Julie Gibbons Creative
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The Mandala Principle
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“Each person’s life is like a mandala- a vast, limitless circle.
We stand in the centre of our own circle, and
everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life…
… Everything that shows up in your mandala
is a vehicle for your awakening.”
~ Pema Chodron
An ancient and widespread phenomenon
All mandala designs have in common the circle. The circle has been a powerful symbol since the earliest days of humanity.
The earliest circles I have come into contact with are those carved into the rocks by Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples here in Scotland.
It’s a visual language that we have long since forgotten, but these painstakingly-carved cups, concentric rings, grooves, tails and spirals hold an allure that fascinates artists, archaeologists and even psychologists into the present.
We can only speculate on the meaning behind these indigenous stone carvings, but it seems reasonable to hypothesise that our ancestors were naturally and continuously drawn to the circle as a symbol of their own human experience.
Certainly, the evidence left behind by these peoples – stone rings, wooden henges, circular ditches, roundish burial cairns and circular home foundations – show an obvious tendency towards circles.
Mandala Designs in Nature
When they looked to the outside world, the prehistoric folk would have seen the rising each day of a circular ball of fire (the sun,) orbited by a spherical moon. They would have seen other circular planetary phenomenon and noticed the effect on their home planet, the rhythms and cycles of Earth in the sky, land and sea.
As we do, they would have observed the concentric rings that tell the story of a tree, and those on the loch after a rock has been tossed in, or in a puddle when it’s raining.
Their eyes, faces, breasts and testes – they and we just can’t help being attracted to the circle, it’s in our very nature.
Circle as Universal Symbol
Whether there was any spiritual meaning behind this early rock art we’ll never know but since we began recording history, we can see that each of the great traditions has shared a principle of unity, wholeness and completeness. Even if it was as yet unconscious, I imagine that our early ancestors were also attuned to this universal principle.
Circle as an Expression of Oneness
The Pythagoreans, who believed in the spiritual significance of geometric patterns and numbers, saw the circle as particularly sacred, and in common with many other traditions recognised it as a representation of both nothing and everything.
This paradoxical quality is a perfect reflection of the ineffable nature of the Self – that which lies at the very centre of the mandala.
How to Distinguish Mandala Designs from Everyday Circles
In my experience, a circle becomes a mandala when it is consciously created as such.
In fact, one of the most common definitions of mandala is sacred circle or magic circle – meaning that the mandala is imbued with a sacred power.
Years ago, I came across an explanation by June -Elleni Laine that the Sanskrit word mandala can be broken down to the following composites;
manda = ‘essence’ + la = ‘container’
One definition of the word mandala is therefore a container of essence.
A mandala doesn’t have to be a two dimensional drawing and as a container of essence can be expressed in a number of ways, including architecture, sound, dance and community but what all mandalas have in common is their symbolic quality – a coming to consciousness of something profoundly enigmatic.
It is an archetype which appears across many different cultures throughout history and is the language of magic-makers, shamans, medicine-men, mystics, and initiates the world-over – but it is also a symbol that can be used to guide our everyday.
The mandala is a living symbol, used as a gateway to awakening, individuation, personal healing and cosmic understanding – for the individual, yes – and also for the collective.
Creating mandala art is an invitation to each of us to activate the artist archetype within and express the intimate truth of our own selves – from the centre of our being, outwards to the very circumference of our existence.
“I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of
the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.”
~ Dr Carl G. Jung
My route to Individuation
My creative practice is dedicated to mandala drawing. However, I maintain that I didn’t ever choose this route.
When I started out, I had no idea what the mandala symbol represented, never mind how to draw a mandala – but the same month that my mum passed away, my soul demanded very loudly that I learn more about this ancient archetype. Given the significance of recent events, I paid attention!
Carl Jung and Mandala Drawing
I soon discovered that one of my principle influencers, Dr Carl G Jung, had worked with mandalas for many years and helped establish the practice as a means of self inquiry for those individuals dedicated to individuation – the conscious realisation of one’s unique psychological reality.
“I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond with my inner situation at the time.” ~ C.G. Jung
Psychological freedom has long been one of my primary drivers and I was encouraged to follow in Dr Jung’s footsteps and begin using the mandala as a means to observe my psychic transformation as I set about my personal individuation – a movement towards wholeness, through the realisation of Self as the regulating centre of the personality (rather than the ego.)
This has formed the basis of a process I call Artful Self Inquiry.
This artful self inquiry was initially a very intense process that became a full-time occupation.
I immediately began to share my process and discoveries in the world through my flagship online program, Mandala Magic.
What learning and teaching how to draw a mandala has taught me
The personal transformation I’ve undergone as a result of this work has been immense. Artful self inquiry has been a portal through which I have come to know the most intimate parts of my psyche, including those aspects hidden deep in the shadow places of my personal unconscious.
Through the sharing of this work, I’ve also come to understand more deeply the archetypal forces moving through each of us as we navigate our earthly existence.
The mandala principle has provided me with a thorough understanding of how Life and Death, those most dynamic aspects of Existence, work.
Through this practice, I can’t fail to be in touch with the underlying sacred geometry that forms the fabric of our everyday reality and touch the still, silent places out of which all of it is birthed.
Moving forwards, I am dedicated to the practice and sharing of contemporary mandala art as a means of aligning the inner and outer experiences of existence, pointing all the time to the exquisite logic of the human self.
This is the offering I present through my own mandala creations and the workshops available here on this site. Welcome!
My eternal thanks to Dr Jung and his dedicated students (particularly the art therapist Joan Kellogg) who chose to share this ancient wisdom with the contemporary world of the Western mind, thereby offering us all a key with which to unlock the secrets of Self.
“Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means ‘society.’
Once you stand in the middle of the mandala, you can see the panoramic view…
… Only you can see this vision, rather than somebody else.
If we are willing to stand in the centre of what is, we accept that
‘I am alone and my spiritual journey is my experience.’
This is the real experience of freedom and independence.”
~ Chogyam Trungpa