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Handout 9—Mandala: Symbols of the Self


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Handout 3.9—Mandala: Symbols of the Self

Handout 3.9—Mandala: Symbols of the Self

The word mandala takes its name from the Sanskrit manda, which means “essence.” The suffix la stands for container, making a mandala the container of one’s essence or Self. The Self is constantly digesting and unifying everyday experiences. A mandala symbolizes our experiences by organizing perceptions, ideas, and physical sensations within a circle. These images reveal what state people are in at a given moment.



Understanding Mandalas

Many students of mandalas have observed a pattern to their designs that expresses a 12-stage life cycle. It repeats endlessly.1 Before reviewing these stages, draw your own mandala, using the instructions on the following page. Then consider what your design is telling you about your current experience. This is an especially soothing activity to engage in during a crisis, an illness, or emotional heartache. Drawing a mandala is a type of meditation.



Mandala Designs

Current Experience

1. Void: Blank circles or vague forms, spider webs; dark or pale colors

Fertile void (prebirth): Waiting, patience, pain, ignorance, confusion, alienation, depression

2. Tiny scattered forms: Images of water, rays of sunlight, stars, small fish or plants; pastels

Bliss (birth): Passive enjoyment, rest, blurred boundaries, infinite possibilities, dreamy, drowsy

3. Labyrinth or spiral: Roads, stairways, maps, plants and vines, curving lines, spring colors

Energizing (early infancy): Searching, exploring, increasing energy, creativity, longing for growth

4. Small center form: Dot, circle, upward-pointing triangle, small boat, figure 8, curved lines, pastels

Beginning (later infancy): Dawning of a sense of Self, self-absorption, dependence on others

5. Target: Concentric circles radiating outward, bright or clashing colors

Counterdependence (toddler’s antagonism): Vigilance, hostility, rituals, obsessions

6. Division of opposites (sky father/earth mother; dark/light, angel/devil, yin/yang): Landscapes with a solitary figure; opposite or nature colors

Conflict and resolution (adolescence): Passion, change, elation, excitement, and happiness, or alienated, fear, loneliness, and depression

7. Squaring the circle: Crosses, squares, flowers with four petals, straight lines, gold colors

Self-governing (early adult): Conflicts resolved, self-esteem, balance, striving toward goals

8. Power of man: Human figure reaching out, five-pointed stars, five-petaled flowers, four-armed swastika with center point suggesting motion

Functioning (maturing adult): Individual awareness, attainment of skills, ability to interact, active doing, readiness

9. Crystallization: Six-pointed stars, eight-petaled flowers, forms composed of even numbers > 4; variety of colors with contrast, autumn colors

Fulfillment (mature adult): Attainment of goals, creative activity nearing completion, satisfaction, harmony, enjoyment without attachment

10. Collapse: Spokes of a wheel, crucifix, prominent X-designs (facing a crossroad), downward pointing triangle; dark colors, deep reds and blues

Ending (crisis): Completion of a project, time of surrender, retirement, relentless turning of life, turning toward self, journey downward

11. Fragmentation: Sliced-up pie; crazy quilt with no order, no center; messy, dark, muddy colors or overly bright and psychedelic colors

Breakdown (physical or mental): Fear, confusion, uncertainty, chaos, profound loss, disorientation, guided by intuition and synchronicities

12. Upward focus: Chalices or other transformative vessels, infusion of light from above, birds in flight, contrasting of dark and light colors

Transcendence (rebirth, sage): Relationship to something beyond yourself, feelings of joy, harmony, reverence, unity with the world


Exercise: Creating Mandalas

1. Have a full range of colors and media—pencils, crayons, pastels, markers, and so on.

2. Use a plate to draw a circle or the mandala graph paper below.2

3. Draw from the center or edges of the circle. Allow an abstract design or a scene to appear.



4. When you are done, give your mandala a title. You may want to make this a daily exercise and date your work. It is natural to see progression and themes, but avoid overanalyzing.




1Coloring Mandalas for Insight, Healing and Self-Expression, by Susanne F. Fincher, 2000, Boston: Shambhala Publications, gives the proper names of the Great Round of (12) Mandala Forms with 48 designs that can be colored.

2The exercise for creating mandalas and mandala graph paper was taken from Empowering Dialogues Within (pp. 2.9–2.10), by Kate Cohen-Posey, 2008, with permission of John Wiley & Sons


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