Carol Holden, Victoria Regional Meeting
The word mandala comes from Sanskrit meaning, “circle” and it is usually represented as a picture of the “Wheel of Life.” Painting, colouring or drawing mandalas, and exploring different patterns and colours, allows our creative brain to run more freely, while our analytical mind takes a nap. Mandalas generally have one identifiable centre point, from which emanates an array of symbols, shapes and forms.
This might be a definition you could find in Wikipedia. One example of a mandala is the glorious Rose Window in Notre Dame Cathedral. Labyrinths are mandalas that can be experienced physically with reflective and prayerful walking. I wasn’t aware that these were mandalas with a spiritual significance. I had heard about the Tibetan monks visiting Australia, who spent hours, days, even weeks as a team constructing large, colourful sand mandalas, which are as carefully dismantled as they are created, the coloured sand being placed into moving water symbolising the impermanence of our lives on earth.
The Huichal Indians from the state of Nayarit in Mexico take a board and spread beeswax in a thick layer upon it. On the wax they place yarn in highly symbolic designs. While they are doing this, they place their intentions in the form of prayers into their design. They may be giving thanks or asking their gods for something. When finished, they believe it is a mat or bed where the gods come to lie and absorb their intentions. It is then cast into a cave, as it is entirely ephemeral for the Huichal. It is their prayers – not art.
I was gifted with a leading to offer a summer school on mandalas. I had no experience with this form of expression. I found some wonderful books, some wonderful practitioners and plenty of help from friends. I asked some friends to visit and experience with me some of the patterns and colouring I found in Susanne F. Fincher’s book Colouring mandalas for balance, harmony, and spiritual well-being. This is a workbook with 72 sacred circle designs for people of all ages. We had a very enjoyable couple of sessions after which I felt confident in offering to facilitate a course at U3A (University of the Third Age) in Mornington.
Five women registered for this course. None had heard of mandalas. We met three times for two-hour-long sessions and everyone was most enthusiastic. Every hour simply vanished. Mandalas are an active meditation for the purpose of personal growth and spiritual enlightenment. One participant had recently qualified as an art therapist and took her first workshops on mandala with dementia sufferers.
We found it interesting that two participants in all three sessions used no colour but black. Another tried a new medium of cutting, pasting and designing within the circle.
I felt with the AYM Summer School theme being “Life in the Light” there were so many ways to explore through our mandalas the light within us and within creation.
By this time I’d built up quite a library of books and we kept discovering more about how we could play with colour, patterns and forms. I would surprise myself with colours and patterns I might never have drawn before. There can be a hypnotic quality to the repetitious patterns. There is for me a reflective state in the silence experienced in the creation of repetitive, balanced circles and patterns.
An article was published in The Australian Friend in December 2009 written by Adrian Glamorgan “ The Metaphysical History of Light.” Adrian writes about “The Light” so eloquently. I have reread this several times. Last night there was a perfect full moon, still in the pale blue and pink skies this morning; it was other-worldly. For me another truly joyful, breathtaking sight is the perfect double rainbow.
Colours in mandalas express our innermost thoughts, feelings and intuitions, even our physical sensations. The meanings of some colours may be obvious and easy to understand. Other colours may defy insight. Sometimes colours may have several layers of meaning. A colour may mean something different every time you use it. Mandalas are experiential and can be a path to self-discovery. I introduced sessions with the following quote:
Real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes
but in seeing with new eyes.(Marcel Proust)
I love colour and light. Our Quaker Logo is symbolic of Light – it represents the Aurora Australis, a natural phenomenon of the southern hemisphere, associated with Antarctica, a fragile and magnificent part of the planet. Pure light is the centrality of the Light for Quakers.
Beauty too is all around us in the creation of nature by the mysterious forces of energy, which underpin our existence. “The Mandala Book: Patterns of the Universe” by Lori Bailey Cunningham has magnificent photographs of patterns in nature and is a source of inspiration, a reminder of all that is beautiful, strange and unknown around us, from our own bodies, other creatures and life forms, our planet, our universe and the galaxies.
At Summer School, we began by drawing our circles in the simplest way possible, tracing around saucers, bowls, plates, eggcups and so on. Instructions on how to draw an exact circle were practiced later. We looked at some of the books, the photos and examples from those who had participated in the U3A Course. Copies of patterns were available but every person was soon engrossed with their own design. There were some accomplished artists amongst us but we could all find our own original expression and relax in the silent companionship. Later in the day we shared our symbolic patterns and colours with each other and all experienced the spiritual connection in the group. Symbolism of colours was discussed with obvious colours we were all able to relate to such as yellow. The colour of the sun has come to symbolize light, warmth, nourishment, and insight and of course the sun itself, to peoples the world over.
There is no right or wrong in any patterns, colours or forms. Possible meanings can overlap or be contradictory. We observed the colour we placed in the centre of the mandala. This symbolizes what is most important at the time. Does one colour predominate? If so, this colour highlights that which has one’s full attention for the moment. The use of a variety of colours shows energy is more evenly distributed among several areas of attention. Heavy colour reveals powerful emotions, while colour applied with a light touch shows a tentative approach or even sadness. Colour choices are largely guided by the unconscious.
Briefly we explored the symbolism of other colours and our own interpretations. Some people draw a mandala every day and journal their responses – Karl Jung drew, journalled and explored his mandalas for five years.
Very briefly, as our time ran out, we were able to share our symbolic forms and what they meant to us – butterflies, stars, circles, diamonds and the significance of numbers. Summer School was for me a wonderful day of experiencing community and sharing with others in that which is eternal.