Stone Wall X, Jamaica Plain MA
Copyright 2013 David J. Bookbinder
Making mandalas, which I began to do in 2001 shortly after I acquired my first digital camera, was one of the main ways I was able to integrate the “me” I was prior to a near-death experience and the “me” I was afterward. Post-NDE, I had been taken apart and put back together surgically, but on both physical and emotional/psychological levels, the Humpty Dumpty I had been before was not the same as the one I had become. Mandalas were a way, at first unconsciously and later as a conscious meditation, to connect my fragmented parts to a central core.
Unwittingly, I had stumbled on a process that psychiatrist Carl G. Jung had developed in the early 1900s. Jung painted his first mandala in 1916 and mandalas soon became central both to his personal development and to his work with his psychiatric patients.
Jung believed that mandalas — which occur in many religions, in dreams, in schizophrenic drawings, in nature, and in industrial designs — are archetypal forms. They are part of what he called the “collective unconscious,” and as such are an organizing principle built into all of us. The central point of a mandala is symbolic of the center of our being, a still, calm point about which the chaotic elements of our lives revolve. Creating mandalas, Jung believed and I was rediscovering, provides a way to get in touch with our still, central point and to symbolically bring order to our internal chaos.
Jung referred to the mandala as an “archetype of wholeness.” In the mandala, opposites are united, a sense of wholeness is achieved, and the result is esthetic harmony. A parallel process occurred in the lives of the mandala makers. In his work with his patients, Jung was able to trace the progression of this dual harmonious state by correlating the coherence of the mandalas his patients drew with their psychological recovery.
In my present work as both psychotherapist and mandala artist, I seek to carry out my variant of Jung’s work. Although I don’t often work directly with mandalas with my clients, I continue to create them as a way to process the feelings stirred up in me by my work with them, and I encourage, in my clients, mandala-like activities such as dance, pottery, and drawing to help them organize the chaotic elements of their lives around their own still, calm centers.
David J. Bookbinder, LMHC