Part II: My journey with mandalas
I discovered mandalas while doing research on art therapy and ideas for art workshops. In preparation for a mandala workshop, I challenged myself to do a mandala every day for a month. It gave me the opportunity to practice drawing mandalas as well as trying to understand the nature of mandalas and the therapeutic value of making a mandala.
At first it was difficult to motivate myself to draw every day, but eventually, it became a means through which I could find stillness and centre myself after a stressful day. It quickly became a space I could return to every day. Space where I could breathe, relax and become present in the here and now.
The mandala process
The mandala-making process should be spontaneous and without preconceived ideas and expectations regarding mandalas. Meditation and automatic drawing are a great way to prepare the mind for a mandala. There are many different ways to draw a mandala. The most basic method is to draw a circle and start drawing from the centre outwards.
A mandala can only truly be interpreted by yourself. Interpretations are based on personal experience and limited by individual viewpoints. Colours, numbers, and shapes all have symbolic meanings connected to various beliefs and cultures. A basic understanding of the symbolic meaning of these elements can be an excellent guideline. In the end, one’s personal connotations with colours and shapes are the only true source for interpretation.
Throughout this blog entry, I want to share with you some realizations I had while making or meditating on mandalas instead of interpreting the mandalas I have done.
Everything we are looking for is already within ourselves
In the past, I used to unwind with a few (often too many) glasses of whiskey. The mandala was a healthy practice that replaced self-destructive habits. During the mandala challenge, I was going through big life changes including letting go off unhealthy coping mechanisms. Mandalas became a powerful tool I could use to ground myself and find the strength from within in order to move through this challenging and transformative time.
We limit ourselves with biased notions
While I was drawing the mandalas I realised that I was trying to draw what I thought a mandala should look like, instead of drawing from a place of freedom and exploration. I was judging the mandalas and felt that I was wasting my time as an artist making these drawings. I had to learn to make these drawings for myself without any expectations. I realized I can free myself from judgement and express myself in ways I have never known possible. I have also learned to see things for what they are, to accept life’s challenges, my surroundings and the people I encounter without trying to manipulate or change it.
Boundaries are necessary for personal growth
The first few mandalas felt rigid and dominated by geometrical shapes. I was afraid to let go of structure and draw spontaneously. I challenged myself to make a few mandalas with only organic forms. I soon noticed that the mandalas lacked structure and symmetry which is necessary for balance and a feeling of oneness. Through a combination of geometrical and organic elements, geometrical shapes enhanced organic forms and served as an underlying structure in order to create symmetry and balance. This made me realised how necessary strong boundaries and healthy habits within a routine are for personal growth.
Stress and anxiety influence our perception
On days that I felt extremely anxious I had to encourage myself to draw a mandala. Usually, I would absolutely hate the drawing and feel that I was wasting my time. Most of the time I wouldn’t even finish the drawing. Surprisingly, when I looked at the drawing the next day I thought it was the most beautiful one I have done so far. This made me realise that stress and anxiety lower our vibrations and how we perceive our environment. Whenever we feel fearful and unsure inside we perceive the world as unsafe and chaotic. Whenever we feel centred and calm we perceive the world as accepting and with many possibilities. I soon learned not to take myself too seriously whenever I am anxious.
Time is circular, not linear
My mandalas had a recurring four-leaf flower. Most of the mandalas revolved around this flower. After doing some research on the flower of life symbol, I started to incorporate the symbol. Suddenly, my compositions exploded with connectedness and balance. These mandalas were great to focus on during meditation. After some time, I was struck by the realization that my soul is infinite and ever expanding. Time is not what we perceive it to be. The past and future are happening at once in the here and now. All we have is the moment. If you are centred in the now, you are centred in the past as well as the future.
Finding equanimity through mandalas
Balance in a mandala can be achieved through continuously fluctuating between going with the flow and planning ahead. The mandala-making process is an excellent means to practice mindfulness and being in the here and now. Fundamentally, mandalas can teach us to break away from egocentric ideas based on expectations formed by society and reconnect with our true self. The biggest realization I had through making mandalas is the power of equanimity. The idea of equanimity refers to a composed state of mind and calm emotional state in a stressful situation. Equanimity is about finding a balance between attachment and non-attachment in our relationships, our environment, beliefs, and dreams in order to become empathic beings and move closer to our true nature.