Mandala Blessings: Art That Heals and Transforms
by Bonnie Gold Bell
Mandalas are graceful images that depict a sacred space. More than just beautiful art, these images are also empowering tools for positive transformation. Used for centuries in Hindu, Buddhist and Native American spiritual practice (with counterparts in many other cultures) mandalas are becoming increasingly popular in our time. In this era of visual news, when images of destruction reach us within minutes of occurring, mandalas offer us a much-needed visual antidote. They are wellsprings of blessing energy that we can draw on for regeneration of body and spirit.
What follows are some ways that you can engage with mandalas to enrich your life. The emergence of so many styles of mandala art in our modern culture points to their deep appeal to our human psyche. The archetypal shapes and content of these images help us unlock layers of awareness, light up new levels of intuition, and balance bodily and emotional states.
The word mandala is used here to describe an image that is designed with sacred intention; that uses geometry, symmetry, and color to convey information and confer blessings. The word “mandala” means mystic circle. Most mandalas are structured around a circular or symmetrical enclosure. The image thus becomes a chalice that holds indwelling presences and energetic information. Both traditional and modern mandalas contain many significant symbols, colors, and sometimes deities or totems. Every shape resonates with deep levels of meaning. Our intuitive minds are very responsive to this kind of visual code. By gazing at a mandala, or by creating one ourselves, we tap into otherwise inaccessible sources of transformational help. Whether we understand these sources to be within ourselves or coming from spirit beyond, we can be greatly enlivened by their gifts.
I speak of this art with passion because I have been helped very deeply by contemplating and creating mandalas. During a recent health crisis that could not really be addressed by allopathic medicine, these images have been a constant source of comfort and inspiration. In a very real way, I have drawn on mandalas as a source of “beauty-medicine.” They have given me support, not only for my personal healing, but for global healing as well. When the anguishing events of 9/11 took place, I immediately turned to mandalas for help. My partner, David Todd, and I spent the afternoon of that heart-rending day creating a mandala called “World-Healer.” It was one way we could transmute our grief and pain into an image that we hoped could likewise help others heal. Creating and meditating on this mandala was something constructive that we could do in the midst of devastation.
The word “constructive” points to the profound service that mandalas perform. We are constantly assembling a picture of the world based on what we see around us. In modern culture, the pictorial input we receive comes primarily from commercial and political interests. We are literally bombarded by imagery that is designed to sell us products and shape our thoughts and emotions. Mandalas offer us a different kind of visual input based on sacred and symbolic content. The elements in mandalas link us into our own deep awareness and to sources of transpersonal help. Mandalas empower us by providing visual building blocks with which we can construct a new, uplifting picture of our world, and thus help re-vision it.
How Mandalas Can Support You
There is no right or wrong way to enjoy mandala art. First and foremost, trust your heart and eyes to guide you into relationship with these images. However, you can enhance your experience by considering some specific ways to work with this form of art. We will explore here how mandalas can help you to transform and expand your awareness, how they can bring you harmonizing and healing energies, and how these images can empower you and your environment.
Expanding awareness—Since ancient times, it has been understood that gazing at a mandala can change your state. Within the spiritual context, mandalas are highly respected as a tool for transformation. Mandalas confer initiations and can provide instruction for a person’s entire practice. Primarily through the growth of Hinduism and Buddhism in the West, we have been re-introduced to this spirit-elevating function of mandalas. Many other traditions, including indigenous religions around the world, also work with images that can be considered mandalas or which share their sacred purpose. Regardless of your spiritual path, you can benefit from meditating on a mandala. The spacious beauty of these images invites you to open and expand your attention. Figures depicted in mandalas may also help you connect with spirit-guides who can help navigate the open seas of consciousness.
Within the psychological domain, mandalas are also used to expand awareness. Dr. C. J. Jung was a forerunner in bringing mandalas into this form of active use. He saw that his patients could retrieve crucial information from primal levels of consciousness by drawing mandalas. Through the process of drawing a mandala, they were making visible an inner crucible of self-content. Jung felt that even symbolic content from the collective levels of consciousness rose to the surface in this process. Once seen, all this content becomes usable for growth. Even if you don’t draw a mandala yourself, you can work with one to pull up information from the depths of your feeling. Pick an image that really speaks to you and use journal for recording what you surface through such contemplation.
David and I found, when we began making Nature-sourced mandalas, that this form of art could also open an amazing visual portal into the Earth. Not only revelations from the heavenly domains and the inner psyche, but also from the material realms can be accessed via the archetypal structure of mandalas. Whereas mandalas had originally helped us journey into cosmic realms, we discovered that they could take us deep into the realms of matter. We tell the story of our heaven-meets-earth experience in our book GaiaStar Mandalas: Ecstatic Visions of the Living Earth.
Mandalas support consciousness-expansion because their symbolic geometries and patterning information resonate within us at so many levels. Their visual messages work like key-codes—they give us access to levels of awareness that are always potentially within reach, but not readily contacted. A mandala holds open a gateway into these wider dimensions of self and world. This helps us go beyond the limiting pressures of daily awareness into a space where we can dive deep and soar high.
One ways to optimize your meditation with mandalas is to bring your other senses into play. The different sensory elements synergize with each other to enhance your experience. You can add the dimension of scent by burning incense or diffusing essential oils; you can create a sound-scape with your favorite mediation music. Lighting candles or even wearing a special garment may also help set the tone for your journey. Allow your breathing to calm and deepen as you regard the image and let the mandala take you where you want to go. You will be enacting a ritual that has been valued throughout the ages.
Healing and harmonizing—More and more people use mandalas to enhance their health, both physical and emotional. Some mandalas are specifically created for healing, but it seems that almost all mandalas communicate a restorative message. The structure of mandalas (usually symmetrical and centered) works together with their inherent blessing intention to provide comforting support to those in need.
Mandalas convey that harmony is possible, even in times of chaos and challenge. When you sit down to regard a mandala, the two sides of your brain and body can come into balance. Your nervous system can drop out of fight-or-flight mode into a restful condition. As your eyes follow the patterns toward the center of the image, you are drawn into the core—of yourself, of your feelings. At the same time, you open out into a naturally expanded awareness. You come into a state of relaxation. This not only helps your bodily systems to operate optimally, it also supports your emotional healing. The steady blessing force of the mandala holds you in its field, so that even difficult feelings can be surfaced and processed in its gentle embrace.
You may also receive guidance on your healing process while meditating on a mandala. Your state of contemplative openness as well as the symbolic content of the mandala helps you retrieve this kind of information from within yourself or from spiritual sources. Additionally, you can use a mandala to set your own intention to get well. By speaking your desire aloud or simply meditating on it, you can invest the image with your prayerful intention. The mandala then becomes a constant visual reminder and touchstone for ongoing healing. You can also do this for a friend or loved one who is ill.
An event that reflects the healing power in mandalas took place when David and I showed our work at an art festival in Sausalito, California. We had just completed a series of thirty-five images that we call Healing Mandalas, several of which were displayed on one wall of our booth. Just before closing time, a woman came toward us. She was walking with a cane, and looked very tired. As she came into our space, she first gave a great sigh of relief, and then burst into tears. When she could speak, she told us that she was having radical cancer treatment. She had the urgent intuition that she should go to the festival because there was something there that she really needed to help her recover. Even though it wasn’t easy for her, she walked all around the art fair looking for her medicine piece. When she saw the mandala on our wall (one made from a star-gazer lily, (see below), it gave her a tremendous message of hope and blessing. As she walked away with the mandala in her backpack, we were very grateful to have been there.
In addition to helping restore body and emotions, mandalas can support healing of the soul and spirit. Some people use mandalas for shamanic journeying and soul-retrieval ceremonies. These images work like visual bridges to help re-connect the earthly and heavenly aspects of self. In their very structure, mandalas integrate up and down, left and right, within and beyond. They are images of wholeness, and this message works at every level of being to help you become whole.
Empowering you and your environment—To be empowered by a mandala is to draw enrichment and strength from viewing it. Much like a window lets in the light of the sun, these images are openings to radiant sources. In addition to being gateways “out” into spacious realms, they are also gateways “in.” Through these artful portals, light-blessings pour into our world.
When using a mandala for empowerment, you are focusing less on where it can take you and more on what you can absorb from it. You may ask for empowerment for a specific purpose (for instance, the launch of a business or the blessing of a partnership), or simply to be energized. Part of the empowerment may come in the form of intuitive information that shifts your perspective.
This empowering function of mandalas is very valuable in times like these. So much information comes your way that tends to dis-empower you and leave you feeling helpless. It is important to locate sources of profound help that keep your spirits up and give you enabling energy and guidance. When you sit down to contemplate a mandala, don’t be hesitant to drink in the good “juice” that flows to you from the image. Mandalas are created to shine this blessing-force, and it fulfills their purpose when you use them as a vibrant resource.
A mandala can also empower a place in your home or office. Such sacred pieces work a kind of natural feng shui in rooms where they are hung. Their radiant presence can really shift the vibration of the environment. Mandalas offer a way to create sacred space in a simple and elegant fashion.
Share the Blessings
I see modern mandalas as expressions of an unbroken stream of medicine art that stretches back to the roots of human culture. We have always looked to art to inspire and transform us. Many of us are being re-introduced to the healing power of art through mandalas. With their archetypal content, these images reach across the boundaries of time and traditions. In their universal language of shape and color, they broadcast their healing messages to all. Enjoy mandalas and share them. They are generators of brightness in world that needs light.
This article first appeared in “soulfulliving.com” magazine, April 2002.
© 2002 Bonnie Bell & David Todd. All rights reserved.