Every time I sit before the circle, a new adventure awaits me.
I may start a mandala with a specific pattern or color palette in mind. Invariably as I’m drawing the mandala, a new idea pops into my head, “hmmm, what if I try this?” Then there are times when I goof in drawing a pattern. I roll with it and the design changes course.
I’ve been creating mandalas for over 18 years. You may be wondering, “Are you still getting joy from creating mandalas?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer lies in how each mandala that we create is a reflection of our Self. Within the patterns, colors and shapes that we use to create our mandalas, we can learn a lot about ourselves. The mandala is like a map of our unconscious, our internal landscape of thoughts, emotions, memories, and inner wisdom.
While I delight in learning new ways to construct and color mandalas (the art of mandala making), it’s the expressive and contemplative aspect of creating mandalas that I believe will hold my attention for a lifetime.
To illustrate how our mandalas can hold personal meaning for us, let’s compare these two mandalas. At first glance we can see some very big differences. The mandala on the left is very orderly with a symmetrical pattern. The colors are vibrant and strong. In contrast, the mandala on the right is organic, irregular, and has soft colors.
Each mandala was created in very different times in my life. The first mandala was created recently as part of a color study where the palette was inspired by a pot of beautiful spring flowers. The orderly pattern of the mandala reflects how I’m working on a project and towards a goal. The vibrant colors mirror my high energy and ability to focus.
This second mandala was created at a time when I was grieving. I hadn’t felt creative for ten months or more. My energy was low and I was considering quitting my blog and pulling the plug on social media. Buried deep within those feelings was a desire to rekindle my creativity.
When I created this mandala, it was the first mandala in several years and it was drawn spontaneously and intuitively. I started with the heart in the center using watercolor paints and a black felt tip pen. The drawing emerged with little thought or plan. In the process, I observed my thoughts and recorded my reflections in the area outside of the mandala.
After drawing this mandala, I spent some time looking at it and reflecting on what it meant to me. Here I saw my heart at the center, a place to focus on for guidance. The little dots around the heart look like seeds. I wrote, “Each circle around the heart is like a seed, each one holding potential projects, skills yet to learn, new experiences, new relationships.”
The many hearts feel like my support system of friends and family. The dashed lines in between the pink vertical lines create a basket like pattern and here I see how I was weaving my dreams. When I was drawing the semi-circle and the outer edge, I felt uncomfortable with how it was irregular and not a perfect circle. I wrote, “It reflects how I’m pushing the boundaries of where I’m at.”
Without any instruction, I was intuitively exploring the meaning of my mandalas.
One may look at this mandala and think it is awkward and even ugly. I look at this mandala and it reflects a turning point in my life where I began a new journey of listening to my heart and using mandalas as road maps for healing.
In the margins, I see where I wrote about my curiosity to learn more about the work of Carl Jung and the practice of creating mandalas for personal insight. Six months later, I took a deep dive into this study and opened up to a whole new practice of creating mandalas for self expression.
I discovered the work of Susanne Fincher and a fascinating framework called, “The Great Round” that explores twelve psychological stages that we all experience many times in our lives. I have worked through all of the stages seven times, twice in my studies with Fincher and five times facilitating it for others. Each time, I uncover new things about myself.
Crazy Quilt Mandala
My latest “a-ha” came when I created this Crazy Quilt Mandala, a project from Susanne Fincher’s book, “The Mandala Workbook.”
This exercise is to explore Stage 11 called “Falling Apart” and reflects those times in our lives when changes have happened and we may feel disoriented and our familiar routines are disrupted or shattered. The change can be triggered by a natural disaster and we’ve lost our homes, an unexpected health diagnosis, promotion to a new position, or new ways of being that come with graduation, marriage, retirement, etc.
The first step in this exercise is to draw a circle and to randomly draw lines to break it up. I love to doodle, so I added additional patterns within each of the spaces. To color my mandala, I decided on a section that I would work on next and close my eyes and randomly select a colored marker. As you can imagine, I worked with colors and color combinations that I would never pick. This random approach is a good way of breaking patterns in how we work with color. While I found some of the results ugly, I made a couple of discoveries too.
The next step, is to cut out the mandala and then tear or cut it up into many random pieces. I was curious to see if there would be any sweet spots or interesting intersections of patterns and colors in the cut up pieces. Sure enough there was and they were highlighted when I completed the final step which was to arrange the pieces in a circular pattern on black paper. I was really surprised by how much I liked all of the colors set against black and in this new arrangement.
I had so much fun with this exercise that I pulled out some mandalas that I didn’t like and cut them up to create something new. The pieces almost look like stained glass set against the black paper. I loved how my opinions of the colors and patterns changed in each of these mandalas.
By arranging the pieces around a center point to create the suggestion of a circle, the results remind me of shattered glass. There is in each of these mandalas a feeling of movement.
This process of constructing something new after it has been destroyed illustrates how often we can’t welcome something new without something getting lost or changed along the way. In life, we may be changed by life circumstances and our lives may look completely different, but within us there are the memories, lessons learned, and perhaps new skills acquired. All is not lost.
Now for some who tried this exercise, they felt resistance in working with colors they did not like or felt uncomfortable with cutting up their mandala art.
The idea of not getting attached to the art and beauty that we create reminds me of the Tibetan Buddhist ritual of creating sand mandalas. Several monks will work painstakingly on constructing a beautiful mandala, one grain of sand at a time. At the end of the week, they ceremoniously sweep up the sand and release it in a nearby body of water. To see this process watch the video above.
Do you get attached to your mandala art? Sometimes I see students get attached to not only the beauty they create but more often they get attached to what they perceive as ugly art. They focus on perfection, creating perfectly straight or curved lines, at the expense of enjoying the process. It’s easy to get caught up in the striving and doing and lose sight of the joys of being in the moment.
I admit to feeing some resistance at the thought of working through a mandala lesson called, “Falling apart.” No one wants to feel like they don’t have control. What surprises me every time I show up for this lesson, is that I discover my child-like sense of play and curiosity in destructing the mandalas. There is a feeling of freedom and possibility. As I love piecing together puzzles, reconstructing the mandala felt much like a puzzle only better as I get to decide how the pieces go back into place.
My takeaway from Stage 11: Falling Apart, lies in these questions, “Can I bring curiosity and play into my life the next time I face uncertainty and when familiar routines are thrown off?” “Can I trust that not all is lost when things in my life radically change?”
If this sounds like a fascinating way to create mandalas, I invite you to join me for my next round of the Great Round. I’d love for you to join me and discover the many adventures the circle has to offer you.
Learn more about the Great Round Online Course.