I had only been very peripherally aware of mandalas until recently. For most of my adult life, all I knew about them was that they were some sort of spiritual symbol/activity, that monks were sometimes involved in their creation, and that nowadays some people enjoy coloring pre-drawn mandalas.

This was before I was invited to a mandala workshop two weekends ago. Led by two Filipino artists, the workshop taught us about the meaning behind mandalas, and how to create our own. I wanted to share with you some nuggets about the process of basic mandala creation.

A mandala (meaning “circle” in Sanskrit) is a symbol or meditative art form traditionally used in a spiritual or religious context, to represent the universe. The most basic form of a mandala is a square, with four gates on each side, containing a circle that converges at a center point. As you move towards the center of the mandala, you enter the “essence” of the universe. There are many examples of the mandala in the world today – the Forbidden City in Beijing is one example, as is Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.

One way mandalas have become more well known is through the sand mandalas created by Tibetan monks. I remember in college we had monks visit the art museum on campus. They were installed there for about two weeks, creating a sand mandala. The process is excruciatingly exact and meticulous, as you can see in the photo below. I wasn’t able to see the mandala then in college, but maybe one day I’ll chance upon another opportunity to witness this beautiful practice in action.

 Detail of a sand mandala Detail of a sand mandala

Back to how you can create your own mandala at home. It’s a simple but creative and enlightening process. All that’s required is a piece of paper, pen/pencil, and some coloring utensils.

 My free form mandala My free form mandala

Let me explain the different parts of a basic mandala:

The Corners: The symbols you place in the corners of your mandala represent what will guide you to what it is you want in life. Example: I drew suns, because I want my guide to be things/activities/people who light me up.
The Doors/Gates: At the middle of the edges of your mandala, the doors represent what will let you in to begin your journey. Example: I drew eyes, because I think intuition (third eye) is what will pull me along on my journey.
The First (Outermost) Layer: The first layer from the outside represents how you see yourself now. Example: I drew lots of thought bubbles, because a lot of the time, part of me lives in my head, in my thoughts.
The Second to Fourth Layers: These next three layers, moving closer to the middle of the mandala, represent a trinity. The trinity can be Past/Present/Future, Beast/Human/Spirit, Mental/Physical/Emotional, any trinity you can think of. Example: I chose the trinity of past/present/future. In my second layer (my past), I drew balloons to represent a happy childhood. There is also thunder, storm clouds, and rain, representing a rocky period from my teens through mid twenties, when I encountered challenges at home and in my career. The third layer (present) has little leaves and sprouts, which represent me currently sowing seeds and beginning to grow into what I ultimately want my future (fourth layer) to look like – a tree, with deep roots that link me to my past but also allow me to stand strong, providing shade/life/beauty to those around me.
– The Center/Innermost Layer: I actually skipped this step unknowingly, but the center of the mandala should represent the new self you aspire to, from the old self you depicted in the outermost layer. In my case I had combined this layer and my fourth layer.

I hope you found this helpful, and that you find some time to try creating your own mandala one day. Who knows, you may just discover something new about yourself in the process!



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