The word mandala literally means “circle.” Mandalas can be found in nature and in the universe, often symbolic in various cultures and religions. Mandalas have represented everything from balance and order, to religious beliefs and the impermanence of life.
At the most basic level mandalas represent wholeness, unity, connection and harmony. Things you may be searching for at this time in your life, as we all face change, fear and uncertainty.
Mandalas can be as simple or as detailed as the creator chooses, but always having a sense of symmetry in the design that starts in the center.
As children we spent so much time coloring and drawing purely for fun. We explored colors, designs and patterns, and used our imagination. Art making, little did we know, was vital to our development. It helped us mature, develop our minds, be creative and possibly was a way to escape and relax. For most of us, as we grew older our passion for art making slowly disappeared. What many adults don’t realize is that is just as powerful and healing for us now as it was when we were kids.
In fact, the first shapes that toddlers draw as they move from scribbles to more realistic figures are circles. Usually cell-like circles with radiating lines, then more details appear later to be identified as people, the sun, and flowers.
Why Circles Restore Balance
Art Therapists often invite participants to create mandalas to bring about a sense of discovery, focus, awareness, and peace. One of the pioneers of psychology and psychoanalysis, Carl Jung, drew mandalas for personal growth and used them with his patients to help them move toward fulfilling their desire for wholeness. He shared, “I sketched every morning in a notebook, a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time.”
Art Therapists use mandalas to better understand the inner world of our clients and as well as help contain powerful, difficult emotions. Some clients have a meditative experience and produce insightful views of the self and deeper meaning to life’s situations.
The process of making a mandala incorporates both symmetry and flow, structure with flexibility. As we play and explore through art, within the safety of the circle, the process calls on our ability to be resilient and accept the unexpected.
The process also engages both hemispheres of the brain, restoring a sense of mental and emotional balance. With both hemisphere’s engaged, our ability to cope with anxiety and regain a sense of control, to heal from loss and feel grounded all increase.
A Daily Mandala Practice
During this time of concern and uncertainty I’d like to invite you to create a personal mandala journal for balance and centering. Your daily routine may have drastically changed. As you start to rebuild a new routine let’s use this as an opportunity to embrace a new practice that can help during these challenging times. A practice that invites calm. A simple practice that takes 5 minutes and asks for minimal supplies or space.
I say practice because art making, like meditation, takes practice. You may want to start your practice with simple mindfulness activities, like keeping your eye out for mandalas around you! Increase your awareness by noting mandala shaped (circular) objects and their details. Examples are the center of a flower, a gemstone on a piece of jewelry, a favorite mug. Mandalas surround us and give life, balance and beauty to our world.
Creating A Sacred Space
Consider the time of day and what feels best. If you want to make mandalas for the purpose of self-discovery and meditation, find an area inside or outside, that will have limited distractions, so it can be your sacred space. Be sure to unplug from electronics as well.
You may want to dedicate a specific space, like a notebook at your desk or on your nightstand to your mandala practice. Keep all supplies handy, in a basket or drawer, so they are accessible and ready. You don’t need much space, especially if you contain them all in a journal. If you plan to engage in mandala making in a more spontaneous fashion, keep all supplies in a pencil case or pouch, so it’s portable. This way, when you’re feeling inspired, you have what you need.
This is your time to be resourceful! If you have art materials at home, that’s wonderful, but many found objects can be used for mandala making! Below are some materials to consider:
- Plate/Bowl (for tracing a circle)
- #2 Pencil
- Chalk/Oil Pastels
- Colored Pencils
- Found Objects
Let your feelings be your guide. Your finished piece will be like a snapshot of time, date it and give it a title if you wish.
The Creation Process
If it has been a while since you last made art, start simple. There may be an initial sense of discomfort or awkwardness. Or perhaps it will awaken an enjoyment you haven’t had in a long time. Without judgement, try something out and be open to the process regardless of the result. If you can, try to approach the art making as “play”, experimenting with colors, designs, patterns and symbols, just as a child might do.
Mandalas can also be created with a partner, both people working on one mandala. Or you could invite someone into your space and create separate mandalas, side by side, as a form of shared meditation. Group mandalas are another option, if you want to involve your whole family! This is a great option for families, during this time of social distancing.
If you or a loved one is looking for addition support during this time our clinicians are available. Please feel free to reach out to learn more about our tele-health options.
Kelley is a Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist at Sage House Counseling & Art Therapy. Bringing fifteen years of clinical experience, I hold a deep believe that everyone has the potential for positive change. Together,we work to understand what in your life is working and what can be improved and open up opportunities for greater self-compassion and insight.