From the time that I was a young girl, I’ve been in awe of beautiful stained glass rose windows. Each Sunday when I would go to worship with my family, I would sit in the sanctuary gazing up at the colored glass and getting lost in the details and repeating patterns. It wouldn’t be until many years later when I was teaching a high school graphic design program that I would learn from a colleague about mandalas and how to draw the symmetrical patterns that I admired in my youth.
Looking back 19 years ago, I didn’t even create my first mandala. I facilitated a group mandala project with my 17 students. The instructions were really simple. I gave them a large piece of paper with a circle drawn on it and a handful of markers. It was up to the group to decide how they might fill the circle with color and form.
The students in this group came from various backgrounds and cliques. They were athletes, a computer nerd, a math geek, artists, and kids who hung out at the sugar shacks. Their conversations started with brainstorming ideas on what they could do. Before a mark was made the math geek pulled out his protractor and a ruler and divided the circle so each student would get their own section. Unanimously, they decided they could each draw anything that they wanted in their wedge but they would collaborate with the person sitting on either side of them to connect their pieces in some way. For example, the computer nerd drew a mouse and the cord connected with a pattern drawn by the artist sitting next to him.
What started out as connecting their illustrations led to making more meaningful connections as they sat around the circle drawing, coloring and talking. Personal stories of favorite bands, teachers, classes, family and friends, mixed with an occasional joke, brought the students closer together. With each story, they came to learn how much they all had in common. One student remarked how she would have never known the other students if it were not for this experience. They felt so close and comfortable about being themselves that Room 9 became known as a sanctuary.
More recently, I’ve returned to my love for creating and connecting with mandalas. I’ve had the opportunity to lead a group of volunteers and my colleagues whom I work with at the Diocese of Manchester during a service day where we spent the day visiting with residents at Mount Carmel Nursing Home. I enlarged mandalas for the first activity where two volunteers and two residents sat around the 22” design coloring and talking. It was a great way to break the ice and get to know each other. The residents had a chance to tell stories of family, careers, hobbies and favorite vacation destinations. For the volunteers, it was a chance to brighten the day of their new friends.
If you are interested in facilitating a group mandala, the rose window design pictured above is available for you to download and bring to your local print shop. Visit catholicnh.org/downloads.
Kathryn Costa is the author of "The Mandala Guidebook: How to Draw, Paint, and Color Expressive Mandala Art."