Mandala is a Tibetan word for wheel and in the physical art form represents the circle of a belief, an awareness, an innermost,expression from the heart. A mandala can guide one toward self-realization and introspective self-therapy beyond any other art form. It becomes a self-teacher, offering messages and enlightenment. Creating a mandala allows artists to get in touch with their own mysteries,their own deep beliefs. The art comes from the personal and realizes the transpersonal, a tremendously powerful exercise.
Ancient Buddhism shows us mandalas made of sand, which is still a popular
material today, representing mandala art in many Buddhist communities.
Sand mandalas are used to teach that time itself is impermanent; the present
moment is very delicate, very beautiful; we must capture it right now.
I have seen many sand mandalas in Buddhist temples in various parts of
Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand. They capture an essence of fragility, the
virtue of time, while telling a story of paradigms and continuity.
The Dalai Lama recognized a world that was in great need of healing when, in the late 1980s, he revealed to the world many sacred Buddhist mandalas that had previously been viewed only by traditional practitioners. The mandalas as an art form then became a popular subject of lectures in colleges, museums and study groups.These ancient works, which had been hidden for thousands of years, once exposed in the West inspired many artists and therapists to begin creating mandalas to develop renewed attentiveness.
Paul Heussennstamm was a graduate of a well-known art school and a successful fashion designer, partnering in business relationships that sustained him very well. Hemade the "mistake" of going to pick up his children from an art program they were taking on Thursdays; his wife at that time normally performed this duty, but on this particular day it was his turn. He says that he walked into this room of children painting, the smells and colors just "blew him away," and he asked the teacher if he could join his children in painting every Thursday. He insists, "I didn't find art; art found me." He began to get excited about some of the things he had loved as a child,added Thursdays to his weekly itinerary away from his "real job," and for over ten years now has been painting full time. There is a year wait on his commission list.
"A mandala is a wonderful practice for taking people away from their own self-control, which is the enemy of creative art. I can do this, I can't do that, I'm not talented. It is mind thinking, and the mandala is just heaven to get away from that place and into your own unconscious because you are constantly going around in a circle, so it's a wonderful practice of getting people out of themselves." Paul made these profound comments before he explained how anyone can make his or her own mandala.
Paul starts his mandala workshops by emphasizing the importance of ritual.
Meditation, yoga, anything that can open his students to self-realization
is encouraged. Paul says, "One of the things they don't teach in
college is ritual and all of the good artists I know have rituals."
The next step required, after ritual, is to make a list that expresses your core values. This is a visual list, not a written list. Even if you are capable of drawing only stick figures at first, do that. Once the list of symbols important to your "wheel of life" is complete, your next step is to do a rough sketch. This is accomplished without concentrating at all on the physicality of what you are doing. There is no right or wrong as you sketch a mandala without any self-control.
Your sketch complete, you might start thinking about your specific symbols in a circular pattern. Many people have great difficulty finding the center of a piece of paper. I was astounded to make this discovery in several community college courses I taught years ago, and Paul shared his bewilderment with this consistent occurrence in his workshops.
Next you create the diagonals while paying attention to the radius and the concept of the integration of the male and the female, the yin and the yang. The circle represents your female side, while the square, identified by the diagonals, represents the male. We each have feminine and masculine qualities no matter what our gender. Next we begin to perceive the vertical axis of the mandala, the male, and the horizontal, representing the female.
The symbol in the very center of your final mandala sketch should be of that which is closest to your heart. Things that are extraneous can be placed at the farthermost area outside of the circle, emanating from the nucleus. Significance should be placed on the symbols representing male and female thinking within the vertical and horizontal elements of the composition. Geometry naturally begins to take form and function within this final sketch as you develop the significance of your composition.
Choosing color and beginning the final painting of your mandala happens after you transfer your sketch to canvas, masonite or whichever substitute you have selected for the final version. It is important while choosing color that you stay focused on opening your heart instead of your mind. The natural discipline of the mandala, forming a circle that you build from, allows you to escape in timelessness, taking you to a new realm of creativity. Let the colors pick you. It will lead you to places where you have never been but now can go naturally. It is best in the beginning to do a mandala with a group so that you maintain the quality of not thinking too hard. Music, the outdoors, anything that creates an environment of free-spiritedness enhances mandala art.
Mandala art can widen our perspectives and throws out many old opinions of the self. Everyone can become a mandala artist when they find a place insde of them that is expressive. Paul analogizes doing mandalas to having a TV with a hundred different channels; the mandala is the same thing. Go to your own heart and open up the channels. The mandala teaching helps us to understand that there is nothing new to really learn about the creative process itself, but is raises a question: How can we tap into it? It is not necessarily about talent but about being present and aware. It exposes what we already know but have put away because of mislearnings, constraints we place on ourselves or perceptions we own for whatever reasons.
Being provoked, intentionally, to introspect, results in a very positive outcome for the mandala painter. Expecting the unexpected - tranformation - has resulted in 100 percent success for Paul's students. In the history of Paul's workshops no one - not even students who have never held a paintbrush in their hands - has failed to complete a beautiful mandala.
The art of mandala painting is a stepping stone to many discoveries about yourself. The only way to achieve creative utopia is to accept every semblance of our artistic selves without judgment, no rights, no wrongs. A mandala can be a visual reminder to us in our hurried worlds that timelessness does exist if we make a place for it. Creativity is there if we are open to being aware of it. Utopia is ours for the creating!