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stained-glass window Eastern contemplative traditions use symbols such as the mantra and mandala as a means of centring the mind. The mandala is not unknown in Christian tradition, an obvious example being the rose windows of the great cathedrals. Psychologists like Jung have seen great significance in such symbols.

The mandala is a symbol of the whole self, by which self-knowledge may grow, and hence knowledge of God. All you need is a sheet of A4 paper, a plate to draw around which will fit entirely on the paper, a pencil and rubber, and some coloured pens with various sizes of point (fine, medium and thick) and some highlighters for fainter background colour.

Cut down the paper to make a square. Put the plate in the middle of the square and draw round it faintly in pencil. Now you are ready to begin!

No special skills in drawing or design are at all required for this exercise. It is for you and it has to look right only to yourself. The circle stands for your self, your whole self, conscious and unconscious.

You now draw and colour the circle as you feel led. What goes at the centre is likely to have special importance for many of us since this will be saying something about what is at our heart.

Sometimes an idea, for the mandala will have come to us some time before but usually it comes as we look at the empty circle. Some sort of loosely geometrical design is often the starting point. It might be the kind of pattern suggested by the different parts of a flower (such as a rose). It could be a spiral starting at the centre of the circle. Or you could begin from the centre with a motif or pattern that seems to belong there. An overall pattern may emerge from this. There will be scope for using different colours for different areas. Once some kind of pattern is taking shape other less regular features may suggest themselves. The spiral may develop the features of a curled up shell for instance, or snakes may appear threatening or embracing the centre. Lions, horses, doorways, gallows, and trees have sometimes emerged.

In the colouring of the background areas it may be that dark and shadowy areas appeared. These may be suggestive of the shadow areas of personality. Snakes and sharks may appear in them or they may be soil in which trees are rooted. There may be other areas expressive of light and beauty, perhaps revealing them through yellow or gold colouring.

The perimeter began as a pencilled circle. This may develop into a border perhaps curving in and out of the original circle. There might be a border zone within the circle. The border or zone may be broken through by lines or wider breaks. It may feel right to extend the mandala right to the edge of the square, so that the circle almost disappears. Continue colouring and putting in features until you are satisfied with the result.

So what does it mean? Like a dream it can only be properly interpreted by the one who made it. We are likely to find that the meaning grows over time as we return to reflect on it at later intervals particularly if we keep our mandalas and a dated sequence results. In this way it could be seen as a visual type of ‘journalling’.

Further Reading

Jung's Collected Works Vol.9, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, article 'concerning Mandala Symbolism'.