Mandalas - for a short break with kids or at the office

Mandalas - for a short break with kids or at the office

I “heard” about them for the first time a few years ago when reading C. G. Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who re-introduced mandalas into modern Western thought by observing the motif of the circle and adopting the word “mandala” based on his familiarity with the Indian philosophical writings.

According to Jung, mandala is a magic circle, the symbol of the Self, whereas the Self is “the archetype of psychic Totality”, the true center of personality. Mandalas are creations formed by archetypal forces of the unconscious mind that the person is not aware of during the creation of the work. The symbols and images come from the collective unconscious, these are primordial images, which reside in each one of us.

Jung recognized that the urge to make mandalas emerges during moments of intense personal growth. Their appearance indicates that a profound re-balancing process is underway in the psyche. The result of the process is a more complex and better integrated personality. In the mandalas created by his patients, Jung saw a natural process of generating and resolving inner conflicts that brings about harmony and stability in the personality. In this way, mandalas are important indicators of the process of personal growth that moves us toward fulfilling our particular identity and purpose in life.


They also provide a bridge between earlier self-images and our present experience of our self.

Simpler stated, mandalas are graphical representations of the center/Self under a geometrical form – usually a circle, abstract and static, or a vivid image formed of objects and/or beings. They may be circular gardens, arrangements of stones, colorful designs of flowers from the garden, lines traced in sand at the beach, elk hide stretched to make a drum, circular fountains, parks and their radial alleys, square market places, obelisks, buildings with a circular or square shape, lakes, rivers (radial water networks) etc. It is said that the act of mandala coloring draws us into the very circle of life.

The word “mandala” comes from Sanskrit, meaning "circle" and as a spiritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism is often represented as a square with four gates within a circle and containing a circle with its-own center. Microcosms within a macrocosm but also cosmic and psychic order.


In the last years I forgot about it but recently I re-discovered under the form of a fun activity with my kids when we started coloring together mandalas from a book. Somehow I felt the urge to join them, letting out the child in myself. Or maybe it is true what Jung found that “mandalas usually appear in situations of psychic confusion and perplexity” (Jung, 1973:vi), an idea that I have to give another thought. 

Coloring mandalas with my kids, first of all we allowed ourselves to play.  By playing, we opened up a broad range of creative and intuitive processes that we don't normally experience in our day-to-day lives. Secondly it allowed my busy mind to take a break while the creative mind was allowed to run free. I felt also as if I revisited some of my childhood discoveries and came back with a sense of order, in relation to my family, neighborhood, circle of friend work environment and, why not in relation to the world itself. 


I noticed with this occasion that my kids were highly familiar and very interested in  circular drawings that evolved into more elaborate forms, and that they were able to assign meaning to their  spontaneously created radiant suns, rainbows, flowers, rivers and now… mandalas. Which is actually normal, as research with infants has shown that we are born with a desire to look at circles and that through such circular drawings a rudimentary sense of self as a physical being is built from early childhood and then is refined through experience and maturation. Circles remind us of the fundamental fact that we exist, and make us aware of our primary identity as a physical being that occupies space. After all, the ability to recognize circles is built into our visual apparatus which makes us perceive and recognize them as something known and familiar.  Further, this artistic activity is like speaking a language. Our bodies and our minds connect and engage in a process that allows for our entire nervous system to explore new realms of identity.


Then I took the experiment further and I colored a mandala in a 10 minutes break, at the office as I thought that I could nurture the dialogue between my ego and my self anywhere, just by making time to first color then create my own mandalas.


I printed some models from the many free web resources and took some colors that I use in my workshops. I had the same feeling when playing with my kids and their mandalas, that this relaxing activity tapped into my natural affinity for circles, recalled some of my earliest experiences and absorbed my mind in such a way that chattering thoughts cease, and a more awareness developed. It also energized me and gave me calm and a more clear view upon my daily agenda.


There are plenty of free available resources and more detailed information on the internet on how to use or create mandalas, so I will not insist upon this. Important is that everybody can start coloring others mandalas or creating his/her own mandalas by learning their symbolic language.  As mandalas carry information between conscious and unconscious, between ego and Self, the language cannot be otherwise than symbolic. It symbolizes you: your body, your psychological state, and your place in the world. They also contain within their circular form the essence of the universe, the seasons and cycles of nature. It takes some time to learn their symbolic language and we need some patience but the benefits on middle and long term are heading us towards healthy physical and psychological development. Which in a stressed environment we live, we really need and… deserve it, as long as the mandalas we create function merely as a sort of home base, a castle where we create and re-create our sense of who we are.

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