Monday, December 04, 2006

Journaling and Mandala Meditation

Creating a mandala and journaling can be considered stream-of-consciousness picture drawing and writing respectively. Mandala work may also be the concentration of coloring a pre-printed design, or the concentration on a pre-created picture.

This type of stream-of-consciousness meditation is a bit like free association where each thought or idea leads to the next, but all are allowed to float through your mind without judgment or editing for logic or reason. When you allow yourself to practice without judgment, both mandalas and journaling help you get in touch with your unconscious attitudes and beliefs.


Some people like to journal into a word processor on their computer. Personally, I think most laptop computers do not have ergonomically-correct keyboards and you can ultimately do a lot of repetitive-stress damage to your hands. If you have a supportive and comfortable keyboard, then the choice is yours whether to write or type.

Journaling can be done anywhere at any time. A notebook and pen or pencil are very portable, so you can take them for walks in the woods, an afternoon on the beach, or a stroll through the neighborhood park.

Make journaling something you want to do by having excellent supplies. Purchase the type of notebook you love; hardcover, padded, or soft-cover; plain or decorated. There are many blank-page journals available both with and without lines. Or, you might prefer the flexibility of a simple spiral notebook. Either way, make it something you look forward to picking up and writing in. Do the same with your choice of writing instrument. Try a few different pens and pencils to see which is most comfortable to hold in your hand….there are many sizes and styles to choose from. (You won't journal long if your fingers get stiff or your hand begins to cramp.) Make sure you like the ink color, and the fineness or boldness of the line the pen creates. Have two or three different writing instruments for your different moods.

Even beyond the topics you write about, you can learn a lot about yourself and your mood by observing the physical act of writing…be aware of how you hold the pen or pencil, whether you write fast or slow, how legible (to yourself and others) your writing is….there are many avenues to explore this way.

The content of what you write will be your innermost thoughts. You may very well progress from some general statement or observation into some pretty deep, profound observations and insights. For example, you may write: "Even though I work hard, I never seem to get ahead. The reasons for this seem to be….." and expand on your feelings about work and money and status. There may be something within yourself that is holding you back, and you could overcome it and advance if only you were aware of it.

Be careful, though…journaling can bring up difficult emotional topics, sometimes traumatic events from the past. If you feel yourself becoming very anxious, disturbed, or upset, stop journaling and give yourself some time to calm down. If you continue to feel anxious or upset, call a friend, someone you can talk to without reservation, or an appropriate hotline if you feel the need for anonymous as well as confidential emotional support.

Drawing a mandala

A traditional mandala is most often seen as a meditation device used by Hindus and Buddhists who focus upon a pre-created design. The word "mandala" comes from the Sanskrit mandalam which means "circle," or "round." The circular outer shape represents the sky, and the square inner shape represents the earth. The inner square is usually designed in quarters with each quarter reflecting the other three. The entire design, when used in meditation, is created to draw your attention from the outer edges toward the center, symbolically your inner, spiritual center. Indeed, if figures are included in the corners or outer circle, they are frequently drawn so that they appear to be facing the center.

Today, almost any geometric (or even non-geometric) design is called a mandala if it is used in a meditation practice. If you pursue the traditional route, you will want to trace a circle and center a square within it. If you save this as a master or original, you can photocopy it and draw your figures and shapes onto the copies, keeping the master for future mandalas.

A mandala center: no matter how you quarter this design, top to bottom and side to side, or diagonally corner to corner, each segment reflects its neighbor.

You may see some examples of traditional mandalas by visiting Exotic India where you'll notice that the geometric shapes usually reflect each other, but the colors from quadrant to quadrant do not. Colors have different meanings depending on the society and the geography…there really is no "right or wrong" in the use of color in a mandala. Use whatever color scheme has meaning or appeals to you.

The same advice goes here as for journaling: be sure you have a drawing instrument that is comfortable. You can just be geometric about it and keep pretty much to straight or curved lines, or you can draw pictures or other designs into the sections. Again, do not judge, edit, or otherwise change your drawing. If you think you made a "mistake" ponder why you think it's a mistake and what meaning it may have for you. For color, you can use paints, pencils, felt-tip markers, even crayons if you like. This is for you, use what you like!

If you're not an artist (as I am not), don't worry….your mandala is not going on the walls of the Smithsonian Museum's Freer Gallery of Art though if it pleases you, it's okay to think it belongs there.

As you draw, be aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise. Pay attention to your use of line and color, and ponder what emotions or experiences are behind your choices. Again, as with journaling, if you feel yourself becoming very anxious, disturbed, or upset, stop working on your mandala give yourself some time to calm down. If you continue to feel anxious or upset, call a friend, someone you can talk to without reservation, or an appropriate hotline if you feel the need for anonymous as well as confidential emotional support.

When you do complete your design, sit quietly with it for as long as you like and consider the insights it brings. You may wish to do this several times since artistic ideas sometimes need time to sit at the back of your mind and coalesce before they're ready for your conscious ponderings.

Here is a book with something for everyone: 100 mandala designs from five major spiritual traditions; rose window designs from the cathedrals of Europe, Navajo sand paintings, Hindu yantras, traditional Buddhist thangka scroll designs, and motifs from illuminated Celtic manuscripts.

Here are links to a few websites that offer mandalas you can print and color. There is actually a lot of therapeutic value in coloring; the more detailed the design is, the better, and some of the designs below will keep you busy for a few days! Coloring is not only fun, it helps you to develop focus, and it is a repetitive task that keeps your hands busy; these types of tasks are known to open your mind to those "Ah-ha!" moments of intuitive insight.

Many mandala pictures to print and color

80 free designs to download, print, and color

Six designs, several are very intricate

Free coloring book – 19 designs to print and color

Several pages of designs to color from a French website, very Intricate designs!

More designs from a French website – some very intricate

Free sample on a website that sells books

An interesting click-&-color mandala


caroline brown said...

This is the best news lately. I can color and not look like a crazy person trying to recapture her youth? I'm on it. I love coloring. I can see why it's a form of meditation, esp. with the interesting and intricate mandala designs.

Michelle said...

I find coloring the preprinted designs Very Relaxing. In fact, I quit smoking last year, and one of the techniques I used was coloring mandalas. It's such focused concentration, I'd forget all about wanting a cigarette.

JLB said...

Excellent article Michelle, as always. I love the concepts of sacred geometry... I wish it were more standard fare in our western education!

I'm not particularly good at journaling directly and consistently (although I did a lot when I was a teenager). However, I have realized that I do engage in other forms of journaling... artwork, poetry and other writing often index changes in my life. My blogs have unwittingly become true "logs" in their own right. And I keep an intermittent dream journal where I record significant or perplexing dreams... I find those to be especially helpful!

Michelle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michelle said...

I think that just as almost any artowrk that is associated with this type of meditation has come to be called a mandala, so too any writing if done for the purpose of looking deeper within in a meditative way can be called journaling. It's more about what works for you instead of a particular set of rules.

I love reading about sacred geometry, too. I may have inadvertently discovered why the symbol for earth is square. (First: I think the sky is represented as round because it has no edges.) I think the earth is considered a square because of the position of the sun at the solstices, and to ancient peoples the rise and set of the sun defined the "edges" of the world.

At the winter solstice the sun rises and sets low in the sky; at the summer solstice, it rises and sets high in the sky. If you draw lines from corner to corner, the "edges" of the earth form a square (or at least a rectangle).


It's a theory, anyway. :-)

(Had to fix the spacing....Earth was a rather odd shape the first time!!)

Michelle said...

Sorry....I can't seem to get the spacing just right from the comment entry box to the preview to the post itself. You'll just have to pretend the right edge is a straight line. :-)