Mandala is a sanskrit word meaning “circle.” But it’s more than a shape. The mandala represents wholeness and is considered by most of the world’s peoples to be the basic structure of life — from our cells, to our world, to the cosmos itself.
The mandala appears in every culture across all continents and epochs. Sometimes it’s used to represent sacred space; at others the moment; increasingly, the mandala is being used to heal deep psychosocial wounds and to support peace within and without. The mandala at the left is the Avaloketeshvara mandala from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It represents and supports compassion and forgiveness.
If you google “Mandala images,” you’ll find hundreds of them, many linked to web sites that discuss their symbolic meaning and offer ideas for making your own mandala.
When I’m actively engaged on a regular basis in drawing or collaging mandalas, and then writing what I see and feel from them, I’m more centered, focused, and forceful in my life. When I share this practice with my clients, they experience the same cohesiveness and personal power.
Jung and the Mandala
At the height of his career in 1913, the psychiatrist Carl Jung went through a severe emotional crisis, in which serious internal conflicts emerged in his life. He broke with Freud, renounced his position as the head of the Zurich Psychiatric Clinic, and went through a deeply introspective 3-year journey during which he separated himself from family and friends. Toward the end of this period, he began drawing mandalas, without knowing what this meant, without knowing that he was following a path cleared by others before him in both East and West.
It was through the mandala that he found the way to restore himself to wholeness. They became photographs of his daily internal state, and images of what he was in the process of becoming. He sketched in a little notebook every day a circle that seemed to correspond to his interior situation. “Enlightened by these images, I could see day by day the psychic transformations that were operating within me. It was only gradually that I discovered what a mandala really means: ‘Formation, Transformation, Eternal Mind’s eternal creation.’”
For the next 10 years, he drew circles, labyrinths, and dark and shining centers of all kinds, the unspooling of an internal process of centering and healing the breaks in his personality. He eventually formed his theory that the mandala represented the unity of the soul, an entity much larger than the ego, a Self or atman that was the source of life and guide for its development and total fulfillment of its destiny.
Make Your Own Mandala
This is a fun and deeply revealing visual arts exercise to do both privately and in groups.
Supplies for collage: scissors, white sketch pad paper, multi-colors of construction paper, glue sticks.
For drawing: pastels or magic markers. Simple!
Time: 20-25 minutes.
- Leaf through the colored construction paper pages and cut whatever shape in whatever color that most appeals to be your background, representing the Ground of Self, a relationship, organization, creative project, whatever area you want to explore. It can be a circle, rectangle, or free form.
- Think of the elements of story. You are the storyteller, artist, director, and witness:
- Places: geographical landscape and interiors; their emotional qualities, colors, shapes, and textures.
- Loved ones – like-minded fellows who expand you, amplify your strengths, support your quest.
- Difficult people, obstacles, and conflicts – within and without. To be authentic, your mandala must contain the Shadow.
- Your grail, dream, north star: whatever most symbolizes for you the life force.
3. Cut whatever shapes or draw figures that want to emerge that represent each of these elements. Quickly, without thinking too much about it, place them in relationship that feels right to you and glue them to the Ground. Give yourself no more than 10 minutes for this. You want to bypass your rational mind.
4. Now look at your mandala from all perspectives. This is a self-portrait emerging from the depths of your unconscious.
What Story Does Your Mandala Tell?
- What stands out in your mandala? A shape? The relationship of shapes? Colors? Overall impression? “First thought, best thought.”
- Without intellectualizing the process, quickly write down 5 words that come to you. Working fast releases the imagination, voice of intuition.
- Which word has the most energy for you? Or which two elements seem to oppose each other or want to be in dialogue?
- Make this the opening word and continue writing for 5 minutes, following the words wherever they lead. This allows your verbal intelligence to transmit the kinetic truth contained in your mandala.
- Read it aloud to yourself or to a supportive listener. What does the writing reveal in practical terms? Is there guidance here for what you need most in your life right now?
Mandalas are everywhere. Look for them in your life today!
About The Author
I’m a writer, healing story practitioner, and story consultant. My expertise is in helping people use storytelling techniques, including the structure, settings, and characters of story, as a scaffold for reshaping life in the wake of trauma, loss, and life transition. I extend my expertise as a writer, story consultant, and stress management consultant to business and other helping professionals, companies, NGOs, and communities struggling in the wake of man-made or natural disaster. I’m also a consulting writer with the United Nations. View my complete profile
Thanks to Living Story for this article