“I believe that the mandalic process is a tremendously powerful means of orchestrating collaborations and igniting collective consciousness. The principles of the mandala underly my regenerative designs and collaborations.”
What are mandalas?
Mandalas are an ancient and sacred art that can be found in cultures and religions around the world. A mandala can be as simple as a circle drawn in the sand, as beautiful as a cathedral rose window, or as sophisticated as a multi-terraced, pyramid temple like those of the Aztecs or Mayans. Like a flower, mandalas unfold outwards from the centre, taking a pattern of their own. Symbolism, colour-meaning, and numerology weave themselves into the radial geometry, seeping mandalas in meaning and power.
Making a mandala is a potent process for exploring one’s subconscious, developing intuition and revealing personality. Carl Jung was arguably the first to use mandala making as a means of psychotherapy and self-discovery with his patients . By reviewing a patient’s mandala, Jung realized that profound insights could be gleaned, both by the practitioner and the patient.
The simple process of mandala making inevitably leads to personal and collective insights. Jung was awed by the results.
Likewise, I’ve been personally awed by the results. The unfolding mandala becomes a window to the soul.
In a group mandala, a parallel collective process results. The collaboration generates a web of energy that quickly ascends to more than the sum of its parts. In the group mandala making workshops that I have led around the world, I have watched as collaborations turn magical: a group of people can come together, often strangers, and make something so beautiful and harmonic, they are all blown away.
The true mandala is always an inner image, which is gradually built up through (active) imagination, at such times when psychic equilibrium is disturbed or when a thought cannot be found and must be sought for, because it is not contained in holy doctrine.
-C.G.Jung – Psychology and Alchemy, Princeton University Press, 1993, paragraph 123.
Since Carl Jung first pointed to mandalas as a reflection of the collective unconsciousness, psychologists and therapists have used mandalas as potent introspective tools. I have used mandala making, both with individuals and groups as a way to mine personal and interpersonal insights. Through mandala making, an individual’s, a group’s, even a community’s shadows, character and dynamics, are put into the light.
Guided by Intention
At the core of any mandala, is an intention. This is the unseen temporal center that guides the entire unfolding. A person can intend make a mandala for themselves– the mandala will then become a mirror of the maker. A mandala can be made for peace– it will soon come to contain peaceful symbols, colours and geometry. A mandala can be made for a Church window– soon it will use the numerology, the symbols and stories of the religious community. However, not only will the mandala reflect the original intention, the process will amplify, refine, and sharpen it.
Take for example a Cathedral Rose window. In France, the making of a rose window; using intricate circular stone masonry, stain glass, and lead framing, could take decades. The process would be done in consultation with the priest and bishop to ensure that it reflected the patron saint of the Church and their particular theology at the time. However, once completed, the window, shining Sunday after Sunday for centuries would become the subtle, yet definitive, experience for the Church’s community. In the same way, the sun calendar of the Aztecs, the grand Hindu temples of Borobudur, the standing stones of Stone Henge, became over time the structure for rituals and religion. Indeed, over enough time, the mandala not only becomes a reflection of a religion or ritual or intention… it becomes it!
In the past, the manifestation and amplification of the seed intention were incidental– unconscious. The makers did not realize the full four dimensional, collective and consciousness concantenating process that the mandalic process evoked. However, learning with a full understanding we can put mandalas to use consciously as a means to amplify our intentions– from the present far into the future.
Mandala making is a fundamentally meditative, reflective process. Because of this the process directs the attention and focus of the maker or makers onto the intention of the creation. The intention likewise determines the medium, the physical space, and the process. These elements then determine the geometry, colours, symbols and numerology of the mandala. As the process unfolds, with the intention as a guide, the participants deepen their relationship with the mandala,
Let’s take for example, the medium of the mandala. A mandala can be made from just about anything. I’ve made mandalas from everything from condoms to picked-up plastic litter! In the latter case, the process of myself and my students walking around town picking up plastic, inevitably put attention on the picked up plastic, it’s context, cause and consequence. Likewise a mandala made as a blessing for a new home, puts attention on the home and the intention for good things for the new path it represents. A mandala made for Church window will not only incorporate all the story and spirituality of the specific religious community, the attention of the creative process will come to defining that Church.
Regardless of the theme or the medium of the mandala the process is invariably one of consciousness raising. The participants deepen their relationship with the aspects of the core intention– especially with the medium and place of the mandala.
The consciousness raising properties of mandalas have vast importance in our times of ecological and social crises — crises which are fundamentally caused by a lack of consciousness.
The Tibetan Tradition
We can learn much from one of the world’s most developed and refined mandala making traditions. In the Tibet, groups of monks would work in silence for days and weeks at a time to compose intricate mandalas from grains of coloured sand around a specific intention: perhaps blessing a new temple, asking for peace in a conflict, harmony in a community, etc. Without speaking, the monks would work together within the dynamic of the blossoming symmetry. In this way their collective intention and prayer for the space was made. The intense and focused process of making a mandala, of holding the specific intention, would deeply affect not only the mandala makers, but those observing the process. In so doing the collective consciousness of the surrounding community would be raised towards the focus of the intention.
In the Tibetan traditon, the fourth dimensional properties (the social and consciousness effects over time) of a mandala are well understood. In a symbol of the impermanence of all things, the tibetan monks will, after the mandala has stood for a few days or weeks, destroy it. All the colored sand will be mixed up by hand, collected, and brought to rivers or streams, where it will be ceremoniously deposited as a blessing– to share the good energy of the mandala with the rest of the world.
For the Tibetans, the mandala’s physicality is secondary to the moment of coming together, focused attention, and the ultimate intention of the process.
In the same way as the Tibetans make mandala, a group can come together to make a collective mandala. To the degree that we are aware of the principles in play, the process can become a profound experience in collaboration and consciousness raising.
When groups of people make mandalas, the dynamics of personality and interpersonal interaction are likewise laid bare. This powerful dynamic of focused collective attention raises both the consciousness of the participants and of the group. When the group has a chance to process the experience afterwards, profound insights are inevitably mined.
My First Mandalic Mobilization
In 2010, after leading many collaborative mandala projects, I discovered ‘Ecobricks’. Ecobricks are a super simple solution for plastic waste– by packing a plastic bottle full of plastic, one can make a building block that can be used on over and over. I was amazed at the potential of this low-tech solution, and decided that seeing the concept spread, trumped my work making artistic mandalas. However, as I was in the groove of making collaborative mandalas, I inadvertently applied the same principles to my work sharing ecobricks. The results were staggering, and have fundamentally changed the course of my art and life.
As I went school to school, village to village sharing the ecobrick technique, I held on to the following mandalic principles:
- I made sure that I was personally setting the example. As the orchestrator, I realized I played a part in setting the pattern and the intention. My example, my pattern, was at the center of the mandala.
- I made sure that the intention was clear: “Let’s keep our plastic out of the environment”. I made sure that the intention and core concept was widely available to all through a free PDF guidebook that put on our website.
- I made sure that the door to participate in the unfolding was wide open to as many people as possible– this meant keeping the technique as simple as possible, using only local materials, using only universally available and with negligible cost.
The ecobrick making began with me in my house. As I shared it to my neighbourhood school, other schools in the area expressed interest. I went and visited them, and then more. Within a few months the superintendent endorsed ecobricking to all 263 schools in the district. I visited many, and our guidebook went out to all. Then, other school districts began to follow suit. The undersecretary of education was paying attention, and mandated ecobricking in over a thousand more schools.
It was thus, that ecobricks spread to several thousand schools in less than two years, with only my un-funded orchestration. The spread of ecobricking continues exponentially in south east Asia. In comparison, in other parts of the world, ecobricking, shared with only a slightly different methodology, has grown then dropped off.
Applying Mandalic Principles to Collaboration
The principles of the mandala can dramatically empower collaborations. Let us review the making a sand mandala to draw out the core principles at play.
- First, the intention is clear to all participants and those observing.
- Second, the circular geometry, or unfolding pattern, is also coherent and accessible.
- Third, the medium of the mandala (sand in this case) is accessible to all.
- Fourth, the tools and technique to join are accessible (in this case the specialist sand dropping tool restricts accessibility to participation to experienced monks).
- Finally, the end of the creation (the destruction of the mandala and dispersal of the sand to rivers and streams), is an intended and planned part of the creation.
By following and applying these principles, mundane collaborations can be otherwise supercharged with viral spread and the empowerment of participants into new leaders of new nodes and circles of the mandala.
Best of all, anyone can join the mandalas co-creation. By design, the mandala uses readily available materials, to be welcoming and inspiring. A new participant has but to grasp the unfolding geometry and begin their contribution to it.
The strength and consequence of an unfolding mandalic collaboration is contingent on the degree of commitment by the participants.
The word commitment here, is used not in a legalistic sense of set obligations or temporal period. Rather, it refers to the existential choice, authenticity and passion with which the collaborator joins the process.
In this way, mandalic collaborations often begin with ritual– a prayer, a circle, a clear statement of intention. In this way, the collaborator can sense their resonance to the expressed intention and geometry. The collaborator can then gain inner clarity, and level up their commitment.
Commitment in this sense is not constrained by time. There is no promise of participation for a month or a week or a day. Instead, the commitment is deeply grounded in the Now of the creative process and the physically felt resonance of the collaborator. Those who are holding the space for the mandala, from the orchestrator, to the participants, know this, and hold no temporal or logistical requirements to the participants. This phenomenon is witnessed easily in physical mandala making: a collaborator will see clearly how they can contribute, they will jump in, passionately and single mindedly they will contribute, then, as the creative urge wanes, they will withdraw, often letting another take their place.
The orchestrator often sets the bar of commitment by his or her presence at the outset of the collaboration. The extent of the orchestrators authenticity and commitment enable those who join to participate likewise. In this way, the leading of a ritual, and clear expression of the intention and geometry by the orchestrator at the outset are essential to inate character of the mandalic unfolding.
Inclusive Judgemental Awareness
One of the most challenging aspects of mandalic collaboration is the withholding of judgement of the process– yet the full experience of the judgements that come to mind. As the mandala unfolds and collaborators add to the cocreation, there will be participants and additions that do not resonate with the orchestrator and with other participants. The role of the orchestrator is to hold the space and allow for such dissonance to occur.
In the interpersonal and community space created by the unfolding, much emotion will be felt by participants, including the orchestrator. These dissonances and emotions are key to the unfolding however and are precisely what give the mandala its overall character. The emotions are felt, experienced, and owned by the orchestrator and participants. Meanwhile inclusive participation is maintained. To the extent the orchestrator can hold the space and set the example for inclusive collaboration, to that extent the mandala will have depth, beauty, meaning and power.
More of my writing on Mandalas
Mandalas and more…
What are Mandalas?
Mandalas are an ancient and sacred art that can be found in cultures and religions around the world. Mandalas harness circular geometry and symmetry to create a pattern filled with meaning, symbolism and intention. Their creative process enables one or more folks to come together and organically unfold consciousness raising co-creations.