Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Everyday Opinions: What is a Mandala? Dr C Jung's mandalas and integration

In my last post I mentioned that mandalas are said to help one become more integrated. If you are interested in what mandalas mean from a psychological point of view you would have to look at Jung (1875 - 1961) who was a psychiatrist.

I am not a specialist in Jungian psychology but I will tell you what I understand. He is considered to be one of the fathers of psychology and contributed many concepts to the western philosophy of psychology. Some of the well-known ones which many of us refer to, without consciously knowing that they are attributed to him, are ‘introvert vs. extrovert’, ‘collective consciousness’ and ‘archetypes’. (You can look at the list of glossaries below for an explanation.) The ones that relate to this topic are: persona, self-realization, individuation, and mandala.  It is largely accepted that we, in the West, are familiar with mandalas because of Jung. What we understand of mandalas and psychology can be attributed to his work. He travelled quite extensively after World War I to places such as Africa, Asia, South America and Mexico trying to understand other cultures and the connection between psychology and spirituality.

Jung spent a year, when he was not well, drawing every day. He drew mandalas. After that he used mandalas with his patients.  Jung concluded that drawing mandalas was helpful and felt that it was a way of expressing the self as he saw the circle representing one’s outer life and the mid-point being ones inner-self.

I want to explain it simply: ‘Persona’ is a term coined by Jung. It is the part we choose to show the world while hiding what we feel ‘is not good enough’ or what we are struggling with such as: desires (perceived as ‘good and bad’); fears of abandonment, rejection and annihilation; and hurts that arouse expressed or unexpressed angers. Sometimes we can’t or don’t want to admit these to ourselves or the ‘world’. They become hidden by the persona which we ‘wear’ like a mask.

Drawing, much like dreaming, helps us become aware of what is hidden or trapped in our unconscious by making the unconscious conscious through expressing it on paper. It can aid our dialoguing with ourselves. Our imagination is the tool for visualizing ourselves. This helps us express the unconscious or hidden parts of ourselves through visual images; much like a photograph shows us what we look like it is like making a portrait of our inner self.   

When drawing the mandala which is both circle and it’s center, we can focus inward on one thing (like the centre of the mandala) while all outer demands fall away (the outer circle of the mandala). This is almost like taking a moment in time and making an image of it, thereby making it ‘real’ for others and oneself to see. In this way we become aware of who we are; can reflect on it and make personal changes; order things in our lives and become more integrated. Therefore, as one draws the mandala, one is integrating the outer and inner ‘selves.’

 It can be seen as a metaphor for our lives; just as the mandala is organized, integrated and whole so it reflects our process. Just like we look at ourselves in a mirror everyday it is said that if we draw mandalas do this regularly we can become aware of and observe the trends we go through in our lives. This process of being aware and observing all our different parts of ourselves; and expressing, accepting and integrating the hidden or masked parts is what Jung called individuation.   

These are theories which can’t be proven but there is no harm in trying it out and seeing what happens. Through the results you will know whether or not it is beneficial to you. I believe it is up to the image maker to decide for themselves what the image means to them, whether it is round, rectangular or square.  When you join my workshops I encourage you to bring your understanding and all of you (hidden and seen) is welcome.

I mentioned that Jung was influenced by the east and in my next post I will tell you about the origins, the background of eastern religion and other cultures which most probably contributed to influencing and inspiring the psychological use of mandalas.

Links to Jungian glossaries:

What I have written is my impressions and understanding from all the information I have read.
References here at:
 Carl Jung links, mandala quotes and Jungian notes:
The Healing Properties of Luminous Mandalas
Wikipedia’s Carl Gustov Jung.

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