In all civilisations of all epochs, the mystery of the sun as the source of life, light, truth and enlightenment, has been represented by artists in drawings of circles and spirals.
‘Mandala’ is a Sanskrit word for ‘holy circle’. The mandala is a powerful means of healing, opening up a journey on a path of self-discovery and personal growth. Each mandala is unique and reveals a pattern of the inner life of its creator. In many cultures the mandala form is central to its sacred art, and appears in traditional ceremonies and healing rituals. In every continent indigenous people used the mandala to map the cosmos and to depict the divine symmetry of nature. It has been reflected in the designs and decorations of everyday objects, as well as in ancient wisdom. From the Native Americans to ancient India, from Africa to Australia, and in Europe, the mandala and the motif of the circle have featured in art and culture.
“Contemplating and creating mandalas,” writes Judith Cornell, “can help heal our sense of spiritual and psychic fragmentation, manifest energy and optimism, and reconnect us to our essential being.”
Native Americans create personal shields as symbols of power and protection. Buddhist and Hindu forms of the mandala include intricate diagrams, maps of the cosmos and instruments for prayer. In some parts of India, women lay out mandalas in front of their homes daily as a blessing for their family. Susan Thomas writes: the central point of the mandala represents the centre of being from which radiates manifestation in its many forms, just as the planets in our solar system orbit the sun and symbolise diverse us with the divine. An old Gnostic proverb says: God is a sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.
Carl Jung associated the mandala with the Self, the centre of the total personality. He suggested that the mandala shows the natural urge to live out our potential, to fulfil the pattern of our whole personality, growth towards wholeness in a natural process that brings to light our uniqueness and individuality. He advocated respectful attention to the symbols of the unconscious as a way of enhancing personal growth. He saw the spontaneous appearance of mandalas in dreams, imagination and artwork as evidence that individuation is taking place. The result of individuation is a harmonious unity of the personality, with the Self-serving as the central unifying principle.
Healthy emotions are as important as a healthy body. Clifford Khun. The Laugh Doctor, physician, medical school professor and humourist, says: “The essence of health is wholeness and integration of body, mind and spirit in equilibrium. Medical research has revealed that many of our current illnesses are the result of the effects of stress, which seems universal in the modern society.”
Stress is destructive to our body, disorganising to our mind, and disabling to our spirit. It is in this activity of inner focus, of balancing and centring, reflection and relaxation, combined with inner work on the symbolic meaning of colour and form that the mandala as a healing tool is so significant, restoring and preventing the potentially destructive effects of daily stress.
Mandala drawing and contemplation also has a beneficial effect on the mind by presenting an endless variety of form and colour combinations that stir the imagination. The language of symbols offers a rich and fascinating journey of discovery. We all have messages encoded in our unconscious in the forms of symbols, colours and patterns that have meaning and importance in our lives. In mandala drawing these symbols appear as visual imagery and language. We give meaning to these drawings through our feelings and with our individual vocabulary of association and recall.
There is a rich inheritance of symbols whose meanings have become accepted as the norm for general interpretation, through shared stories and traditions related to that particular symbol, image, colour or form.
Much of this information comes from literature, art, religion and philosophy, and references stretch across the globe to the many difference peoples who have given it meaning. Some cultures assign special significance to a symbol through its tradition within that society, and it will carry meaning specific to those people. Other meanings will stem from feelings and associations gathered from our own individual experience of it, and hold a very personal and private awareness for the participant. There are therefore no ‘right’ interpretations or hard and fast rules for determining their meaning; and each new mandala may carry a new set of symbols having special significance for the maker or the receiver.
Excerpts from “The Healing Power of Mandalas” Published in Odyssey Magazine, Februray 1999