May the Circle Be Unbroken

"I found I could say things with color and shape that I couldn't say in any other way– things that I had no words for." -Georgia O'Keefe

For many years, I have been creating mandalas of all kinds. Mandalas are simple circular forms that all cultures have used to depict, contain, and express the sacred. From rose windows, to Tibetan sand mandalas, to forms found in nature (sunflowers, eyes, cells, tree rings, seashells, the earth, sun and moon), mandalas are an organic expression of wholeness.

There is just something about that shape--the pleasing sense of containment, of no beginning and no end, of center, cycles, and harmony--that gives me space to "say things with color and shape that I couldn't say in any other way" in the words of Georgia O'Keefe.

I have suggested to the teens I work with that they create a three mandala series daily in their art journal to help them express themselves. This practice is particularly helpful when emotions are chaotic, intense, or a jumble of confusion.

It is remarkable to see how quickly energy shifts when creating simple mandalas. Chaotic scribbles turn into wavy lines, which turn into spirals, which turn into images of leaves, hearts, trees, eyes. The circle can take it all. What is miraculous, is that there is a clear centering and clarifying effect on the artist physically and emotionally as well. I have seen it over and over, even when people are in the deepest of distress.

It's so easy to do. Simply trace a plate onto three pieces of paper, offer yourself a choice of art materials, (markers, pastels, paint, colored pencils, magazine images) and let yourself go. You can start from the middle and work your way out, or vice versa. You can just scribble or scratch, make random shapes and images, or create a picture. Just try to keep within the structure of the circle.

I would like to also offer another more sophisticated mandala experience that I adapted from Susanne Fincher's marvelous book The Mandala Workbook.

This activity will give you direct experience of how powerful the actual physical act of creating with particular materials can be. It gives an experience of catharsis, letting go, tolerating chaos, and fearlessness. And you will be left with a visual representation of hope- a knowing that in brokeness, light comes in.

"Mandala of Tearing Apart"

*Draw a circle on a piece of colored construction paper and cut it out.

*Find another piece of paper (magazine image, school papers, or another colored paper) and rip it

up, paying close attention to how it feels to do so.

*Arrange these torn papers on the original mandala in a design, any form that you like.

*When you are done, jostle the mandala so the papers become randomly placed...notice how this

"destruction" and loss of control feels.

*Glue down the papers in their random positions. How do you like it?

*Rip apart this mandala too! How does this feel? Really take it in.

*Take a moment to write down positive messages on each torn piece.

*Glue the pieces back into the open space the original mandala was cut out of.

Place your mandala in a place where you can reivisit it when you need to be reminded that there is beauty in chaos, that you can let go, and that broken places let light in.

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