I spent about 20 minutes at the sand mandala today, while the monks were on a break. This meant I didn't get to see them in action (as Al photographed them later), but I didn't mind getting an uninterrupted view of the work so far. I was surprised that it is so three dimensional rather than completely flat: the white outlines of the petals you can see in the centre are all raised in upside down 'V' with their peak almost a centimetre high. So far the monks have mostly laid down solid colour backgrounds which are now starting to be layered with very intricate designs (the right foreground corner is the most heavily decorated so far).
I wish I knew what the different colours, shapes and designs mean as every aspect of the mandala represents something significant about compassion, and where it resides. I knew that some of the designs, such as the symbol in the middle and on four of the central petals were letters or words in Tibetan script, but until I Googled my way to Omniglot's page on the Tibetan alphabet I didn't know that they are actually consanant clusters and that the Tibetan alphabet is syballic (each letter represents a syllable, unlike the alphabet I am using to write this blog).
Apparently just looking at the mandala is enough to make an imprint on the mind which helps to develop compassion (which is why as many people as possible are encouraged to come and visit it). I'm hoping that by making several visits where I can really pay attention, I will fast track my pursuit of a more compassionate relationship to all beings.