In Sanskrit, the word for circle is mandala. Found in Hindu, Buddhist, and Native American traditions, and among many other ancient cultures and mythologies, mandalas are profound and colorful creations intended to aid self-reflection and meditation. To celebrate Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, I strongly encourage you to create a mandala ceremony of your own.
Due to the tilt of the Earth on its axis, all of us in the Northern Hemisphere will celebrate the longest day of the year on June 20. Mirroring the cosmic orbit of planets around the sun, your mandala will give reverence to both the impermanence and the wholeness of your person, of this day, and of the summer season.
Tibetan monks create sand mandalas to reflect the ever-changing, impermanent nature of the material world. After spending days creating the beautiful, intricate mandala, the monks sweep away the sand. Noted psychologist Carl Jung used mandalas to represent “the psychological expression of the totality of the self,” for both himself and his patients. In his book Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, Jung stated, “My mandalas were cryptograms concerning the state of the self which was presented to me anew each day….I guarded them like precious pearls….It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the center, to individuation.”
Mandalas have been used for centuries as a means of representing wholeness through the union of opposites—within the individual, within the cosmos, and between the individual and the cosmos. Mandalas also contain what Jung called “a central point to which everything is related.” An example of this in our physical world is of electrons orbiting protons and neutrons to form an atom. On an astronomical level, our solar system orbits the center of the Milky Way. We could even say that in our personal lives, our health, habits, and dreams “orbit” our heart center.
Mandalas have been used for centuries as a means of representing wholeness through the union of opposites—within the individual, within the cosmos, and between the individual and the cosmos.
Personal mandalas express both your individuality and your connection to the greater whole. In this exercise, the center of the mandala represents your personal axis. As the circle widens, it becomes your connection to the collective. By recognizing that your Summer Solstice Mandala is a temporary structure, you give reverence to the present moment, as well as appreciation for the fleeting quality of your personal thoughts and feelings. Like you, this mandala will be a unique creation. Its fullest expression today will be different from the expression you share tomorrow.
To create your own Summer Solstice Mandala, follow the practice below.
Summer Solstice Mandala Ceremony
Set aside 60 minutes for this practice.
Materials: reusable grocery sack
Creating Your Mandala
To prepare your mind and body to create your mandala, begin with a short walking meditation. Put on necessary layers of clothing, grab your reusable grocery sack, and head outside. Similar to the walking meditation we completed in our Spring Equinox Ceremony, stand tall, with your feet hip-width apart. With your eyes open, take three deep cycles of breath (a total of 15 breaths) for each of the following sensory experiences: what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste, and what you feel on your skin in this moment. Then walk for a few minutes at a pace that is half the rate of your usual tempo. Let your mind be quiet, and focus on the breath. Cultivatemetta, or loving-kindness, for all that you experience (including yourself).
As you walk, begin to gather organic materials for your mandala, such as flowers, pebbles, leaves, or whatever you encounter on your path. Choose objects that strike your fancy. They don’t have to match or be of any particular theme.
Spend about 20 minutes gathering these items. In keeping with the tradition of impermanence in Tibetan mandala creation, identify a public area outside to create your mandala. This should be a place where the mandala can be easily accessed by wind and people passing by—next to a sidewalk or path is ideal. Pick petals off of flowers, snap twigs, and spend 20 minutes organizing your mandala. This mandala is meant to be a reflection of your whole being on this celestial day. You can choose to define your whole as one piece of you, your entire self, community, country, or world.
Once your mandala is complete, stand up and stretch your arms, legs, and back. Stand or sit with a straight spine. Admire your work and appreciate the impermanence it represents. Spend a few minutes here, and finish the practice with 10 minutes of walking meditation.
Jung showed us that mandalas are an excellent way to identity the interrelation between the world within us and the outside world, and to understand how we create our world. What story are you telling yourself today?
To continue your work with mandalas, construct a daily or weekly mandala on a morning walk, or use crayons and colored pencils to draw one in your journal.