The Art of the Mandala

Healing meditations inspired by the garden.

By Heather Rodale

Photography by Christa Neu


mandala means circle in SanskritFor me, gardening has always been meditative. Absorbed in activity, I lose track of time. When I plant my flower garden, it is as if I am an artist painting with flowers. Then nature and environmental conditions help the process unfold, beautifully but not always as I planned. It is a metaphor for my life.

When I was healing from cancer, I looked to nature and my garden for hope, as I had done in the past. I focused on transitions like the beauties of spring that follow the dead of winter, or the chrysalis that releases a butterfly.

mandala means circle in Sanskrit

My cancer was melanoma, so I could not be in the sun. But I was healing in the winter, and as I looked outside at my barren garden, I knew I had to find healing opportunities indoors. I had heard that mandala making was meditative, as it could turn stressful thoughts into calming ones. I took a workshop to learn the principles of mandala drawing, and it blossomed into a new hobby. Now, when not in my garden, I find peace and inspiration planning and making mandala sculptures from found objects.

Mandala means "circle" in Sanskrit. Mandala forms are characterized by a circular shape, a symmetrical design, and a visible center. Many cultures have versions of mandalas: Native American medicine wheels, cathedral rose windows, and Buddhist sand paintings are just three. Some were part of rituals to promote health or to remove negative energies or events.

In mandala making, the meditative process comes from consciously focusing on the task, selecting the colors or materials, and arranging them in an orderly and pleasing fashion. When we are calm, we notice things we otherwise might not. The mandala's value comes from the pleasure of its creation, not the end result.