“The mandala (Sanskrit “circle”) is a basic form which can be found in nature, in the elements of matter, in the plant and animal worlds, as well as in objects and images created by man and his psyche. It portrays a system of order which superimposes itself, so to speak, on the psychic chaos in sucha way that the centrifugal tendency of the whole is held in check by the protective, enclosing circle, while at the same time the individual is given a place in a nonpersonal context…. The mandala is the path to the center, to individuation.” -Carl Jung
Our interest in the mandala comes from that ever important future studies practice of making system(s) of order “on the psychic chaos.” The mandala has been used for thousands of years as a way for people to represent their numerous individual stories and cultural stories, while centering themselves in what feels like constant chaos. In many cultures the mandala is used as a healing method, using the symmetry of the mandala as a way to center themselves and bring harmony by connecting their distinct parts. To bring harmony to a chaotic world within themselves, with the hopes of transforming the external environment in the process.
The purpose of introducing a mandala to the children, is way for them to start becoming more familiar with their own symbology, with their own sense of self, with their own way of healing, or centering in chaos, and with their ability to feel like their story is valuable. Through the work of the mandala, each child has the opportunity to tell their “auto-biography” of sorts, without having to feel limited by complex language of reading and writing, or even talking. The mandala is a psychological process which blends the conscious and the unconscious in a unique and important way, making room for the children to be in touch with ancient images and cultures, but also with their own inner threads and greater callings in life.
Sketch of a Mandala Curriculum
In our preschool we worked on mandalas together. There isn’t a set way to develop a mandala with a children, but essentially a mandala is a circle with many parts. Those parts can be specific or vague and with these children for our first time making the mandalas we decided to have a few parts that were chosen/specific and a few that were abstract/vague. This was an exploration or an experiment.
We broke down the act of making the mandala into parts to take place over time. The focus of the mandala was the ‘stories of the mandala.’ We introduced a mandala to the children and described how every person can make mandala that tells their story though symbols and abstract ideas. We told oral stories about a few archetypal figures; i.e. the story of the Great Mother, the story of the Warrior, etc. and ended with the story of the Man Who Thought He Had No Story. The question to the children was, “What would the story be that you would tell?” Throughout the week we specified or deepened the question by asking them to add parts to their mandala including: a center (where they came from/who they are), symbols, fears, loves and important parts of their life.
Many of their mandalas astounded us in both depth and complexity.
Ava’s Mandala, age 5
Ava is a five-year-old girl who spent a very long time working on this mandala. Her descriptions of the mandala are fascinating:
Self (the center circle)
I came from the sunset and the sun, because I am pretty and the sunset is pretty. I like hanging lights and I like the light of the sun. The sunset is my home. I feel like the sunset brings things to life. I am like the sunset. I see the sunset every night and every day.
Symbols (the symbols surrounding her center)
Ava: I like my name because it is a short name. I wrote my name.
Shark: I like sharks. They are special to me. They can do all kinds of things: they can flip in the air. They can dive and make waves. I want to be like a shark and its cool that they can breathe underwater. I want to do that.
Butterfly: I feel like a butterfly. I wish I could be like a butterfly because they can fly. I’d fly towards California where I was born.
Eye of Horus: I feel like I’m a sun and this is the ancient sign of the sun.
Wolf: I wish I could hunt so I didn’t have to wait to cook dinner.
Skeleton: This makes me think of pirates and I like pirates, but only the ones with treasure.
Mermaid: I don’t know how to swim like a mermaid, so I want to swim like one.
Three headed Dog: This is a three-headed cat. I wish I had three heads. Then I could look all over the place and run to California.
Snake eating tail: I wish I was a snake, too. I wish I could eat my own tail if I had one. Then I wouldn’t eat my own head.
Turtle: This is a turtle. I want to swim like a turtle. And if no one could find me in the hard shell. If I walked and things were falling really hard, then it wouldn’t hurt me.
Bird: I chose the bird so I could fly to the north pole like my dragon.
Unicorn: I wish I was a unicorn and I am like a unicorn. I am like a unicorn because I am pretty and magic.
Owl: Owls fly higher than real birds. I want to fly higher.
Cat: I like cute baby kitties, and they meow.
Medusa: This is a girl with snake hair. I thought that was cool. I feel like it is magical.
Angel: This is an angel, I picked her because they can fly. I’ve seen a a rainbow, gold, shy angel. I want to be like one.
Fears (the fears are painted in the upper right and lower left corners)
My first fear is Fire. I am afraid of getting burned. It could make people burn. And one other thing about a full grown deer and a full grown tree: I am afraid of the full grown getting burned.
My second fear is a 2-Headed Snake with a monster on it’s back: I am scared of it and that is all. I have a friend who is like that.
Loves (painted in upper left and lower right corners)
My first love is my Family. I love them because they are so nice to me.
My second love is Spring. It is fun, you get to go to the pool and see animals. The animals in spring are going to wards the other animals in my mandala and my home.
My Mother (right side): She is spring. She is wearing a cross. She is standing in a field and there are many roses. She’s making it rain rose petals. The large red thing is a giant heart.
My Father (left side): He is winter. He’s standing in the water, in the ice I mean. It’s snowing and there are ice animals like penguins and seals.
My Little Brother(top center): This is my baby brother Kai.
My Dog Bayou (bottom center).
Reviewing and reading Ava’s whole mandala is totally interesting. Her work is a way to enter into discussing further what mandalas can do for a child and what stories they can tell, but also how children project themselves through these various methods. Ava’s descriptions like, “I wish I could eat my own tail if I had one. Then I wouldn’t eat my own head,” also directly get to the intersect and question of ‘when do children become capable of individuation?’ When do they have a ‘complex’ enough self to be able to interpret meaning from projects like this? For some reason, there is always the idea that children are ‘innocent’ until proven to have neurosis. The importance of doing psychologically illuminating projects like mandalas with young children is that it helps think about those questions. What is the self that children illuminate?
In relation to future studies, psychological education is key. Psychological practice can help deconstruct the entirety of ‘future studies,’ reframing it as a cultural symptom (of avoiding their own present, for one). Or even looking to the future of psychology as a way to reorient our ways of understanding our relationships with futures.
Etta Rose’s Mandala, age 4 1/2
I came from the sun that is out of every universe we could find. People think there is only one universe, but there is more than one. I hope someday people will believe. It’s important to me because it connects two different universes.
Butterfly: It means I might be able to fly. Where would I go? I’d fly away from Medusa.
Medusa: She means I’m gonna be afraid of getting snake hair. My brother sometimes acts like he has snake hair.
Unicorn: It means I will be happy someday, and now.
Snake around an Egg: This means I’m scared of, if it’s a chick egg. If the snake is wrapped around a chick egg and what if the chicken mommy isn’t there. The chick will be scared when it hatches.
Cat: The cat is cute. Cats mean that the wolves won’t be back for a long time.
Eye of Horus: This means I can see good.
Snake eating tail: The snake eating its tail means I might be that and eat my own tail. I don’t know how that will happen, and I’m scared.
Shark: The shark I’m scared it will eat me. But some thing is going to make me stay alive, like the butterfly.
Fears (upper left, lower right)
1. A monster behind green fog. The fog is scary because it is windy and you can’t see. You can bump into scary things, like the monster. The monster eats children who go into the fog.
2. A wolf. A wolf because it might eat me in my dream. This is a dream fear.
Loves (lower left, upper right)
1. Roses. I love roses because they grow in the spring. I like growth because you get really tall.
2. People. I love when people love each other. I’m good at loving people.
Etta’s mandala is clearly different then Ava’s, both visually and in her own descriptions of it. You can sense her alternative approaches to interpreting her own symbology. Mandala work is really helping both parties (child and observer) to gain better sense of the power of narrative and the power of symbols and myth in how we determine our present and future ways of being.
There are many websites which can help one make their own mandala too, just search like “individuation through mandala” or “mandala curriculum,” and there will be other suggestions for how to make your own mandala!