Healing can take place through many different methods – therapy, medication, lifestyle alterations, familial support, as well as through a special type of meditation, using art. Imagery often evokes emotions by bringing back previous pleasant or harmful memories which allow one to experience their emotions. Debra Detton’s experience offers a real life example of the healing power of art. As a mother of two, caught up in life’s daily hassle, she was experiencing tension from work. Her doctor was concerned about her health, and encouraged her to take blood pressure medications. Luckily, she had been exposed to adult coloring books which contained multiple pre-drawn patterns aiming to destress the individual coloring . This significantly reduced her blood pressure and calmed her nerves. Exposing one’s mind to creatively wander could be the new wave of meditation.
My interest in mandala meditation stemmed from my Eastern religious culture and my own penchant for art. After drawing many mandala-inspired geometric figures called Zen tangles, I was instantly gratified by the sacred architecture. Each mandala leads to a different journey and I am happy to have found this calming religious and spiritual activity to practice mindfulness meditation. Mandalas have rich significance in meditation, prayer, art therapy and healing. “Mandalas,” meaning “circles” in Sanskrit are visually pleasing schematic representations of repeating geometric patterns found in many Asian traditions, often used in performing psychophysical rituals in forms of colored sand or on buildings. They evolve from symbols which can be reproduced endlessly in our day-to-day lives, from architectural structures to fabrics. These powerful symbols represent spiritual energy and have been used by famous psychologist Carl Jung in his psychological practices to create healing from within the human mind. Circles symbolize completeness and fluidity and have no hard edges, which encourages practitioners to focus their energy inwards, as the pattern follows this circular path. Hindu priests and practitioners often refer to the mind as a “mandala circle because if you watch, you become aware of the vicious circle of the mind” . Awareness of the mind is an important meditation technique used to center one’s thoughts on the mind and break the cycle of negativity.
Historically, only dignitaries who received special permission could view special mandalas by Tibetan monks. The Dalai Lama however, reversed the situation and wanted to preserve and educate others about the Buddhist tradition by sending monks to make a sand mandala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1988. Tibetan Buddhist monks took their entrancing mandalas to educate the Mid-Atlantic about religion, symbolism and consciousness through mandala art. They traveled from Atlanta’s Mystical Arts of Tibet to New York, California, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Their work even made its way down to Florida as Wall Street Journal writer Lee Lawrence discovered the art form at Mattie Kelly Arts Center in Niceville, FL. Lee explains the meaning of their chanting spells as she describes their mandala meditation ritual in her Wall Street Journal article. She describes their sounds of clashing cymbals and horns which “dispel harmful spirits and invite the blessing of Buddha” to help find peace . With precise strokes, the monks began blueprinting their mandala. Through the confusion of sound, the monks were calm and deeply focus on the present moment. They used colors that represent water, air and earth to balance their thoughts in all directions. The monks also used sand to paint-by repeatedly sprinkling sand where new designs were to be made. These repetitive tasks turn mandalas into memory games and sharpen cognitive thinking, demonstrating teamwork and resilience.
Recently, meditators are now turning this sacred spiritual wellness into a series of Mandala Coloring books for adults and children, similar to Donna’s. These coloring books’ artmaking method reminds adults of their childhood, increases self-awareness, and encourages self- expression . The power of the mandala is not to express artistry, but to heal through art and find inner peace. Mandala art is affordable, accessible and creative. It is for any age (5 to 95) and can be created anywhere with materials such as sand, pen/pencil or any art supplies. While this is a relatively new technique, there is much criticism among the psychological academic community. Due to other preexisting conditions, for instance, epilepsy, some individuals may have troubles with the “creative process.” Cari Schofield from Georgia, used to love to create art but due to her newfound epilepsy, she starts to shake . However, due to this impediment she is happy she is at least able to distract herself through art. Art therapists are chiming in and saying it is still important for healing, mentally and physically.
A new wave of Buddhist traditions witnessed by Lee at the Mystical Arts of Tibet facility allows monks to interact with people who come to their studio in order to gain religious meaning and improve their own spirituality. Even in the United States, Hurricane Katrina survivors, mostly children, used art therapy to ease the painful environmental displacement they had gone through. The last ritual performed in the meditation set is parallel to one performed in a monastery; meditation chanting to explore teachers of previous monks. Uniting Tibetan Buddhists through mandala meditation strengthens their mindfulness energy through their passionate chanting. Mandala meditation aims to be an accessible form of therapy and is gaining acceptance through its variety of self-expressive forms, whether it be coloring books or drawing.
- Schwedel, Heather. “Coloring Books for Adults: We Asked Therapists for Their Opinions.” The Guardian. 2015. Accessed April 05, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/17/coloring-books-adults-therapists-opinions.
- “OSHO Mandala Meditation.” Oshomeditationstudio. Accessed November 26, 2015. http://oshomeditationstudio.com/portfolio/osho-mandala-meditation/.
- Lawrence, Lee. “Castles in the Sand.” Wall Street Journal. July 11, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324328204578569991999762434.
- “Healing Powers of Mandala Coloring.” Mandala Coloring Pages to Print: Find Your Mandalas to Color. Accessed November 26, 2015. http://mandalacoloringmeditation.com/mandala-coloring/mandala-articles/about-mandala-coloring-healing/.
- Liudmila Horvath. Blue Indian ornament. http://www.123rf.com/photo_16905233_blue-indian-ornament.html.
Amishi Desai is a graduating senior at GWU majoring in psychology which sparked her mind-body dualism interest along with her passion for art and drawing. She believes in the therapeutic nature of art and is passionate to show how art can heal.