Last month we reflected on the changeover from summer to the fall season and how that shift can transform us. The Fall season represents the transience of life, and it reminds us how important it is to live in the present moment so we can savor what is now. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, once said, “The only constant is change,” and in this blog, I would like to discuss a tool to aide in personal transformation – the mandala, which is the Divine’s reminder of life’s impermanence. Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle,” and their circular design symbolizes the idea that the cycle of life is never ending and everything and everyone is connected. In this article, I am going to provide some of the artful history surrounding the mandala, and then outline suggestions in how to use a mandala in your life as an instrument to navigate change.
History of Mandala
The world around us can be explained in mathematical principles and in spiritual laws. For example, when we walk in nature, we observe sacred geometry reflected in the trees, animals, insects, and water -- even sound, when measured, manifests in a geometric, octagonal shape. It is a reminder that we are all connected and share in the Divine’s great design.
Many create mandalas using geometric patterns, and we can see their artful forms in religious buildings, e.g., mosques and churches. In addition, some civilizations like the Celts and Navajo Indians had mandala-like designs that were associated with spiritual growth and healing. In the Celtic tradition, were the Tree of life, Celtic knot, Triquetra symbol, and Celtic spiral, which are all archetypal mandala symbols representing the interconnectedness between the Divine, ancestors, and self; spirit, mind, and body; past, present, and future; creation, preservation, and destruction; and the holy trinity. In the Navajo tradition, the medicine wheel represented Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter; air, fire, earth, and water; and the four stages of life. Their healers used medicine wheels based on the healing vibration it held. The patient would lay in the center of the design, and the healer would invoke a deity to help restore health and bring their body back into balance.
The first Mandala image appeared in the Indian Hindu texts Rig Veda and dates to 1500 – c. 500 BCE. The texts encouraged students to question how they viewed reality, to reject deception, and to seek inner awareness and understanding relating to how one connects to the outside world. The Rig Veda itself is said to reflect a mandala because it encourages the reader to move from the superficial towards the center where divine truth resides.
During the mid-1400s, Tibetan Buddhist monks created dul-tson-kyil-khor, sand mandalas, as a form of spiritual expression that represented an instrument of self-illumination and a method to bring peace, knowledge, and freedom to all people. The sand mandalas were made by placing colored powder over a white chalk geometric blueprint. Frequently, four monks worked on one sand mandala that was divided into different quadrants. When one monk finished their design, then the next monk would take a turn until the mandala was completed. After all the work had been poured into the mandala, it was destroyed, and that symbolized impermanence.
In more recent history, Carl Jung saw the mandala as a method to understand the “self” through awareness. He believed that if a person saw a mandala in a dream or if it showed up in their art, a person was balancing the opposites of their personality and experiencing psychological growth. Even today, mandalas are a part of art therapy. Not only does it promote relaxation, but it also provides insight into a person’s life as it changes.
How to Use Mandalas in the Present
Mandalas are spiritual symbols that help us connect to the Divine, accept change, and transform. We can utilize the same mandala techniques our ancestors used for our growth in the present. When we take the time to create a personal mandala, we are creating a Divine tool to gaze inside us and transform our inner angst into growth and peace-filled happiness. Mandalas can be used in meditation to calm and center one’s thoughts and emotions allowing visions of the perfect self to manifest in the present. Here are a few mandala activities to try during any season – not just Fall.
1. Find a picture of a mandala to meditate on. Focus on what you would like to see manifested in your life, and then let the shapes, colors, and light of the mandala speak to your soul. If you want to connect to the Divine, then make that the focus of your meditation – maybe repeat a phrase or say a prayer. If you are focusing on making a change in your life, then focus on the change you want to bring forward.
2. Go out in nature and design a mandala because the act of creating is spiritual itself. Let the outdoors teach you how to interact with nature by connecting to it through inventiveness. You can collect rocks, leaves, sticks, flowers while walking on a nature trail, through a park, or even through your own neighborhood. Ground with your feet as you walk and gather. Connect to your senses. Feel the crispness in the air. Notice the colors in the changing leaves. Feel their brittleness as they complete their life cycle. Smell a fire in the distance. Pay close attention to the change your materials go through as you artfully piece the mandala together. For example, if you picked flowers notice that they may close, fade, or wilt, but that demonstrates that nothing lives forever; we don’t live forever. Even when taking natural items out of their native environment, they change just as we change when we enter different environments or phases of life. When you finish the mandala, spend time in silence connecting to the Divine giving yourself plenty of time to interpret what you have learned.
3. Find a group to co-create a mandala or attend a local mandala event. Take your children, grandchildren, partner, or a group of friends on a nature hunt and create a mandala. Pay attention to how everything in nature changes. Point out that relationships change too, but it doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience. If you are at the beach, watch how the water takes the articles of the mandala away. Instead of focusing on the destruction, contemplate how the water is taking the items away, but it is making room for something new to come in. What newness do you want to introduce in your life? Living Life the Happy Way is leading a mandala event on the beach in Galveston on October 7th. What a wonderful way to experience interconnectedness with other women! I can’t think of anything more beautiful than women uniting and coming together to support each other through the challenges life sometimes presents.
4. A final way that you can invite the power of mandalas in your life is through walking a labyrinth. A labyrinth is a mandala. You meditatively walk the path towards the center reviewing what has been transpiring in your life. When you reach the center, you meet the Divine. You express gratitude and search your heart for a message. On the same path out of the labyrinth, you create new intentions and focus on what you want to bring into your life. Living Life the Happy Way is happy to host a labyrinth event at the beginning of every month.
As we continue to meander through the Fall months, let transformation drift over you peacefully and calmly. Embrace that circumstances change. People change. People live and later transpire. Change is a constant in life, but it doesn’t have to be feared. As our ancestors used mandalas to find meaning and connect to the Divine, we can as well. This month I want to challenge you to go within and listen to what the Divine is whispering to you. If change visits you, I encourage you to look for what is coming in to replace what has gone. If you are experiencing a difficulty and hardship this season, create a mandala as therapy and recognize this season too will pass and then prepare to welcome in a time of thanksgiving and peace.