Mandala: A Symbol of Tangible Hope

Mandala: A Symbol of Tangible Hope

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        In the events and rancor of recent weeks, I have had moments when I’ve almost forgotten that the world is never outside the sacred web of love that offers tangible hope. The thing that most reliably brings me back from the edge of despair is the mandala, that visible sign of wholeness and completion. I find mandalas everywhere: in architecture, on billboards, in the kaleidoscopic hubcaps of passing cars. I color mandalas. I keep a mandala blog (at lindacarleton.com) and every Tuesday morning I offer a Mandala Prayer Circle for people waiting in line for soap or diapers or used clothing at Saint Elizabeth’s Jubilee Center in Portland, Maine.The folks who visit Saint E’s come from many stripes of life. They speak different languages and adhere to different religions. They have conflicting political beliefs and face a daunting variety of personal and social challenges. But week after week, they set these differences aside to color mandala ornaments as prayer for themselves, their loved ones, or their aching world.

What is it about the mandala that offers such a profound expression of tangible hope? To begin with, the mandala is a circle, a sacred symbol in virtually every culture. To psychologist C.G. Jung, the circle was the most basic archetype, representing perfection, eternity and the divine Self. In Sanskrit, the mandala represents the structure of life itself. The Mandala Project describes it as “A cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.” In Navaho sand paintings, the mandala becomes a vehicle for physical as well as emotional healing. In the Christian Church, the circle suggests the promise of wholeness and eternity in symbols as varied as the labyrinth, wedding rings, Advent wreaths and rose windows.

Drawing or coloring mandalas creates a liminal space that allows us to rest within this circle. As soon as we begin work on a mandala, we enter into dialogue with the bindu, its sacred center. The bindu is a bit like a black hole. It is an infinitesimal point that inexorably draws us in, offering a kind of portal into the heart of the divine. However, drawing mandalas cannot stop at the bindu. Just as the contemplative life leads both inward and outward, making mandalas propels us outward from the center to its edges and beyond. To color mandalas is to enter into the spiritual dance that perpetually draws us towards God and drives us out into the world again.

Now when folks come to us at Saint E’s, they are not thinking about Jung, or bindus, or the perpetual dance of spiritual life. But fortunately, you don’t have to think about any of this to experience the serenity of working with mandalas. Try it! You can just cut out a mandala from a coloring book or download it from Google, write on the back the name of a person or situation you’d like to hold in prayer, take out your markers, paints or pencils and color. You can put it on your refrigerator, or pin it to your wall, or use Modge-Podge to attach it to a wooden disc and make an ornament. However you do it, you will have spent time in communion with the sacred circle. And you’ll have a tangible symbol to remind you of it.

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