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How to Make a Mandala and Reclaim Your Joy

Sal Santiago writes about travel, minimalism, philosophy, and living an alternative lifestyle.

Mandalas are great for art therapy and de-stressing.

Mandalas are great for art therapy and de-stressing.

Reclaiming the Joy of Creativity

Drawing mandalas is a great way to relax and de-stress. Allow a little art therapy into your life. If you're thinking of taking up sketching again, creating mandalas can be a fun and low-pressure way to get back into it. Reclaim the joy of creating something that you possessed as a kid.

We all have this innate ability. We are born with it. At some point in school, it is stamped out of us: We are told we are not good enough; we don't have talent. And look at all those masters on the wall and in the textbooks. If we can't create anything that compares, then we might as well give up.


Enjoy the Process

The key, I believe, is to enjoy the process of creating something, and not worry too much about the results. As an English teacher who worked overseas for a few years, I got to see a lot of artwork that decorated the classroom walls. I was also able to incorporate drawing and painting projects with creative writing and essays.

I can say hands down, some of my favorite art is created by kids. And they do it naturally, without worrying too much about the result.

Also, some kids who get really interested in drawing will doodle and sketch when they are bored in an English class. Instead of cracking down, I usually encouraged it. It's a great outlet for their creativity, and a way for them to relax during the high stress of a typical school day.


Art Therapy

Like many people, I enjoyed drawing and painting as a kid. I returned to it as an adult, as an enjoyable activity, and I could display the finished works, and even share them if I felt like it. Listening to music, and spending a few hours drawing and coloring has been healing for me. A great therapy and escape for a while.


Creating a Mandala: Lessons Learned

One thing I love about creating a mandala (and art in general for me) is that you don't know how the piece will turn out. When you look at it later with fresh eyes, you might not like it very much, or you might love it. You relinquish a certain amount of control, allow for a certain element of chance. To learn not to give much importance to typical notions of "good" or "bad" is also a nice lesson to take away.

Just be free to create, enjoy the process, and come what may. Whatever the results will be, will be. Allow the universe to work its magic through you. You are the vessel, and powers of creativity are working through you.


These are good lessons, and a way of being, that you can apply to other areas of your life. Learning to trust in your innate abilities, learning to like yourself more, learning persistence. Learning to do something simply for the joy of it. For the fun of creation, for the sense of healing and well-being it brings you.

And there are no right or wrong ways to do anything. As Waylon Jennings used to say, "There is always another way to do something, and that's your way."


How to Make a Mandala

My process: For a while, I lost my protractor, and drew a few mandalas freehand. These weren't my favorite, but the results were alright, and useful for improving. A few times, I used anything that gave me a solid circle to trace. A bottle cap, a toilet paper tube, a coffee can. Then I simply filled in the details.

Use your favorite shapes and patterns, and begin filling in the spaces. Usually the results are better if it is as symmetrical as possible. Otherwise, your mandala is sagging and drooping, lopsided, and might look a little sad, and unbalanced.

Initially, I was surprised how many of the fundamental shapes found in nature began coming out in my mandalas. They seemed symbolic. What shapes and patterns do you like? What patterns and details catch your eye in nature and in the artwork of others?

You could begin keeping a list of patterns and details you like, and that perhaps have personal meaning for you.

Creating a mandala is also a great way to practice blending different colors together. You can use a color wheel, or simply trial and error. Improve your ability with colors, and use your favorites. This will bleed over and inform other drawings and paintings that you do.


Give yourself permission to create the way you did as a child. It will bring great healing and joy into your life.


Mandala History

Mandalas come from Buddhist culture. There is a spiritual feeling from creating one. They have been used for healing and teaching purposes for centuries. They often symbolize the spiritual journey. The cycle of life and creation. The cycle of occurrence, and re-occurrence.

They often display elements of math found in the natural world. They can be used for meditation, and to encourage peace, healing, and purification. They are also regarded as a symbol of fortune and growth.


Increase flexibility in your mindset, and your penchant for taking chances. For letting go, accepting and allowing things to be as they are. To be more engaged in the process of doing something, and to not be too attached to the results.

Also, doing this kind of creative work helps you to gauge your inner state. Am I able to go with the flow, and create freely? Or do I feel blocked? Are self-doubts and anxiety getting the upper hand today? Then I can try to work through these feelings and attain a sense of calm. Feeling glad that I tried, and knowing I did my best.


Listen to What the Mandala Teaches You

It teaches you to trust your ability to be creative. You might not know what you are doing, but learn to let go and be OK with it. You are on a journey of self-discovery, learning, and growth. Sometimes there are flaws and imperfections, but it's good to leave those in as well.

And like Bob Ross used to say, “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.” Often these might end up being your favorite part of the finished work.