Creating Mandalas: Turn Off Your Inner Judge and Discover Your True Potential
One morning in Kindergarten, my teacher divided us into pairs and told us to paint a picture. It was really my first experience with paint. My friend and I were so excited and loved mixing the bright colors, especially the red, orange, pink, and purple.
We made a sunset, which we thought was the most beautiful picture we had ever seen. Filled with passion, we dipped our fingers in the paint and smeared it across the paper, laughing out loud in delight.
Suddenly, the paper was snatched away from us by our teacher who said, “Look what a mess you’ve made!” She crumpled up the picture and threw it in the trash. We didn’t understand what we had done wrong to make her so angry, but we knew it was bad and that we didn’t want to do it again.
This is just one of many other negative experiences with art in elementary school that embarrassed me and made me feel like I was different from everyone else.
I never thought I would be able to discover the artistic parts of myself I didn’t even know about, until I recently took a mandala workshop from Susanne Fincher, a Jungian Art Therapist. The workshop was called “Flowing From Darkness Into Light,” and for the first time, I let myself be vulnerable with art, exploring and facing my fears.
What is a Mandala?
If you don’t know what a mandala is, the word itself in Sanskrit means “magic circle.”
Visually speaking, it’s circular symbol with a geometric pattern inside.
Mandalas been used since ancient times in many different societies for expressing what is sacred to them. As Susanne points out, they “offer us a profound way to examine our inner reality, to integrate that understanding with our physical selves, and feel connected to the greater universe.”
But really, Mandalas are a simple circle that provides us with structure and to explore hidden parts of ourselves.
The price we pay for burying our inner artist
As children, we are born with limitless potential for creativity and a love of exploring through art activities. Many of you might have received early messages from parents, teachers, or other adults about your art projects or other creative endeavors, about how they should look and about how they definitely shouldn’t look.
Can you think of other areas of interest you stopped pursuing because you were convinced you didn’t have the talent for it and that you wouldn’t measure up to others?
No matter how many times I tell that Kindergarten story, I can feel the warmth of shame on my cheeks and a tightness in my chest, along with the belief that I was different than the other kids, that there was something wrong, not only with my art, but with me.
Through the disappointment of others,, I begin to see art as something that was supposed to be “pretty,” something that took special talent to make it flawless. Its worth was solely determined by other people. It was just easier to decide not to be an artist than it was to risk experiencing that shame again.
The majority of the adults who give us negative messages about ourselves during our childhood don’t mean to harm us. The fact is, they have internalized their own negative messages from others too, and those messages helped them form negative core beliefs about themselves, which they then project onto their children, students, etc.
Then, the cycle continues as we internalize these messages until we hear our own voice repeating them.
We no longer need the judgment of others, because we have created our own inner judges. The good news is that we can change this process by increasing our awareness and changing our behavior.
To turn off the inner judge, we need to zoom out so we can see the big picture, how others struggle in the same ways, and how unrealistic the expectations are that we have accepted as our own.
We need to say to that voice, “Okay, you’ve had your turn, and you haven’t led me to happiness or greater self-esteem. It’s time to sit down and let me try another way."
How the "comparison game" cheats us from our own joy
When we first arrived at the mandala workshop we were instructed to gather materials and create a mandala. I instantly thought, “Uh,oh, I’ll have to show other people…” and automatically assumed that theirs were going to be better than mine.
I just didn’t have a clue what to draw. I looked outside at the flowers blooming in the backyard, so I begin trying to draw some “pretty” flowers,” taking peeks at other’s mandalas as we went along.
Later, as we shared our first creations, I found that I didn’t have anything to really say about mine. As I tried to search for any underlying meaning, it became clear that I was still just trying to please others.
It didn’t even look as pretty as I had tried to make it.
Discovering a new way
In my last mandala of the weekend, I explored the light with absolutely no image in mind. Instead, I focused on ways that I have emerged from darkness through my life. And in the end, this mandala turned out representing my own heart, projecting the light onto others to show them a way out of their own darkness.
We went on to make more mandalas, and with them we explored darkness, sadness, grief, shame, and isolation. Together, we made a mandala out of natural materials on the grass under the pine trees in the backyard. On a beautiful day, we sat listening to stories and poems that strengthened our connection and acceptance of one another–each of us intentionally letting go of that inner critic- the one that judges ourselves and the others around us and telling it to bug off.
This experience showed me that the artist inside of me was still alive and burning with passion to come out from under the rubble and be seen.
Since that workshop, I’ve decided to pursue certification as a Mandala Therapist and am energized while planning the groups I intend to offer to help others find light and strength within themselves.
Here are some ways you can tell your inner critic to bug off and reclaim your creative freedom:
- Explore your strengths, trying new things and observing them through a new lens, like one you might use for others. Sometimes we have to learn to speak to ourselves like we would speak to a good friend. Something like, “I appreciate flaws because they are what make it possible for me to learn. My flaws are the cracks that allows the light to shine through.”
- Find a compassionate and affirming teacher. One of my best friends taught me how to sew, and she would stop me anytime I expressed a negative thought about my work and prompt me to create a positive one. She told me of quilters who purposely put flaws into their work, based on the beliefs in ancient and Native American cultures that we are all imperfect and that the flaw is like a doorway for God or spirits to travel through. She told me that when she starts out wanting to make a perfect piece, she inevitably makes a mistake right away, which is a relief to her. She says to herself, “Good, I got that over with. Now I can relax and just enjoy the process.”
- Make art with and/or for young children. My 1-year-old grandson is my biggest fan. Doing art projects with young children allows you to be a kid again, free from judgment. It also lets us see how natural it is to give positive messages to children, and how it affects them, and reminds us that we also need positive messages - instead of just critical ones.
- Find a supportive group of friends to create and share your artwork in a safe environment. Like a mandala workshop! When we receive messages from this kind of environment, we are able to recall them in moments of doubt and self-judgement.
I would love to hear about your art experiences, good and bad, or in between. Please feel free to share through a comment!
If you are interested in attending one of my future mandala groups or workshops, please let me know by leaving me a comment or send me a private message through my website.
- 2009, Fincher, Susanne, The Mandala Workbook: A Creative Guide for Self-Exploration, Balance, and Well-Being