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Mandalas bring sense of spiritual wholeness, balance to meditators from many cultures

December 2, 2006


Rebecca Ford remembers her first experience with a mandala.

She bought a coloring book full of the circular artworks. She wanted to color one perfectly symmetrically, but messed up.

This was her first lesson from a mandala: "In spite of the mistake, just that it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to turn out, it was still so beautiful. If it's in God's plan, it still works out the way it's supposed to."

Mandalas, two-dimensional works that take on an infinite number of forms, are used as a form of meditation. They represent balance, completeness, interdependence and centering.

They have been part of many spiritual and cultural traditions:

¢ Tibetan monks make them from sand.

¢ American Indians created medicine wheels.

¢ Aztecs used a mandala as both a timekeeping device and a way of religious expression.

¢ Asian cultures use the "yin-yang" symbol to represent opposition and balance.

¢ Many churches have circular stained-glass windows that are mandalas.

"So much of reality is linear," Ford says. "A mandala is different. It puts yin and yang together. It represents healing - it puts stuff back together that gets so divided in our world."

That was the case a couple of years ago, when Ford's brother died. She spent a lot of time with mandalas - coloring them, studying them, creating them - to help with her grief.

Ford says the effects are emotional, psychological and spiritual.

"If I have a dissonance, or a problem, I can usually work it out positively through a mandala," she says. "I can release tension and come up with a resolution to what is going on."

Learn more

What: Mandala Experience workshop When: 7 p.m. Wednesday Where: St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Ky. Who: Led by Rebecca Ford, for Womanspirit Connection

Ford, a member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Ky., will lead a session on mandalas at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the church. The workshop is an event of Womanspirit Connection, formerly Martha and Mary's Way, an organization that focuses on the spiritual development of women.

Ling-Lung Chen, a Lawrence resident who practices Tibetan Buddhism, says the best-known mandalas - sand mandalas created by monks - take an incredible amount of concentration.

"That's why it's often called a meditative art," she says.

In the Buddhist tradition, each mandala represents a two-dimensional work where a specific deity resides.

After the sand mandala is completed, it's destroyed.

"Although it takes a long time and effort - in a relative sense - to make, it takes only a split second to destroy its perfection and just a couple of minutes more for it to disappear," Chen says. "Was it ever there? Was it ever created? Did it really disappear? If so, where did it go? If not, where is it now? It's definitely a lesson of impermanence."

She compares the creation of a mandala to the process of gaining enlightenment.

"It's an exercise of concentration and creation," she says, "yet its essence is emptiness. Like everything else in life, it eventually dissolves into its original state of being."

These are lessons Ford is hoping to share with a broader audience. She says anyone can benefit from incorporating mandalas into their spiritual life.

"I started off with a coloring book, and just by accident, recognizing the insights in what was happening while I was doing this," she says. "It was a spiritual practice."


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