The Mandala, Psychotherapy and Carl Jung
We owe the re-introduction of mandalas into modern Western thought to Carl Jung. However, mandalas as circles are one of our oldest symbols. We are surrounded by circular celestial bodies such as the sun, the moon, the earth which radiate circular rays of light. In nature we watch flowers unfold their petals enclosing their centre. The iris of our eyes are physical circles though which we experience the visual world.
Then we have the conceptual circles that we talk about – such as circles of friends, family, community.
The circle as a container or ‘organisation vehicle’ is well known in psychotherapy. The circle as an organising principle is a natural occurrence in the child’s learning process and a young child will progress early from scribbling to drawing circles. It is the experience of drawing mandalas that we apply an order to our personal psychology. The mandala allows us to find our own centre, to process old and new information and connect with our personal identity as we continue around the cycle of personal growth.
The mandala is also proven to provide additional therapeutic benefits, including stress relief and relaxation. See mandala and meditation.
Mandala and Carl Jung
We owe the re-introduction of mandalas into modern Western thought to Carl Jung, the Swiss analytical psychologist who employed the mandala in his work with clients. In his pioneering exploration of the unconscious through his own art making, Jung observed the motif of the circle spontaneously appearing. The circle drawings reflected his inner state at that moment.
Jung was familiar with the philosophical writings of India (the term mandala appears in the Rigveda and Vedic rituals use Mandalas such as Navagraha mandala right up today). This prompted him to adopt the word “mandala” to describe these circle drawings that he and his patients made.
Jung’s research was built upon his belief that if an individual was able to understand their own psychology of self, they would be able to create ‘order’ within their inner world. With this order in place, they would be prevented from becoming lost in their own mind or overwhelmed by modern life.
‘I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, … which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time. … Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is: … the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious’
— Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 195–196.
Jung recognised that the urge to make mandalas emerges during moments of intense personal growth. Their appearance indicates that a profound re-balancing process is underway in the psyche. The result of the process is a more complex and better integrated personality.
“The mandala is an archetypal image whose occurrence is attested throughout the ages. It signifies the wholeness of the Self’’ – CG Jung