoked when people saw his work. Their smiles, the light in their eyes, and their warm words encouraged him to keep going.
Regarding his work, Kyle says: “There is always something new, an endless possibility. It seems like I’m repeating myself but that’s what nature does. Like with flowers…they’re the same thing but different. I don’t make the same mandala every time, but they’re all mandalas.” Indeed each piece is bright, beautiful, and affirming—and totally unique.
Kyle’s goal for the upcoming year is to be happy, healthy, and balanced. He wants to expand his work, moving to larger platforms (such as murals on buildings!) He is also interested in organic gardening, surfing, learning to play drums, and helping others to fulfill their creative calling.
Kyle continues to be influenced by the Huichol Indians, Alex Grey, Chris Dyer, and Max Moses. “I hope my story inspires people to do what they love. Enjoy what you’re doing. It’s the most important thing.”