Labyrinths & Mandalas


The labyrinth is a very old design, over 4000 years old, with the earliest known actual labyrinths around 1200 years old. There are many different styles of labyrinth, and the one on the home page is called the Cretan style. Remember the story of the Minotaur and the labyrinth? It was probably one like this. Labyrinths are not mazes. Mazes trap and trick; labyrinths are a tool for walking meditation. They wind you into a center without any obstacles, and then allow you to return. The entrance to the labyrinth is called the mouth. When you walk it, you meander back and forth, turning 180 degrees as you enter a different circuit. The center of the labyrinth is called the goal, and when you reach it you reverse your steps, unwinding from the center out.

I always think of the labyrinth as a metaphor for life, as well as therapy. Our center is always present and the place around, to, and from, which we travel. In fact, we are always ”there.” The whole path of the labyrinth takes place within a circle; and circles are symbols of wholeness, and center, for they have no beginning or end

Many people think that the pattern of this labyrinth looks like a brain. In fact, walking the labyrinth balances the left and right sides of your brain, and induces a centered and calm state of being. What people experience when they walk a labyrinth naturally varies according to the individual. Although it doesn’t take long to get to the center and back in real time, it feels like a substantial experience because of the twists and turns it takes to get there and back. We think we are very close to the center, and yet actually be far away; and then just when you think you will never get there, you realize you are there.

I created the labyrinth you see on the home page with the help of five friends and a couple of dogs over two windy days on hill in Central Park, NYC. It was made just after 9/11 in 2001. Although it was my conception, color scheme, and design, the wonderful surprise of the underpainting was due to the collaborative creativity of all of the participants; Anya Golovkova, Mary Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth Haukaas, myself, and Geary Stevenson. The dogs were Mambo and Ellabella.


Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle, but it is a very special kind of circle; it encompasses circumference, perimeter, and center.

Mandala has become a word that is synonymous with sacred space. Their very presence in the world remind the viewer of the sacred in the universe and in oneself. In some of India’s earliest and most important pre-Buddhist philosophical texts, mandala already signifies a sacred enclosure and is at times is understood to mean a place created for the performance of a particular ritual or practice, or for the use of a great teacher or mystic.

Structurally, it is a combination of a circle and a squared form, usually a variation on a cross. Whenever we deal with a form or concept that integrates the circle and a four pointed theme wherein the circle is squared, we are in a mandalic space. This combination of geometric symbols is a powerful reference to life. The four points of the squared off imagery symbolize time and space. In terms of time, it is the equinoxes and solstices, the four seasonal turning points in the year. In terms of space, it is the four directions. The circle with no beginning and no end is a symbol for the eternal whole which contains time and space. Jung stated that the mandala is the archetype of wholeness, relating it to the Self.

One of the training tools in Tibetan mysticism is the use of the mandala the novitiate’s spiritual and psychological growth. A monk in training’s teacher creates a mandala for him containing the symbols and deities the trainee needs to evolve on his path. When this mandala is complete, the trainee walks the mandala stopping at different stations and meditating and working on the issues symbolize at that point. To be able to complete the mandala means a completion of work on his inner self that prepares him to become an initiate.

It is one of the image archetypes that often emerges spontaneously when people are in the healing process, either in artwork, or in dreams. Creating mandalas has been found to help the physical healing process as well when they are used in conjunction with meditation. In dreams, mandalas show up in many ways in imagery that shares its geometry or meaning, such as a flower, a square in a village or town, a fountain.

Mandala work is very useful in therapy. Art therapists generally simply draw a circle, or have the client draw a circle, and use that as the start of the mandala. This creates an inner and an outer space. I have used mandala work with many different kinds of people, from psychiatric inpatients to high functioning workshop participants, and witnessed its’ power to unify and center. In spiritual traditions throughout the world mandalas focus and reflect the spiritual content of the psyche for both the creator and the viewer.

Here is how to start:

Take a piece of paper or whatever size feels right to you.

Draw a circle in the middle of it; you can use a large dinner plate as a template if you don’t have a compass.

Take a set of colors, sit in front of the circle, and relax.

Let yourself be drawn to a color, and start with that.

Follow whatever imagery comes up, in color, line , form, or image.

Trust your intuition to tell you when you are finished.