Continuing to reflect on my Lenten practices…
In recent years, I have begun to not only give up something, but also add a practice during Lent. This year, I took on the practice of creating a daily mandala. I was actually introduced to the concept of mandalas in high school by some feisty, contemplative nuns while attending a Dominican Preaching Conference in Chicago.
Despite not being Catholic, I was somehow accepted to attend this conference as a representative for my all-girl’s Catholic High School. I ashamedly admit that I remember getting ready to go the conference, confident that I was going to teach the Catholics a thing or two about faith. I was continually surprised and humbled throughout the week (and have been since!) as I witnessed unbelievable examples of commitment to Christ, contemplative spiritual practices, and living out the Gospel among the poor in ways I had never seen before. The nuns at the conference were not like the loving, yet ultra strict and stoic nuns that taught at my school. They were passionate, embracing, deeply faithful, and yes, feisty women who completely transformed my view of nuns and left lasting impacts on my own spiritual journey.
And at one break-out session during the conference, I was introduced to mandalas as a way to get in touch with ourselves and God. I remember being intrigued by, and drawn to the exercise. Since then, mandalas have emerged in random places throughout my life, and have become increasingly meaningful to me.
Very basically, mandala means “circle.” They are used in many spiritual traditions, and even by psychologists (such as Carl Jung). For me, they are a way to uncover and express what is going on inside. I often rely heavily on words- journaling and writing. But sometimes, tapping into the creative side of my brain through using color and design, brings up even more for me. It is a “check in” with myself and with God.
I use mandalas in therapy with youth, and sometimes adults too (though some are less open to remembering the healing power of drawing). I find it helps them (and me) to calm down, to center. It is particularly helpful when people need to be present with an emotion, without stuffing it inside and without yelling and screaming. And in my own practice, it is the same. I have created mandalas with paint, crayons, colored pencils, collages from magazines- many different media.
I am looking over the 30ish mandalas I created over Lent (okay, I missed some days), and I see patterns and themes. I can clearly see my Lenten journey- what I was learning, how I was feeling, what I was thinking or reading at that time. Some are angry with bright, fiery colors. Others show dark, deep colors and simple designs. Some have words, some are just designs. Some are joyful, exuding hope and thanks. And others express sadness or ambiguity. Many of them display two opposites melding into one- darkness and light, spring and winter, hope and despair.
While I have fallen out of my daily practice since Lent, I hope to continue creating mandalas occasionally, accessing parts of my emotional and spiritual life that are hidden when I don’t take the time to explore them.