Mandala Series, Part 1

At the trauma unit, we had art therapy twice a week. I got major performance anxiety, froze up, and had no idea how to start. The art therapist traced a circle on a sheet of paper and put that and a box of oil pastels in front of me.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked. I was terrified of doing it wrong, whatever that meant.

“Just play with it,” she told me. “It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

That’s what I did. I discovered I like oil pastels. They’re thick and definite, but you can also get in there and move and blend them with your fingers. Messy, which feels honest to me

This was my second piece. I didn’t feel blended–I felt sharply divided, but all in dull, dead colors.

This started out as a full piece about anger, anxiety, and tension. Then there was a bad night where somebody in my system shredded half of it.

I had trouble getting containment (one of the skills they teach you, to put troubling things away to deal with later) because their techniques were all imagery-based, and I suck at imagery. My therapist asked me to create a containment image in art therapy, so that’s where this came from. The white at the center is the space for containing. The yellowy-green is an anxious color for me, but as it shifts to the blues and purples, it starts to feel calmer.

Anger. And radiating from the center of the self, darkness that gets wider and wider.

Comfort. I made this for a particular part who likes purple.

Denial. This one came out of a very intense period of denial, so bad that I truly couldn’t tell if I was making it all up and couldn’t trust my memories, my feelings, or anyone around me. Moving from black to grey to white to grey to black, seemingly unendingly.

With oil pastels, you often get little “crumbs” from the crayons. Usually they annoy me and I try to keep them from marking up the empty space outside the circle, but this time the smears felt right, and I added more on purpose. The art therapist said that in mandala work, the circle often represents the self and the outer space represents external factors.



Filed under art, psych

2 responses to “Mandala Series, Part 1

  1. I love this. I’d love to try art therapy but (perhaps like you) I find the concept difficult – what should I draw/paint? What if it’s ‘wrong’? I like the circles idea, simple but effective.

    • Yeah, the circles really worked for me. I was always really anxious right at the start, but once I actually started working, it flowed pretty naturally and I stopped feeling all knotted up and immobile. Something about oil pastels as a medium really worked for me there too–they’re very physical. I usually put a lot of pressure behind them–I’m constantly snapping my oil pastels into pieces by accident. And then I get in there and blend with my fingers, and that usually takes a lot of pressure and movement too. I’m often physically sore afterward–getting all that pent-up energy out through my hands helps me a lot.

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