Mandala Journal Evolution

1/29/14 mandala pages ~ Sara Roizen
6/7/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen

 

“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.”

~ Carl Jung

My 16 month old son is sleeping in the next room as I create this new blog post about my continued mandala journal. While re-reading my last blog post I realized that he was only six months old at that time of writing. Ten months later and this current mandala journal keeps growing, but it is almost at the end of the available pages. Time to get a new little art journal, yet I feel incredibly attached to this one. How apt, is it not? As my son grows I reminisce longingly when I see photographs or think about the first few months of his life and my life as a new mother. Yet I am enthralled with his current state of being as well as mine. This is the dialectic of creation as well as parenthood I suppose – looking back with an aching heart, soaking up the present moment, and being curious about the next phase all at once.

1/28/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen

My old studio space in our two bedroom apartment is now our toddler’s room. I create at our kitchen table, on the couch, or on the train ride to work. For now I create in little snippets such as my mandala journal, rather than in series of paintings on canvas. Returning to painting on a larger scale is in my near future, but for now I am reminded of how important it is to carve out these small pieces of time and space. I am reminded to ‘practice what I preach’ when I tell my art therapy clients that all it takes is a quick doodle here or there or even stopping on a familiar walk to snap a picture of a previously overlooked scene or object.
It is all of the little moments stitched together that create texture and depth in our lives. So I keep opening up to my process, one circle at a time.

5/28/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen
5/25/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen
5/7/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen
7/9/14 mandala page ~ Sara Roizen

Breathing Space Collaboration ~ With Veterans





What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.                    ~ John Updike

Collaboration
I have been collaborating with another therapist for the past number of weeks and providing art therapy groups for veterans living in supportive housing. One of these groups is a smoking cessation group (or smoking ‘sensation’ as one of our clients calls it!) The other therapist leads the first half of the group based on a psycho-educational curriculum that includes ice breakers, basic information, and coping strategies for trying to quit smoking and manage stress. During the second part of the group I lead the clients in an art therapy experiential that is designed to compliment and build on the theme that week. 

This is the first opportunity I have had to directly collaborate with another therapist in group therapy and it is a wonderful experience. As an art therapist contractor I am used to working very independently – going to different locations and running the art therapy groups on my own. This is a unique learning experience and allows us to shape the groups in a way that speaks to clients on many different levels.

One of the core foundations of smoking cessation (or trying to modify any unhealthy habit) is finding alternative coping strategies and ways to manage stress and difficult emotions. Many of us instinctively reach for something when we are trying to escape difficult emotions. It might be a cigarette, cookie, glass of wine, or the tv remote. These habits become so ingrained that they are largely unconscious actions, designed to keep the difficult feelings at bay for a while longer. Much of our group focuses on alternative ways to channel these emotions productively – through things like art, movement, and mindfulness-building skills. With this in mind, my co-therapist asked a yoga teacher who specializes in teaching simple breathing techniques to come in and co-lead two groups. 

The Experience
The yoga teacher explained that there are simple ways to relax through mindful breathing and that she would share some of her favorite methods. She encouraged us to sit comfortably in our chairs and to close our eyes. 

Before closing my eyes, I glanced around the circle of individuals. There was the yoga teacher, the other therapist, a peer specialist, and the clients – all veterans.  I was looking forward to being a participant in this part of the group. At the same time I was very curious to see if the clients would be able to tolerate sitting still, focusing on breathing, and if any of them would comment on the incense, candles or soft New Age music playing in the background. I had my doubts but was cautiously optimistic. Sitting with the feelings and sensations that can arise during meditation, yoga, and breathing practices can be intense for any of us, and almost all of these veterans struggle with symptoms related to PTSD along with other mental health and substance abuse issues. 

A few minutes into the guided breathing the room was completely quiet except for the soft music and the yoga teacher’s rhythmic voice. I felt my shoulders relax as my mind grew quieter. There was a palpable feeling in the room that felt very different from the usual energy there. Glancing around the circle again I noticed that many of the client’s faces looked younger and then realized that it was because everyone’s face was relaxed instead of tense and furrowed. 

An entire hour passed as she led us through breathing techniques and gentle yoga stretches, but it seemed like no time had passed at all. A few of the veterans commented on how they could have kept sitting for another hour and just breathing. I was struck by how much we craved this breathing space. It can be especially hard to find this quiet space in such a big city and many of these veterans approach daily life from a survival mentality, which makes complete sense based on their long history of traumas. We spent a few minutes talking about ways to take a breathing space – no matter how short or long it was. The yoga teacher reminded us that a breathing space could be as simple as taking three conscious breaths before responding to a person or situation. Or it could be a more formal and slightly longer practice during the day. 

Art Therapy ~ Mandala Breathing Space
For my part of this group, I asked everyone to transition to the art table as quietly as possible in order to maintain the quiet energy. I encouraged each person to try and stay aware of their breathing and pay particular attention to their in and out breaths as they painted. I then handed out thick watercolor paper to each person. On each piece of paper I had pre-drawn a circle in white crayon that was barely visible. I asked everyone to use the watercolor and fill in the entire page with washes of color and any other forms or imagery. As the group painted away, each person began to see an emerging circle, that stood out under the color washes, no matter how many layers of paint were added. 

‘Moon Window’
acrylic on paper ~ Sara Roizen

After a few minutes all of the group members were asking about the circle and seemed to be enjoying the process of painting while the circle (mandala) remained. I explained that since crayons were made of wax, they resisted the watercolor and therefore anything drawn with a crayon would repel the watercolor away from it.

After the crayon and watercolor mandalas were finished we spent time talking about the art process and relating it back to the yoga and breathing experience. The theme of carving a breathing space out came up again and was symbolized by the crayon drawing that emerged no matter how many layers of watercolor were added over it. Clients talked about ways to create healthy boundaries in life to protect some time each day for slowing down and going inwards rather than always reaching for outer distractions. The watercolor layers were paralleled to life’s layers and all of the daily experiences that can feel like a burden at times. We discussed that the key was to remember the breathing space circle even when life seemed too complicated, because the breathing space was always there to return to. I encouraged each veteran to display their art piece in a place that could serve as a daily reminder to create that time and space.

Further Thoughts
By pre-drawing the circle in white crayon I was providing the clients with a containing space to create within and around. At times I will have the client draw the circle themselves, but in this case I wanted to create the pre-existing breathing space for the group, much like the yoga teacher had set up the chairs in a circle before the group began and set the stage with candles, incense, and music. The idea is to help clients to gradually internalize the safe breathing space for themselves and this could be explored in a future session by having the group create their own contained shapes to paint within or create circles for one another.

Any time we work within circles the structure creates a kind of ‘breathing space’ and a wonderful visual metaphor for slowing down, going inwards, and centering for a while. I can envision working outside in the garden with the veterans and creating a mandala using natural elements such as rocks, leaves, and sticks. Another idea could be to create a semi-permanent mandala breathing space if the location/facility allowed for it where clients could go any time they needed to take a few quiet minutes. This could be outside or in the corner of a quieter room with less foot traffic. 

To create a portable breathing space reminder, small surfaces such as artist trading cards (wallet-sized paper) could be created during group with circles and visual reminders to pause and breathe. The group could also create bracelets (which are of course wearable circles) as a daily reminder as well.

There will be more blog posts to follow that explore my collaboration and work with veterans. Stay tuned!

‘City Sun’
acrylic on canvas ~ Sara Roizen

Mandala Journaling (When Words Escape Me)

first pages of my mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen











“Come out of the circle of time
. 
    And into the circle of love.”
        – Rumi

I started a small mandala journal as a way to continue making art in the very early days of being a new mom. Now, 6 months into being a mom I am still turning to my mandalas as a path for centering, self-care, and mindfulness practice. There were many early morning hours holding my baby and the mandala journal in my lap – meditatively drawing as I listened to his soft in and out breaths. 

mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen

I realize that it has been a while since posting and I was reflecting on some of the reasons. Yes, there’s the obvious ‘new mom/no time’ reason that most everyone understands. But in reality there is always a little time for writing if I carve out a few minutes here and there. I’m realizing that the greater reason had to do with how challenging it has been for me to gather my thoughts since giving birth. Perhaps this is part of why I was hesitant to begin a new blog post. I try to convey myself as clearly as possible through my posts, yet here I am looking at words as I type and just noticing how strange they look on the screen. The amazing transition into motherhood and this life-altering journey has left me a bit speechless at times. 
mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen
Cue the ‘aha’ moment music (if there is such music)…

While struggling through this blog post I realized that my intention with this post was to share and reinforce how important the art-making process continues to be in my life. So, if words are escaping me at the moment – must be time to make even more art! 
Art has accompanied me through every stage of life and this new stage is no different. Art has been a constant companion through the ups and downs, the known and unknown, the articulate and less articulate days as well. Perhaps my energy has been a bit tied up in trying to move through the world in the old pre-baby way, whereas the potential lies in embracing this new terrain and way of being. Perhaps I can look at this time of non-linear thinking as a time to delve even more deeply into the creative, spontaneous, and ever-shifting flow of life as a new mom, artist, and art therapist. 

Each mandala becomes a a visual response to the moment and I am struck by how naturally they arise. Many of these recent mandalas appear womb-like to me and seem to be incubating feelings and ideas, and yet they speak for themselves without words. 

I have found an interesting parallel on the theme of wordlessness with the last few art therapy groups I have led. There have been longer stretches of silence as group members worked on their art recently. During my last group one of the clients commented on how quiet it was and I asked her how she experienced the silence. She shared that it felt good and completely different from how ‘loud and crazy’ it usually was in the shelter environment. As art therapists we use words quite often at opportune times to help process the art, experience, and help frame certain themes that are emerging. However, at the core it is often the art-making process itself that opens up space for healing and self-knowledge. There are moments when too many verbal interventions may derail the creative process or take focus away from the deeper work that is really going on. 

mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen

The deeper work that is going on for me at this time seems to be about taking this creative and unknown plunge into new motherhood. And there aren’t a lot of words that can quite capture this moment in time…good thing I have my art to speak for me. 

A final quote that seems fitting:


“Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” 
    – Einstein

mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen
mandala journal ~ Sara Roizen

Connecting With Mandalas

Esther’s Tattoo
My original mandala drawing

I wanted to share a very cool story and an example of how art can connect us all, even from across the ocean…

Almost a year ago a woman named Esther from the Netherlands emailed me after finding this blog while she was looking for mandala inspiration for a tattoo. She had found a mandala of mine that she really connected with and asked if she could use the imagery for her first tattoo…so of course I said YES! 

A few days ago I received an email from her with her finished tattoo (pictured on left) and this is what she wrote about it:

A time ago I send you a mail with the question about your mandala drawing and my idea to make a tattoo.

So I just seemed nice to me to let you know my tattoo is finally placed on my back!!


It is my first tattoo and it means a lot to me:


It symbolizes the birth of my daughter (now 1.5) in the middle and the tiny circle. The other circles are my partner and me; both worlds come together in the middle circle and the triangle figure pointing towards it.


The details are filled with fire-dynamic elements: my constellation is aries (which is also the triangle element fire).

I feel very honored that Esther resonated with this mandala and reached out to me. I also found it interesting that when I draw these interconnected mandalas I do it as a way to explore my connections to loved ones in my life as well – how we overlap, connect, and impact one another. Esther’s interpretation of the mandala was similar in depicting the intersecting deep connections between her daughter, partner, and self.

Just as there are three interlocking circles, in this story there are three artists linking together as well! Esther is an artist and you can visit her site here: http://www.esthermeijer.nl/

And here is the site for Xander, her tattoo artist: http://www.mana-ink.nl/

While thinking about the way mandalas connect us to ourselves and to one another, I found this quote by Carl Jung to be especially relevant:

“In view of the fact that all mandalas shown here were new and uninfluenced products, we are driven to the conclusion that there must be a transconscious disposition in every individual which is able to produce the same or very similar symbols at all times and in all places. Since this disposition is usually not a conscious possession of the individual I have called it the collective unconscious.”

From an art therapy perspective, I have utilized the intersecting circle mandala drawing with my clients quite often. Each circle can represent a person in the client’s life (including the self) and I ask them to place the circles in relation to their current feelings and experiences with each individual. 

Another variation I’ve used that my clients have found illuminating is to draw three overlapping circles and label one past, present, and future. After the circles are drawn or traced I encourage my clients to fill each circle in with colors, shapes, symbols, and imagery that symbolize their past, present, and future. This is a way to create a visual timeline, gain perspective on future hopes and dreams, and explore how they perceive their present reality. 

Creating art within the circles is naturally centering and can help contain triggering memories while still allowing the client to review their life experiences. Art therapy group members often enjoy sharing and processing their mandala timelines at the end of group and after this experience there is often a sense of deeper connection within the group.

I’d encourage anyone interested to experiment with creating interlocking mandalas as a way to center the self and gain insight into the ways we are connected. Please feel free to leave comments and share links to your art here if you feel inspired!

Mandalas




Here are a few new mandalas from my sketchbook…creating mandalas is helping me to manage my stress, as I adjust from vacation back into school and internship. To create your own mandala, simply begin with any sized circle and draw within the circle. There is no right or wrong!

Mandalas

“I had to abandon the idea of the superordinate position of the ego. … I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point — namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the centre.
It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the centre, to individuation.
… I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.”
– C. G. Jung

__________

Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle.”
Mandalas can be seen in the artwork and symbolism of every culture. In Art Therapy, mandalas play a very important role as a transformative symbol and process. In art therapy, a mandala is any imagery that is contained within a circle. The created mandala is a reflection of the artist’s self at that moment. Mandala’s tend to help focus and center the person who creates it. There is no “right or wrong” when creating a mandala, and in fact, the less you consciously think about it, the richer the mandala will be in form. In this way, the mandala becomes a mirror that we hold up to our unconscious – discovering apects of the self that we might have been previously unaware of.

Below I have shared a few mandalas that I have created recently. I have found them to be incredibly helpful for me to create after particularly emotional, stressful, or confusing groups that I have led, or when I need to emotionally contain a particularly intense experience. The simple act of creating within a circle is deeply relaxing and illuminating. I encourage everyone to allow yourself the space and creative freedom to create a mandala!

Mandala with clients

I created this mandala in a group that I was leading called “Meditative Art Therapy.” During this group we listen to relaxing (usually instrumental) music and create art in response. I usually encourage my clients to work with more fluid materials such as watercolor, to free them up and allow them to become more spontaneous in their creating. I usually do not make art with my clients, (I can post on this topic later!) but for this session it seemed appropriate to do so. It was a small and intimate group, and I felt that it would be more therapeutic to join my clients in their silent process. There was a high level of resonance within the group, both artistically and verbally at the end when we processed the experience. This group has been a much needed reprieve for many of my clients, as the daily rhythym at Housing Works can be very fast-paced. Later I will share some of my thoughts on working to create a safe environment for groups….