The Art of the Mandala

Healing meditations inspired by the garden.

October 17, 2011

For me, gardening has always been meditative. Absorbed in activity, I lose track of time. When I plant my flower garden, it is as if I am an artist painting with flowers. Then nature and environmental conditions help the process unfold, beautifully but not always as I planned. It is a metaphor for my life.

When I was healing from cancer, I looked to nature and my garden for hope, as I had done in the past. I focused on transitions like the beauties of spring that follow the dead of winter, or the chrysalis that releases a butterfly.


My cancer was melanoma, so I could not be in the sun. But I was healing in the winter, and as I looked outside at my barren garden, I knew I had to find healing opportunities indoors. I had heard that mandala making was meditative, as it could turn stressful thoughts into calming ones. I took a workshop to learn the principles of mandala drawing, and it blossomed into a new hobby. Now, when not in my garden, I find peace and inspiration planning and making mandala sculptures from found objects.

Mandala means "circle" in Sanskrit. Mandala forms are characterized by a circular shape, a symmetrical design, and a visible center. Many cultures have versions of mandalas: Native American medicine wheels, cathedral rose windows, and Buddhist sand paintings are just three. Some were part of rituals to promote health or to remove negative energies or events.

In mandala making, the meditative process comes from consciously focusing on the task, selecting the colors or materials, and arranging them in an orderly and pleasing fashion. When we are calm, we notice things we otherwise might not. The mandala's value comes from the pleasure of its creation, not the end result.

Once when I was working on a mandala of colored stones, my 3-year-old granddaughter asked to join in. At first, she just admired the shapes and colors, but then she began to make a design, singing to herself. It was a comforting sound—to her and to me—her version of a lullaby inspired by the concentration of creating the mandala.

To make a mandala, gather objects such as stones, shells, pinecones, beach glass: anything that captures your imagination. On a flat surface, begin in the middle, arranging pieces to form the center. Sometimes I measure for symmetry, but often I just go with the flow. Continue building outward with items of different sizes and shapes. Create mandalas along themes, such as nuts or stones, or combine different materials in the same mandala.

I did not glue down my first mandalas. Glue is needed for tiny items or mandalas you want to preserve.

Garden Mandalas

Nature is the ultimate mandala maker. Once you start looking, it doesn't take long to notice the patterns in natural things:

  • Flowers, such as passionflower, sunflower, daisy, rose, chrysanthemum
  • Dandelions in all stages from bud to seeds
  • Concentric ripples of water
  • Spiderwebs
  • A bird's nest
  • A succulent plant viewed from above
  • The underside of a mushroom