The first time I colored a mandala was about two years ago. I was on a retreat in the Peace Village, a magical oasis of love and light, tucked away in the mountains around Haynes Falls. This was a silent retreat, and since then, I have colored many mandalas, mostly in silence. I even bought myself a mandala coloring book and a pack of markers, and told the children that as much as I love them and sharing, they were not to use my mandala markers. When the school year started, I printed dozens of different mandala coloring pages. Throughout the year, students used them in the art club, in advisory, and on lunch breaks. “Yo, Maryam, this thing really makes you calm down, though.” “It’s true.” “Why, though? Like, how do it make you so relaxed?”
Mandala means circle in Sanskrit, although much of the meaning is lost in translation. A mandala represents wholeness. It is something of a blueprint for the structure of life. It reminds us of our infinite connections to each other, and to the Universe. Not only are mandalas mesmerizing in their intricacy and beauty and therefore good for the soul, but they are also said to be beneficial to the brain. According to psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala, “The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.”
The other night, unburdened by stacks of papers to grade, I dug out my mandala kit, sat down at the dining room table, and began to color. Within moments, my son, his friend from upstairs, and my daughter were all asking for their own mandalas. I explained that they should try to color silently, and that there should be some sort of a pattern in the way they use colors.
The next morning, my eleven-year-old son, a special learner who has difficulty staying still and focused, sat down to finish his mandala. Usually, he needs to be asked to engage in activities and reminded time and time again to stay on task and complete what he has started. But the mandala had him engrossed, and even though he didn’t create a pattern, his mandala was completely colored, and it was beautiful.
My three-year-old daughter followed her brother to the table, found her own mandala from the night before, and also began to color. Hers, too, was beautiful, even though she couldn’t be persuaded to use any color other than purple and pink.
Inspired? Print your own mandala, and let logic and creativity flow. Try to color in silence, and notice your heart and your mind.