When I arrived last Wednesday to set up for our new Lunch and Learn Series, Mickey and Linda were already there, setting up the registration table. Our “greeters” Donna and Mae arrived soon thereafter, and Evelyn was not far behind. These five women are our ambassadors. They are experienced, seasoned participants who are well on the other side of treatment or loss and are crucial supporters, offering encouragement and guidance to the newest students among us. Evelyn brought her neighbor Liz, who she had learned was a breast cancer survivor.
Circles of Calm and Renewal
The lunches had been delivered, the art supplies set out. All that was left was to create our blessing mandala. If you are not familiar with the word mandala, it simply means “circle,” a shape without beginning or end. It is a symbol of wholeness, balance and renewal. Working within this shape allows us to intuitively resonate with feelings of calm, tranquility and peace.
I’d gathered supplies to make my own mandala by gathering small branches of rosemary and plucked a couple handfuls of huge, purple-and-white pansies from my garden – rosemary for its healing powers and flowers for their beauty and symbolism of introspection. My grandmother’s age-worn tea tray was to serve as the base for our mandala, and a red candle would be placed in the center. Mickey and Linda placed the tea tray in the center of the table and began arranging the rosemary around the edge of the tray, radiating the sprigs outward, extending the shape of our mandala. Light-heartedly, they laughed at the gargantuan size of the pansies as they placed them in circle around the tips of the rosemary. We were ready to receive.
Most came alone. A few brought their husbands; one had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Some were in active treatment, some just outside. Donna had picked up Tesha, who did not have a car but desperately wanted to come to class. Her treatment protocol had been changed and she needed to be in a supportive group. By noon, all 17 had arrived and the chatter in the room was filled with anticipation. We were ready to begin, to dive into a creative, calming practice that would lessen stress and anxiety.
Beginning the Creative Calming Practice
If you are new to these creative practices, there is always an added layer of stress that comes from performance anxiety that just can’t be helped. Creativity, much less crafting something visual, seems to carry a weight of either being good or bad, beautiful or ugly. “I like yours better than mine” is a phrase I banish from our circles of healing. The art of mandala-making is not about right or wrong, good or bad, but about the process itself, the journey of creating and what it reveals and teaches us.
So we begin with our black paper, representing the void, the mystery and the unknown, and we add light into this darkness with our white pencil — our light wand. It is simple and direct, like doodling. As thoughts or feelings arise while we are drawing, we write them down in a long column. We are not illustrating or thinking of something to draw; we are simply floating in a space without directive thought. We are wandering into another way of being.
For about 30 minutes, we create.
Then we pause to make word associations with our core words, circling 10–15 of them and then linking these words together with other adjectives, adverbs and verbs into a stream-of-consciousness style of writing. The same philosophy holds true here: no right or wrong, no good or bad – just trusting the process. After selecting a title for our mandala drawings, we pair up, munch on our sandwiches and share our discoveries with one another.
From Art to Conversation to Healing
Engaged, direct, intimate exchanges ensue. Quiet whispers, silly laughter, deep tears, sighs of relief – sounds of connection fill the room. I want this moment to last forever. This is where the healing begins – in the opening up and into our interior lives and then speaking this aloud.
Take out a piece of paper and record some thoughts about the mandalas below. Consider sharing them with us.
You can see more student work on our Pinterest page.
Community Reflection and Writing
To close our hour together, we passed our black-and-white mandala drawings around the circle and shared their titles. Linda recorded them on our whiteboard, and I encouraged everyone to use these phrases as a prompt for writing a bit further into our revelations during our time together.
Here is one that was created after class:
Life in Motion. She is the one who knew her life’s journey would lead her towards freedom, towards overflowing growth, towards life anew. Communication with herself was a journey in heart and love that would lead to her next level of healing. Her becoming was held within God’s love, within nature’s symmetry, her branches, within the winding road of life. Life in motion.
If you try this calming practice at home, consider sharing your experience with us. If you participated with us, I invite you to share your thoughts as well.