2 Meditative Practices with Mandalas

Some of us will never understand the use or make use of the Pythagorean Theorem in our lives, or what an isosceles triangle means for advancing in life. For this, we remain obtuse, but what about sacred geometry? Mandalas, certainly in North American culture, rose to popularity through the trend of adult coloring books. The intricate designs of course make for a greater challenge and deeper concentration for adults instead of say, enlarged cartoon characters. So, mandala designs are cosmic, symbolic, and purposeful. Like labyrinths, they are both a healing tool and creatively significant. 

You may notice mandalas have a center point, and this is interpreted in many cultures to be the center of the world. The shapes around the center can be divided into four equal quadrants from the center, all symmetric. Mandalas of Tantric and Hindu traditions often have patterns of triangles and upside down triangles which represent the deities Shiva and Shakti. The triangles for Shiva and Shakti show balance and unity of masculine and feminine energies.

In Buddhist traditions there are ceremonies where monks create intricate mandalas with colored sand. Soon after the masterful work is complete, the sand is swept away in one push of a broom demonstrating Buddhist principles of impermanence and non-attachment.

As a healing tool, engaging with a mandala can be a meditative practice and support a meditative state. In a similar way we can connect with artists and culture through artwork or via an immersive museum experience, mandalas serve as portal to deeper self-exploration. Psychologist Carl Jung saw mandalas as an archetypical symbol of the collective unconscious and a method for satisfying our implicit drive for wholeness.

Robert Thurman, a renowned Buddhist practitioner and translator (interestingly father of actress Uma Thurman), says mandalas are a model of the mind and “an icon of our highest potential.” With this background of symbolism, how might we use mandalas? 

So far, my basis of knowledge on mandalas has come from my extensive research on them. Mandalas were a section in the Inward Through Imagery chapter of my Master’s thesis. Because of their rich symbolism, I chose to test if engagement with them influences the creative process. I hypothesized a link between mediative experience and the experience of creating. Anyway, this project is the origin from which I write this post.

As with many other self-healing techniques, I encourage you to try this on your own and determine from your own experience possible effects and what works for you. This practice can be used in preparation for creating artwork, to dissolve creative block or feelings of burnout, preparation for an event, after a challenging day, as a daily practice, to support you in getting in touch with authenticity or your needs, problem solving, or casually out of curiosity. The list goes on!

A mandala I painted

Begin by looking for mandalas. An internet image search will give you an idea of the various designs, and you may notice you are drawn to particular mandalas or colors. Maybe you use a mandala you colored or drew! Choosing a mandala can be quick if you follow your initial intuitive response, or you can choose one over the course of a couple of days. Giving yourself more time and returning to your search allows you to notice patterns of what captures your attention. Also keep in mind that different mandalas may make different experiences. Perhaps you’d like to set an intention for the experience.

Once you’ve chosen the mandala you’d like to work with, find a quiet place where you will be undisturbed for consecutive minutes. Creating your space is another variable that can enhance your experience. You may choose to light candles or incense or dim the lights. Just make sure you can still clearly see your mandala. Sitting with your spine straight comfortable yet alert, bring your awareness to your breathing. There is no need to change how you are breathing, but to notice it as it is.

Now begin to observe your mandala. Perhaps your eyes are directed to its center and move outward, or the edges bring you to its center. There is no need to strain your eyes the way you might with a Magic Eye book, instead the mandala offers you a point of focus. As thoughts arise, welcome them. Notice the nature of their content and imagine they become another shape in the mandala’s pattern. Do this for as long as you’d like.

Then, close your eyes. Your breath is steady, and you may see the outline of the mandala or its shapes still there behind your eyelids. Or perhaps other images, sounds, smells, sensations are present. No matter if they do or don’t! Stay here for as long as you’d like. I like to give myself about equal time in the direct observation (eyes open) and indirect observation (eyes closed) stages. Sometimes a sense of time slips away. When you are ready, gain a sense of your presence in the room and blink your eyes open.

It’s handy to have a journal or writing implements nearby for you to take some notes. You could also draw a picture or begin creating right away. Even if the details of your experience seem insignificant, like “my leg fell asleep,” “nothing happened,” or “I couldn’t stop thinking,” these are all places to work with and from. Make adjustments accordingly to your process.

In many cases, the process continues with what ‘shows up’ later, within the hour, two days, etc. In my experience, there have been times where thoughts about something bothering me or feelings I’ve suppressed surface in the meditation. When this happens, always know you can take a break and go back. If we don’t allow ourselves to express certain emotions, grant them the safe space to be expressed here. Every thought and sensation is an opportunity to know yourself more deeply, to heal and to grow.   

Another great process is creating a more dimensional mandala in nature. Find objects outside like twigs, rocks, grass shreds, leaves, flowers and form them into a mandala. It works well with shells, seaweed, and driftwood on the beach too. Sand as a medium stays true to the Buddhist monk tradition! This is an accessible, therapeutic practice anyone can try!

Let the shapes shape you! Feel free to inquire about references and resources. If you like this page, please share it.

A nature mandala I created in my yard

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