Susanne and I met in Decatur, Georgia, USA, when I began her Mandala Certificate Program. I attended “Entering the Circle” a five day intensive course about mandalas. This course is Part I of the Mandala Certificate Program.
Talking about mandalas is an interesting and enjoyable exchange for us.
Annalisa: Susanne, when did you first encounter mandalas? How did you begin creating and studying mandalas?
Susanne: I began drawing mandalas when I was living through a difficult time following a divorce. I bought myself a set of felt-tipped markers and a pad of paper. I began to draw designs, just letting my hand go where it would. One day, I felt the urge to draw a circular design. It was very simple, just some concentric circles of various colors. After completing it, I noticed that I felt a little better. Slowly my life became happier and I forgot about my interest in the circular drawings until I began learning about the psychology of Carl Jung.
Jung called circular drawings that he and his patients created “mandalas,” after the sacred Eastern religious art that he was studying at the time. Soon after encountering Jung, I read about the work of an American art therapist named Joan Kellogg. She bases her theories on the ideas of Jung. I became fascinated with the possibilities opened up by Kellogg’s insights. After studying with her, I began to use mandalas with individuals and groups in art therapy.
A: Your book "Creating Mandalas" is a very important and useful book for anyone seeking to understand mandalas. One chapter is dedicated to the Archetypal Stages of the Great Round of Mandala. Could you explain in a few words what the Great Round of Mandala is and how it can benefit the lives of people who know about it?
S: The Archetypal Stages of the Great Round of Mandala is, I believe, inspired by the ancient idea that life is a circling cycle of changes from which it is possible to learn and grow. In this sense the term “great round” is used by Erich Neumann (The Origins and History of Consciousness, 1954) and Sylvia Perera (Descent to the Goddess, 1981). Joan Kellogg introduced the idea that there are twelve stages in the cycle of change experienced by human beings, and that a particular form of mandala is associated with each stage.
Knowing about the great round offers people a balance to the common notion that life is a linear pathway to perfection, and that one has only one chance to master a life lesson. Understanding that life is a cyclical phenomenon allows people to relax and know that they will return to the same types of experiences again and again, each time deepening in their knowledge about the experience, and improving the skills that are required of someone living that particular stage of life.
S: I teach my art therapy clients and students about the concept of the great round, and introduce the idea of mandalas related to the stages of human experience. It seems to help them accept the importance of all stages of their life journey, and value their less productive times as well as the times when they are feeling creative and receiving praise for their accomplishments. They may also begin to create mandalas as an anchor during their times of transition, and, through their mandalas, begin to dialogue with their own inner wisdom. This is a good thing to do.
A: Your Mandala Certificate Program is an important opportunity to enhance personal skills. When and how did you start this experience? What is the primary goal of your training program?
S: I began offering weekend workshops about the mandala during the 1980’s. There was so much information I wanted to convey that the weekend workshops grew to be five day long intensives. I call them “intensives” because they require the full focus of participants for the whole day and two evenings. It is an immersion experience that, I find, is a good way to introduce people to the richness and depth of mandala work.
To offer an advanced level educational experience in the uses of the mandala, I began the Mandala Certificate Program in 2007. It is comprised of three parts: Part I, Entering the Circle, is an introductory five day intensive; Part II is an independent studies class mentored by me or my co-leader Marilyn Clark; Part III, Integrating the Circle, is a five day intensive that completes the training for the Certificate.
The primary goals of the Mandala Certificate Program are to offer firm grounding in the history and psychology of the Western mandala; to encourage creative exploration of the uses of mandalas; to present guidelines for the ethical use of mandala knowledge; and to give students helpful feedback as they develop their interpersonal skills for sharing their mandala knowledge with others.
A: After receiving and learning comes the time for giving and teaching. What would you suggest to people who, after attending your training, may feel the need to share what they know about mandalas with others?
S: I encourage going slowly in developing your mandala offerings. I recommend a personal practice of creating and interpreting your own mandalas as a way to stay balanced and grounded during the time you are establishing workshops, classes, lectures, or other ways of sharing mandalas. It is best to have a trusting, supportive relationship with someone who will listen to you describe your plans, and give you helpful feedback about your undertaking.
A: Could you give some suggestions for using mandalas as creative self-expression and for self-help?
S: Yes, remember there is no “right” or “wrong” way to create a mandala. Try to set aside any ideas you have about how mandalas “should” look before you begin your art. To create a mandala, draw a circle and fill in the circle with color and form. Mandalas are non-verbal communication between your conscious self, the “I” you are familiar with, and your unconscious psyche which is beyond your conscious awareness. The language of mandalas is expressed in symbols. As you learn to interpret your personal symbols, you can begin to receive the helpful information encoded in your mandalas. I agree with Jung that mandalas give us information we need in order to grow toward wholeness. For more about interpreting your mandalas I suggest you visit my website www.creatingmandalas.com.
S: Well, the most memorable one that comes to mind at this moment is when people think that “mandalas” have something to do with “Mandela” (South African leader Nelson Mandela). Many people have simply never heard of mandalas at all, though that is changing as more and more books and websites--like yours--are educating people about mandalas. It makes my work much easier.
A: You have published three mandala coloring books. Each has a different theme. Where does your inspiration come from? Are all the mandalas in your coloring books created by you?
S: My own drawings, dreams, and imagination are the primary sources of inspiration. The Archetypal Stages of the Great Round of Mandala is an important guiding principle for the mandala coloring books. Coloring Book 1 has three mandalas for each of the twelve stages. Coloring Book 2 has mandalas associated with Stage 9 of the Great Round. Coloring Book 3 has a number of mandalas associated with Stage 10 of the Great Round.
I also draw on historical and pre-historical mandalas for my designs. I have adapted designs from artists, from Jung and his clients, from Joan Kellogg’s work, from flowers. I have even used photographs of snowflakes to spark my imagination when creating some mandalas. I make all the drawings of mandalas in my coloring books.
A: You are an inspiration to many people. Who are the people that have inspired you?
S: I am inspired by women artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Meinrad Craighead, Judy Chicago. Carl Jung and his writings are an enormous source of interest to me. I recently attended the launch of Jung’s Red Book in New York, and I am slowly reading and digesting it. There are a number of beautiful mandalas among the illustrations. Other Jungians that I admire greatly are Marie-Louise vonFranz, Robert Johnson, Marian Woodman, Murray Stein.
Joan Kellogg has been one of my most important teachers. I think she was a genius who brought together many, many threads of knowledge to create a model of human existence that honors feminine knowing and has the potential to bring comfort and even healing to many, many people. I’m sure there are others, but I can’t remember them at the moment.
A: Is there a particular reading or set of books that was crucial in shaping your life?
S: The Diaries of Anais Nin were significant early in my art therapy career.
S: I have just agreed with my publisher Shambhala to create “Mandala Coloring Book 4: Moving in the World.” This will be an exploration of mandalas of Stages 7 and 8 of Joan Kellogg’s Great Round. I’m excited about the project. And I look forward to working with the next class of students in my Mandala Certificate Program.
A: Thank you so much Susanne, and see you soon.
or contact Susanne at firstname.lastname@example.org