Long-time readers of this blog will know that I enjoy being creative and strive to weave creativity into many aspects of our smallholding life, from gardening and cooking to decorating the house, upcycling, painting, wet felting and playing with and in nature. Last year, I set myself a creative project that I could carry through the whole twelve months: I took daily photographs at sunset, from the same spot, to compile a collection of sunsets throughout the four seasons. I have not quite finished putting it all together but I hope that my finished creation will show the position of the sun moving throughout the year. This year, I am challenging myself to create a monthly mandala with things gathered or foraged from our land. I hope to have, by the end of 2021, twelve creative records of nature on our smallholding… a calendar in the making perhaps?!
I feel incredibly lucky that life on our wonderful spot in the Welsh countryside affords me the freedom to be creative every day. Engaging in regular creative projects, however small, helps me reduce stress, anxiety and negative emotions. In the last year, being creative has also helped me cope with the level of uncertainty that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused and has taught me that I can adapt and respond to the unknown.
Why mandalas? Spiritual symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism, these beautiful, intricate and captivating circular designs represent the universe and illustrate that life is never ending and everything is connected. In Sanskrit, the literal translation of the word mandala is circle. Used as an aid to meditation and relaxation, mandalas are said to help centre body and mind by letting creativity flow and facilitating a connection with the divine and mysterious aspects of our existence. They can help us develop self-awareness and gain knowledge from within by focusing our mind on our relationship with self, others and the world around us, including nature. I was introduced to the concept of natural mandalas in my outdoor counselling training many years ago and have continued to use it as a tool to access deeper feelings and psychic processes. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw mandalas as a representation of the wholeness of our personality and he believed them to be a powerful symbol for our inner world. My experience of creating mandalas out in nature with materials and objects that draw my attention can be likened to a meeting of inner and outer realities. Not only does the process of creating a mandala in a natural setting focus my mind when I feel scattered or confused and calm me when I feel stressed or anxious, but also the created piece can reveal aspects of my inner life that were hidden from or not understood by my rational self. Mandalas can indeed be a powerful tool for inner transformation.
For this project, however, I have approached the process as a creative, playful endeavour rather than a therapeutic one, although the two are never completely separate and I expect my inner world to reveal itself to me in ways that may surprise me! The aim is for each mandala to be a artistic expression of me, my life, my inner and outer worlds on any given month as well as a creative and imaginative record of what is around in nature at that time. I never know how the finished mandala is going to look like and I don't get attached to an outcome, trusting in the creative process and allowing it to unfold as I build the mandala. Sometimes I begin with the centre and work outwards; other times, it's the other way around and the outer circle is my starting point and I work inwards towards a centre. No doubt how I approach each design is a representation of what is going on inside me, whether I am aware of it or not. No matter, I go with the flow and reflect afterwards if I want to. There is a liberating freedom to be found in this intuitive approach and my playful, child self takes to this like a duck to water! I can spend a very enjoyable couple of hours immersed in the process: looking around, gathering and building the circle with the natural materials that catch my eye. One twig leads to another and so on... I follow the ideas that pop into my head as I go along and let my hands lead the experience, with fluidity and flow, which allows me to access a space within me where I feel at one with myself, the world around me and the mandala I am creating. I am sharing here photos of the first natural mandalas I have made and towards the end of the year, my intention is to gather them all into a calendar for 2022.
Do share in comments your own experiences of using creativity to support your wellbeing, self-development and your engagement with life itself. I would love to hear them.
May the renewed energy of the new season of Spring, now almost upon us, give you the opportunity to unleash your creativity and playfulness to support your health and wellbeing, especially important during these tough times of continued restrictions, limitations and lack of social contact. May you leap into Spring with flow and ease.