When my daughter was in 2nd grade at Rail Ranch elementary school in Murrieta, CA, her teacher invited me to share the art of mandala making with her class. Ms. Reucker was delighted at the calm concentration that filled the room. Several years later I joined a group of visual artists demonstrating their art at First Night in Escondido, CA. Although my purpose for being there was to demonstrate how I make mandalas, my table soon became a place for visitors to sit quietly and make their own. I was thrilled by the vivid colors and intricate patterns made by “children” of all ages, and by people who never made one before.

Mandala is a Sanskrit word for circle or wheel. It also signifies beginnings with no ends. The variations of patterns are endless, but each has a specific center, and concentric rings that emanate from that center. Every culture and spiritual practice has their own representation or versions of this circle, evident in their art, architecture and rituals. In ancient Britain the Druids told time and performed rituals within their circles made with large boulders. The circular Aztec calendar was also a time keeping device as well as a vehicle for religous expression. The 12th century Christian nun Hildegard von Bigen created mandalas to express her visions and beliefs as did the esoteric Christians such as the Rosicrucians. The mandala is a recurrent Christian image and includes the rosary, halo, Celtic cross, crown of thorns, rose windows, floor of Chartres Cathedral and more.. In Islam the entire building of the mosque becomes a mandala as the dome of the roof represents the arch of the heavens. The Star of David is a Hebrew spiritual symbol adopted by Judaism in the middle ages. It is a common motif found in mandalas. In the Zohar it is written, “There exists no circle in the world which is not made from within a single point which is located in the center…and this point, which is located in the center, receives all the light, illuminates the body, and all is enlightened.”

Other mandalas include the pentacle that is part of the Wiccan religion, the oriental yin yang symbol, the zodiac, indigenous Australians’ bora rings, and Amish hex signs. Navajo Indians spend days or weeks creating sand mandalas and many natives of North America create and use medicine wheels and dream catchers. Some cultures regard the mandala as an eye of God, or of the Goddess.

Zen Buddhist monks also spend days or weeks creating a sand mandala, while chanting and praying, only to seeep it up and disperse it into flowing water, to demonstratte the impermanence of life. According to Buddhist scripture, sand mandalas transmit positive energy to the environment and to the people who view them, even after they are swept away.

The circle with a center pattern is the basic structure of nature, from the smallest molecule to the seeming endless Milky Way galaxy. Flowers, rings found in tree trunks, snowflakes, sand dollars, tree fungi, stars and planets surround us, as do the conceptual circles of family, friends and community.

Psychotherapist Carl Jung thought of making mandalas as an opportunity for processing feelings and events, for self-exploration and for healing. He believed that a mandala symbolizes “a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness.” Jung thought the mandala is the ultimate symbol of well-being and wholeness.

Whatever your belief systems are, creating your own mandala design, or coloring one, lets you express yourself and brings joy to you the artist as well as those who view it. The act of creating the mandala – with crayons, markers, paint, collages, stones, or any medium you feel drawn to – is relaxing and centering. As you look at your finished work, notice where your eyes land, and where they travel. Then go to the center of the mandala, focus on it, and become aware of your own center. Allow this centered, relaxed feeling move with you through the days to help you navigate the challenges of the times.