When I was doing my dream incubation experiment, I needed to find a relaxing, meditative activity to prepare myself for incubating dreams. I stumbled upon mandala coloring a while back, printed some mandalas out, and even bought some decent colored pencils, but they all just sat in a drawer. Like many who were raised on Western ideals, mandala coloring didn’t seem “productive,” and that bugged me. I decided that my dream incubation experiment was a good time to take out those mandalas and colored pencils and see what this was really all about. I discovered that far from being a waste of time, mandala coloring is an effective form of meditation.

Mandala as Meditation

A mandala is generally a circle that contains some kind of repetitive pattern that draws the eye to the center of it. Actually, a mandala doesn’t have to be circular and it doesn’t have to strictly contain a pattern, but the principle of drawing the eye to the center is a characteristic of a mandala. They range from the simple to the extremely complex where they appear, on the surface, very “busy.” Sometimes, there’s a picture at the center of the mandala.

The mandala has long been used in the East as a meditation tool. People draw them, color them, and meditate on them. At Suite101, Janis Masyk-Jackson writes about meditating on a mandala.

A mandala can represent the order of the universe and allows for the integration of mind and spirit while allowing the exploration of different realms of consciousness.

We also see mandalas all the time in our dreams. For instance, I’ve had three dreams in a row with round patterns on the ground. One was a platform, one was a “magic garden,” and one was a mound in a combat zone. The mandala, though, can appear in more indirect ways, like people sitting around a round or square table, a square or gathering place at the center of town, or a clearing in the forest.

Psychologically, the mandala is a symbol of the wholeness of the Self with a stable, unchanging center. In an article on the psychology of the mandala, Susanne Fincher states that they “provide a bridge between earlier self-images and our present experience of our self.” We’re drawn to mandalas in particular when we feel fragmented or conflicted because the circle that revolves around a center represents an integration of the fragments into that part of us that remains constant throughout our lives. According to Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, we can never really know its true nature; we can only feel it intuitively.

Circle with flower at the center, green crescents, and snakes

“Mandala drawn by one of Carl Jung’s patients. Though unconventional, we see the pattern that draws the eye to the center.” From “Mystery of the Golden Flower” by Carl Jung, in the public domain

 Coloring Mandalas

Awareness of the meditative benefits of mandalas has led to the availability of mandala drawings that we can color. Pastiche on Squidoo has written a detailed article on mandala coloring books that includes an extensive list of links to download sites with free black-and-white drawings of mandalas to color. There are also no less than 100 mandalas to download and color at Edupics.com, a site that offers free educational pictures, photos, and crafts. Whole books exist of mandalas to color, such as those by Susanne Fincher, Monique Mandali, and Michelle Normand.

Janis Masyk-Jackson recommends we look at the mandala as a journey where we begin at the outer edges and work our way to the center. When you reach the center, Masyk-Jackson writes, “imagine no longer being separate from the mandala, but, becoming one with it.” Then expand to become one with all of nature and the universe (however you might imagine that). In another article for Suite101 on lessons we can learn from coloring a mandala, Jennifer Rieger says we can focus on a particular dilemma or painful aspect of our life as we color, opening ourselves up to receive answers or illumination.

Far from being just for kids, coloring is an effective meditative practice because it combines rhythmic movement and colors. Colors have a very real effect on us. We’re drawn to particular colors at a particular time because their qualities give us things that we’re missing. If life feels dull or stagnant, for instance, then reds and oranges are attractive. If, on the other hand, life is particularly overwhelming or stressful, blues and purples give some relief.

Most of the mandala coloring articles I’ve read recommend that we don’t think too much about what we’re doing. The idea is to let our intuition guide us in our color choices. This is what I do, and for that, it’s a good idea to get a large collection of colors. I opted for a set of 50 colored pencils, although 64 crayons would do just as well. I suspect felt-tip markers, pastels, and paints could get messy, but then, it’s our mandala and we can do what we want with it!

If the idea of “wasting time coloring like a kid” bugs you then think of mandala coloring strictly as a form of meditation. It’s as relaxing and mind-expanding as sitting cross-legged, breathing deeply, and silently reciting a mantra in our minds. In my mandala-coloring practice, I’ve gotten answers to confusing dilemmas, found a calm clarity of mind, and experienced a sense of well-being. Try it!

Watch this inspiring 5-minute video from Mercedes Vivar exhibiting some amazing colored mandalas.