Mandala, the sacred Art of Centering
by Dana Lynne Andersen.
Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle”, signifying the primordial shape that represents wholeness, completeness and unity. The circle, and the sphere is symbolizes, encompasses the totality of the world. Even as a two-dimensional shape it ‘travels without leave taking’, as the line of its circumference journeys endlessly around an eternally unchanging center.
This ancient and enduring symbol is an archetype that resonates deeply within the human psyche. It is found in all cultures and time periods. In the creation myths of many civilizations we find the world begins in a Cosmic Egg- the universe unfolding from the rich nucleus at its center. We now know that the universe does indeed expand spherically from a tiny dimensionless point into the magnitude of time & space. And, as in the big bang, the radical exponential expansion of the fertilized zygote grows the human body as spherical cells divide their wholeness into form. From ovum to womb to our mother’s breasts, we are nourished within spheres.
As an archetype, the Mandala resonates with these principles that span from the microcosm to the macrocosm. Its shape becomes a cosmic diagram modeling the organizational structure of life itself. As a template in sacred art, it represents the centering of the self in alignment with the cosmos.
Life itself unfolds ‘inside out’– carrying its pulse at the center of its forms. At the core of all plants and animals is a hollow space- through which the fluids of life are pulsing, whether sap or blood. From root to trunk and limb to branch, sap flows through the tree just as chlorophyll flows through the center of the stalk and Cerebrospinal fluids throb at the core of the mammalian spine. The very difference between natural fibers and man made fibers is that natural fibers contain a hole through their center, which permits the life force to flow out to all parts of the plant. Artificial fibers have no passageway for the life force. Whatever is alive has an opening at the core where the life force flows.
To harmonize with life we need to live from our own center and the Mandala is a vehicle for this centering movement. Carl Jung discovered that the Mandala was a potent archetype of the human psyche, and could be used as an effective therapeutic tool. In his pioneering exploration of the unconscious Jung observed the motif of the circle spontaneously appearing- both in his own artwork and in the drawings of his clients. He recognized that the urge to make mandalas emerges during moments of intense personal growth. Their appearance reflects a profound re-balancing process is underway in the psyche.
Jung refers to the mandala as “the psychological expression of the totality of the self.” Within every human psyche there is wholeness at the core of our Being. This seed of the Self rests at the center, holding both the primordial unity ‘before the beginning’ and the promise of a higher order integration at the end of life’s journey. Thus the archetype of the Mandala resonates with both the primeval totality in the womb of creation, and the unification of opposites through which we grow into a mature self-identity.
“The mandala serves a conservative purpose—namely, to restore a previously existing order. But it also serves the creative purpose of giving expression and form to something that does not yet exist, something new and unique…. The process is that of the ascending spiral, which grows upward while simultaneously returning again and again to the same point. (Jung “Man and his Symbols”)
In the Mandala the polarizations and oppositions that are the grist of our identity are alchemically united so that the psyche can come to completion and peace. Symbolically, the polar aspects of the macro-cosmos and the finite individual are united. The inherent duality of creation is resolved.
The Mandala takes us to the center, revealing what is at the core. It catalyzes the transformative process. I’ve been working with the Mandala since 1980 and I have seen its magic revealed in the experience of hundreds of students. It can be as simple as coloring within a circle- expressing the energies of what is on the surface, what lies deeper within, and what is at the core of our lives. It can experienced spatially in walking the Dromenon labyrinth (as seen on the floor of Chartres Cathedral), or dancing within a circle. When we work with the Mandala, the flux and chaotic maelstrom of our lives is left on the surface as we move through progressively deeper layers of being.
Creating and interacting with mandalas helps to recalibrate to our own harmony and integrity. The inner life is re-ordered and restored. Through the Mandala we center ourselves in alignment with the cosmos. At this core of our Being we tap into the unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises. In essence, we come home.