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Cardiff artist finds community and healing in sand mandalas

Expressions of love and hope drawn in sand
Posted at 6:16 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 21:16:57-05

CARDIFF (KGTV) -- With just a little bit of planning, Sharon Belknap begins a free-hand sand mandala that will offer its message, briefly, to all who pass by on the bridge at Cardiff State Beach where the San Elijo lagoon meets the ocean.

Watching her work is like watching a dance.

The graphic designer and illustrator draws shapes using a small, inexpensive rake. She brings extras because often passersby find inspiration and ask to join her, a collaboration she welcomes.

The connections she has made through her sand art, she says have added meaning to her creations.

People also send her their photos of her artwork, asking to use them in their holiday cards.

Each mandala has an inscription, such as: "You Are Loved," or "Only Love."

One that resonated particularly was "Grateful for ____."

"People were shouting their words from the bridge," says Belknap.

Sometimes friends join her.

Heather Nelson is a regular, and a longtime friend. The day we shot the story, Kari Prevost was joining for her first collaboration with Sharon.

"The sounds of the ocean, the beauty of the water," she says, "it's restorative. It rekindles a playfulness that's innate."

Expressed on a canvas that will be washed away by the waves; the impermanence, Belknap says, is freeing and healing.

Her son Chris Thompson, a 28 year-old Valley Center firefighter, died in an early morning crash on his motorcycle this 4th of July.

"I like to say he ascended," she says.

The next morning, inexplicably, Sharon says she woke up feeling joy. She came to her spot in Cardiff before sunrise.

"The words just poured into me: 'Only Love.'

The first person who walked over the bridge and saw her mandala tribute, took a picture of her, standing in the shadow of the bridge illuminated in the early sunlight.

Belknap says Chris is in every drawing. She adds eyes, which are Chris's, to each one.

"Being out here, creating these, I often ask Christopher, 'What do you see honey?' And he says, 'Mom, I see you.'"

When this design is done, Sharon and her friends share a covid-conscious "butt hug," as she calls it, then take a moment to lift their hands to share it with Christopher, before sending its message out to all who are fortunate enough to see it before it's erased by the waves.

"You Are Loved," it says.