Unit III. Balance
4. Integration & Transcendence
9. The Unitive Life
Materials needed: Journal, drawing supplies
Mandala: Journey to the center
The sacred tree
The path to no-self
The Unitive Life, I & II
The Unitive Live, III
The Unitive Life, IV
Did you ever walk a fence rail? Or perhaps it was a beam in your
gym in school. How do you feel standing at the edge of a precipice?
Is that comfortable for you or are you uneasy or afraid? All of these
examples involve physical balance and are, no doubt, familiar to you.
But there are other arenas of balance.
Are you overworked and overstimulated? Do you feel like the biggest
part of your life is marking time until the bell rings or school is out or
it is 5 o’clock and time to quit for the day? When do you play and
does play rest you, or does it add to the stress of an already overdone life
style? Do you get enough love? Do you get enough sleep?
Do you eat right? How about exercise?
On yet another level, are you in touch with your soul? Do
you know where you are on your spiritual journey? Do you meditate
every day? What do your dreams tell you about your spiritual development?
Are you stuck, or do you have a sense of progress even if it is not linear?
Do you know what you are looking for? Do you know what is missing in
your life? Where to find it? Where to look for it? Are
you in touch with your inner male and female archetypes? How do they
Balance in all these things depends upon a sense of wholeness. This
is what the circle in the Ajna chakra represents, the full moon that is clear
and pure, able to reflect rays of light faultlessly. Well. . . almost
faultlessly as we are still in a body and human. If there was no work
left to do, we would not be here. Another symbol for wholeness is
the square, and we met that in the first chakra. The square may be
represented by a yantra that is a visual focus for meditation. In
both cases, circle and square, there is a point that is the center.
The center represents the Source of all being and energy before it has manifested.
And the center holds everything else together as we shall see later in this
We have seen how involution or creation demands that original existence
be split into parts, and that these parts interact in numerous ways to form
the universe and all the creatures in it. At the first level, we have
the manifest and unmanifest represented by gods and goddesses still in a
bisexual form, cf. sadasiva who is half male and half female [picture
in Johari, p. 76]. Or we have Yab/Yum in a sexual embrace.
This is the principle of androgyny or the balance between male and female
characteristics. In some traditions, we have the concept of sacred marriage
which is the inner union of the soul with the Divine One. The soul
is often referred to as a female and God as a male in this marriage.
The sexual references enable everyone to imagine the underlying idea.
Buddha nature implies transcendence of the emptiness/form division.
The Jivan-mukta in Yoga is freed of polarities in this life, so is
considered to be an advanced spiritual being.
To return to the Source requires reversal of the involution process
or a return to wholeness. To be whole is to be without divisions, so
the opposites must be transcended. Often this is accomplished by a
process of initiation. As I write this, I have just returned from an
Easter weekend workshop in which we examined the symbolism of the betrayal
of Jesus, his vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane, crucifixion, death and resurrection.
This motif of death, descent and rebirth is the story of initiation.
Something is lost or sacrificed in order to rise to a higher level of beingness.
In the process, missing pieces of the individual are retrieved in order to
achieve wholeness. Most of the hero myths deal with this theme.
So does the myth of Inanna (Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983) which is about
a female descending and the story of the Maiden King (Bly & Woodman, 1998)
that is a story of a male searching for lost pieces of his Self. Jung
calls the return to wholeness “individuation” because its result is a rediscovery
of the Higher Self in which all parts of the smaller self are united.
In the annunciation, John tells us the Word was made flesh (John 1:14).
This means embodiment of the Divine One. Syzygy, according to Spitze (1981),
means a reunion of two without loss of identity. It means a yoke or
a pair. It also means both a conjunction or joining and opposition thus implying
the union of opposites. To be whole, then, is to have all your parts
together and united in a balanced equilibrium. On a grand scale, we
are talking about the unity of all existence with the Creator. This
is not the Ultimate Reality which has no divisions, but is the first step
out of that pool of infinite energy. There is still a two-ness or
multiplicity in wholeness. This is reflected in the two petals of
the sixth chakra.
The Center and Energy Flow
Arguelles (1985) says that, “To be integrated, to be made whole, means
to be able to maintain contact with one’s center” (p. 20). The center
is the source through which form-creating energy flows. So we are called
to deal with life’s inevitable changes by constantly touching base with our
Center. In doing so, we recharge our batteries with new, fresh energy.
This movement is bi-directional: we move into the center to refresh and
be nurtured, and then outward once again to deal with life’s challenges.
Bi-polarity enables movement because of the principles of electromagnetism.
Positive and negative energies attract each other and similar valences repel.
You can see how the great opposites in mythology explain this fact of life.
Arguelles (1985) tells us that symbols “. . are created through a condensation
and focalization of energies and, by a reciprocal process, can release those
energies” (p. 53). So you can recognize the potential for a self-conscious
integration process. We will be practicing that later on.
As you might expect, a sense of wholeness is healing. Anyone who
wishes to take the time to study his/her body and discover what nutrients
its really needs and then supply them, can achieve a state of perfect
health. And, because the body and mind are inextricably linked, mental
health must be attended to as well as spiritual needs. Such a
practice can take up to seven years as that is how long it takes to turn
over all the cells in the body. So doing this research takes commitment,
patience and experimentation. The fact that I am often perceived to
be 15 years younger than I actually am is testimony to the efficacy of this
idea. It is an ongoing process, but I feel good . . . most days.
In Ajna chakra, the serpent closes the circle. This is both literal
and metaphoric. So keep in mind that what follows applies specifically to
the energetic realm of the individual but, by extension and metaphor, to
the rest of natural life. The Ida and Pingala nadiis come together
and end in the nose and, because one has negative and the other has positive
valence, the polarities they represent are neutralized and come into balance.
There is no longer any karma, nor maya to produce it. The two halves
of the brain are balanced through the corpus callosum as are intellect and
intuition. As a result, new worlds of psychological and spiritual reality
open up that were hitherto unknown. Time and space lose their rigidity
becoming more relative to ongoing reality. Characteristics of the opposite
gender are incorporated into the psyche to achieve a more androgynous personality.
Yab, the masculine, represents life and eternity; Yum, the feminine, represents
the womb and time. Taken together, they symbolize a realized person,
sacred union of the timeless and the temporal within. On a grand scale,
we can see this unification process occurring in our patriarchial culture
as the feminine is awarded more recognition and opportunity for expression.
The Apostle’s creed says that Jesus was “crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended
into heaven. . . “
This is an initiation rite the form of which dates back into the mists
of the past, to Egyptian high culture with Osiris. And further back
than that, two thousand years before the Bible, we find Inanna, the
Queen of Heaven, a Sumerian goddess of Love who made the descent into the
underworld giving up all she had in order to be reborn. Another form
of this is the concept of dismemberment in shamanism. Also
Native Americans routinely use their sweat lodges to go within, while
vision quests with their isolation and fasting may also result in experiences
of integration with the Higher Powers.
Why would someone give up their very life in order to be reborn?
Thisis an especially cogent question since most of us have no assurance that
we would be able to return. Surely this is the ultimate test of trust
and/or faith. But let us see what we can make of it on a metaphoric
The underworld (a word which is less fraught with negative innuendoes
than “hell”) can be seen as representative of all that is hidden, dark,
secret, unknown or unconscious. We fear the unknown because it cannot
be controlled in the usual manner. This begins with the ego repressing
all that it cannot control and then maintaining the repression against almost
impossible odds sometimes. We have already seen how this is accomplished.
But the enigma goes even further than that. We, as a culture, repress
our awareness of the deep feminine, the void or abyss, the chthonic mysteries.
And, because of that, the valuable energies of these archetypes are lost
to us. Likewise, we repress those aspects of our souls that are not
well received when we are growing up. Consequently, we feel a deep sense
of loss that Almaas calls the “hole.” Something is missing, and I am
The goal of the descent into the underworld or unconscious is to retrieve
these lost parts of our souls that are essential to an experience of wholeness.
We must make all parts of ourselves conscious at this stage of the journey.
This is a major part of the transformation process. To access the unconscious
takes trust, courage and persistence. It is advisable to have a guide
or therapist to assist because it is an awesome terrain not all of which
is strictly personal. In fact, most of it is Dynamic Ground.
We must learn how to make this descent either through dreams or through some
sort of hypnotic or visualization technique. It can take a lot of
trial and error if you are doing it on your own and may be dangerous if
your psycho-logical balance is not well grounded. So it is advisable
to find a knowledgeable guide before experimenting. Both Freud and
Jung were seminal thinkers in this domain. They represent western
psychology’s basic knowledge of the process.
Some of the issues that may arise during the descent have to do with the
obstacles ego has piled up as a defense. Some of these are denial,
repression, projection and neurotic symptom formation. The myths tell
us of the trials the hero must suffer en route to the goal, and these can
give us some indication of the resistances, fears and challenges we may encounter
on the way. Guardians of the gate(s) are forms of ego and mind that
are threatened by the descent. Fearsome monsters represent the awesome
power of the Dynamic Ground and its ability to engulf the ego, mind and very
identity of the seeker. In St. John of the Cross’ (Peers, 1959) book,
Dark Night of the Soul, we find that there is a process of retrieval
that goes on unconsciously in order to protect the individual’s soul from
harm. God is working in the dark, i.e., the unconscious, to reform
the psyche into His own image.
At this point, we must surrender to the process itself, and that is a
huge challenge for those of us who are used to being able to control what
happens to us in our lives. Or we think we do. The issue can
easily become one of trust. Do I trust the unseen powers enough to
let go of my fierce hold on what I perceive as reality? We may have
to surrender without understanding the process. Do we trust God?
If there is no God in your philosophy, how do you focus your surrender?
What is it surrender to? Our life experience has been created
out of interactions with a sensory environment using our minds to organize
what happens into some coherent perception of what life is all about.
Now we are being called upon to let go of all that and take a leap of faith
that may destroy our very identity as a person or as a soul. It is
here, I think, that we most need assistance from those who have gone before
and who have more experience with the journey. It is said that, when
the student is ready, the teacher will appear. So we should be on the
alert for such a manifestation. It may not come in the form we have
envisioned, so be careful before you reject an offer of help or a serendipitous
appearance of a stranger in your life. And it may not be a stranger.
You will know this person because s/he sees you, sees your soul in a very
intimate way. This will be an intuitive perception on your part, a
perception that is newly forming at this chakra level.
How should we relate to this new part of the journey? It is important
to keep in mind that we need both poles in order to balance. That means
we need to re-examine all the aspects of ourselves that we have judged to
be inadequate or bad in some way. In each of them, look for the compensating
energy that was misconstrued when it was rejected. For example, women
are often socialized to be passive and not proactive in achieving their
goals in life. So, for such women, independence may be very threatening,
and they may not know how to activate it. They may feel that no one,
especially men, will like them or pay attention to them if they initiate
movement to achieve what they want in a direct manner. Or they may
be unable to express anger because that is typically associated with the
male role. A creative solution is called for here. What is it
in independence that is needed to balance out the habitual dependency?
How can it be assimilated into one’s life without destroying crucial relationships?
Is it possible to be assertive without violence? What is the middle
way between the opposite poles of the dilemma?
It is important not to overbalance and go to the other extreme.
This can result in zealotry or the kind of madness we saw in Hitler.
Nor is it advisable to “act out” our repressions. As adults, we are
responsible to consider the effects of what we do and say upon the lives
of others. So, again, if you find yourself confused or feeling incompetent,
get help. Transpersonal therapists are everywhere now and have the
training to help you integrate your Higher Self. Furthermore, keep
in mind that balance is dynamic and must be maintained. It is not
as if you can achieve it once and for all and then go on to other things.
It is a delicate process that is always in motion, changing and evolving
into something else that, at the same time, is always You.
Integration and Transcendence
Another way to achieve wholeness is through transcendence. This
is analogous to ascent as opposed to descent. In order to integrate
opposites, we can go up to the next level of generality in the hierarchy.
This assumes a hierarchy, of course, but we are talking here about how we
might conceptualize the journey in our minds. And minds are wired
for hierarchy. Once we understand how something works, we can then
more easily open ourselves to an experience of it. So imagine a pyramid
of ideas about how things work. At the bottom and all intermediate
levels we have all the concepts you’ve ever encountered in your life.
Choose just the ones that are important to you to think about. Decide
what would be at the top – something that encompasses every single one of
those below it. Then pick a polarity that is problematic for you.
Ask yourself what idea or concept would include both of them. It is
going to be more abstract. For example, male and female are two polarities
that are both part of procreation. And both are necessary to it.
Sex and aggression are both part of survival drives. Do you see where
this is going? Try it yourself.
Make a list of the polarities in your life you would like to work on.
Then draw a hierarchical diagram of them. Try to expand your diagram
to several levels in order to discover what is on top at the highest level.
Make note of the problems you run into. You may have to leave it for
a day or so to give your inner process time to sort it out; then come back
to it. If you find this exercise profitable, you may want to share
it with your friends.
You may have noticed that it helps to have a container when working with
opposites. Traditionally, this has been the role of the feminine, most
likely due to women’s role as child bearer and nurturer. Give some
thought to Love as a container. How in your life does love hold you,
comfort you, support, nurture, and encourage you in dealing with the conflicts
of opposites and the valences you are called upon to resolve? Love
can help transmute one polarity into another. Probably because we can
only surrender when we feel secure, and love makes us feel safe.
Let us turn now and look at the problem of integration from a psychological
perspective. Here our content matter is the parts of our personalities.
The literature on this subject is vast, and I will spare you the details
again. However, there is a thread of our subject here that needs attention.
Part of growing up, as we have seen, is the development of personality, ego
and intellect. As those differentiate out of the undivided beingness
of infancy, we have another fractionation process going on. So the
net result, usually, is the primacy of an ego who serves as the chairman of
the board to use Swami Radha’s wry analogy. Then there are a host of
personality aspects who come to the fore on myriad and various occasions.
In addition, there is the mighty intellect that has risen to such heights
of power in our culture. All of these parts of oneself need to be integrated
into the Higher Self. In other words, the locus of control passes
from the ego to the Higher Self. This is a matter of surrender to a
higher power and you can expect to meet stiff resistance from the ego.
Here is where spiritual practices are of great help.
Another place where a split has occurred is between the body and mind.
This is a serious problem in the west where the mind (read intellect) has
acquired such power. We tend to look upon our bodies as simply the
carrier of our mental and psychological life rather than as an equal partner.
If you do not believe this, watch your reaction the next time you are traveling
in an airplane through a lot of turbulence. Even though you can reason
with yourself that you are in no danger, the body reacts to its own perceptions
of what is going on. We now know that the body’s cells are all conscious
and that the heart controls all of the body’s systems. So it seems
reasonable to assume that there is such a thing as a bodymind or even a body
consciousness. If so, these entities need to be connected to the intellect
and intuition. In fact, the bodymind might be more closely related to
the intuition than to the intellect. Karen Wegela (2003) says that mindfulness
practice is one way to develop awareness of the body, and that awareness
of the changing perceptions and sensations of the body will help to bring
body and mind together.
We have already spoken of the need to retrieve lost aspects of the soul.
So now the task becomes one of pulling it all together and uniting it with
Spirit. Probably one of the best systems for achieving this is the
Eight Rungs of Yoga because it addresses all the levels we have been examining.
Beyond Spirit, who we can think of as the Christ consciousness or unconditional
Love, is the only Being referred to in Sufism as the Beloved. The Beloved
is the first Cause in involution, the Creator and caretaker of all
that is in form. Beyond that is the Ultimate or Absolute Source, the
Origin. Everything eventually comes back home to the Absolute.
“Consciousness is the power of an organism to order,
integrate and transform itself. . . An organism is an integrated, on-going,
self-contained set of relationships, whether a cell, an individual, a community,
or a solar system” (Arguelles, 1985, p. 53)
As this quotation implies, transformation means change. In our context,
change usually means a change to a higher level of development. There
are an infinite number of theories about how this might take place.
Piaget (1952) says development occurs in a spiral pattern vacillating back
and forth between periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium with most of
the change taking place during the disequilibrium phase. This pattern
could be used to explain evolution in the sense of returning to Spirit as
Jill Purce (1974) noted in The Mystic Spiral.
Ken Wilber’s (1983) theory is more complex. He explains that as
each stage is transcended, it goes beyond and yet still incorporates all
that has gone before it.
For example, as we grow up we become more complicated individuals but
we still recognize ourselves as the same person. As well, we take
our memories with us, at least until old age begins to set in. The
associated changes can take many forms: of more differentiation, of
sorting out of what is valuable to keep and what needs to be discarded, of
new learning that has to be integrated and assimilated to what is already
there, and of new applications to one’s life situation. Jung’s concept
of individuation fits a transformational model as does the idea of working
toward higher levels of consciousness. Arguelles (1985) refers to The
Great Work which is transmutation of the soul. Here we meet some of
the principles of alchemy in which baser metals are changed into gold.
No doubt, you will recognize the symbolism in this reference.
In many systems, change is conceptualized as the result of alternating
bipolar rhythms. Arguelles (1985) says energy in the system is able
to maintain itself through transformation. The auric field is a field
of consciousness. “Therefore, when the Chakras are consciously activated
the individual becomes the center of a dynamic, on-going, self-integrated
Mandala” (p. 75). You will remember that chakras are systems of bio-psychic
resonators located at the intersections of the Ida and Pingala nadiis.
Knowing that these nadiis are bipolar and that bipolarity can result in electromagnetic
currents, we can see how they would begin to spin which, in turn, channels
the energy throughout the system. It is rather like the tornadoes
that often are generated in the collision of high and low pressure weather
systems. Two currents going in opposite directions can create a spin.
Another form of change is transmutation, a process that changes
one thing into another. The Great Work of the soul changes it from
a fractionated, individual soul into the Christ. This is rather like
housecleaning. All the dross, discordance, and missing pieces are restored,
so that the soul becomes like a shining mirror able to reflect Divine Light
into every corner of the world. When this happens, you can literally
see light emanating from inside the person. The Light Body becomes
charged with high frequency energy and shines like the sun.
Tools for transformation
Cunningham (2002) offers the mandala as a tool for transformation for
those willing to explore deeper aspects of the Self. It requires a
willingness to surrender to our vulnerability and engage in interaction
with unknown parts of ourselves. The mandala can lead us into and out
of the unconscious, and it provides both a guide and an container for this
work. You will have an opportunity to sample this process.
Begin reading Mandala: Journey to the Center by Bailey Cunningham
(2002). As you do so, continue with the next section of this guide that deals
with the mandala concept. Consider both sources as preparation for
drawing your own mandala which will come as an exercise at the end of the
The word “Mandala” means “circle” in Sanskrit, so you can see that the
idea has a fairly long and healthy history. Usually a mandala is a
circle, but it can also be a square where that form is called for.
It is always a closed container. A mandala represents sacred consciousness
and transformation of that awareness. Its aim is to achieve a higher
level of integration and resolution. As such, it employs an inclusive,
centering principle using a technique that draws you into the center
or source of wholeness and then releasing you back into everyday life.
This may remind you of centering or contemplative prayer and/or meditation.
In this place, we find the basic source of energy that is needed to do the
soul’s work of transmutation.
Uses of the mandala
Mandalas can be thought of as doors to the unconscious. Like dreams
they enable you to explore the parts of yourself with which you have become
disconnected, or to find aspects of yourself that were hitherto unknown but
are potential sources of power. Also, like dreams, mandalas use symbols
as their most important medium of communication. In constructing a
mandala, you create your own forms through the mechanism of projection, imbue
them with energy and arrange them in your own unique pattern. In a
reciprocal process, the mandala can release those energies as new insights
into the meaning of your life when the creation process is completed.
A mandala can incorporate many levels of awareness that are usually interrelated
through their common center in the diagram. Also, because a mandala
is a container, it can hold and release healing energy. In addition,
since it serves as a projection of the internal process, whatever is out
of balance can be observed, accepted and healed.
Because of its ability to represent and contain powerful energies of transformation,
a mandala can serve as a map of consciousness. One definition of consciousness
is as “. . the power of an organism to order, integrate and transform itself”
(Arguelles, 1985, p. 53). The mandala works through the order of a
sacred principle or state of consciousness in which all creation is realized
as a emanation of the Divine One. As such, God is the Being whose center
is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. Since consciousness
is such an elusive idea and one that is difficult to define, it may be useful
to have a tool that enables us to work directly with it.
Mandalas are also vehicles to concentrate the mind. I recently had
an opportunity to watch a group of Tibetan nuns construct a sand mandala.
They sat on the floor around the circumference of the mandala which was about
four or five feet in diameter using slender, conical tubes that held the
sand and would emit it a grain at a time. The nuns sat cross-legged
with a pillow on their laps and leaned into the mandala to apply the sand
with their faces about 12 inches from the mandala itself. Their concentration
was so intense they were totally unaware of the surrounding visitors.
After several hours of watching them, I found I had a headache from sharing
the concentration. From time to time, the nuns would arise and withdraw
for meditation and relaxation. They also chanted to help focus their
Both the circle and the center hold both positive and negative polarities.
Negative aspects have to be engaged in order to create movement. They
are also part of life and cannot be ignored. We must find a way to
bring them together through some sort of transmutation process. Evil
is always with us. It does not stand outside the Creator but serves
some purpose in the world even though we may find it difficult to discover
at times. In fact, there is such a thing as a demonic mandala which
may serve to render negative energies harmless. It is sometimes said
that we need the darkness in order to perceive the light. And that the
shadow is darkest closest to the source of light. Yang must have its
yin. Contrast sharpens perception of the edges or boundaries thus bringing
forward the core messages of the diagram.
Finally, a mandala serves as a gateway between the microcosm (you and
me) and the macrocosm (the Divine One). In many of the oriental mandalas,
you can see such gates around the center core of the creation. You
can find examples of gates in your Mandala book on pages 61 and 73.
They are the T-shaped handle-like protuberances on four sides of the mandala.
The one on page 61 is most typical. Such patterns adapt themselves
well to formal gardens, so you can imagine yourself actually walking in through
such a gate to find yourself in another world.
Please keep in mind throughout what follows that what is under discussion
is your own personal transformation. All of the parts and processes
of a mandala are also your parts and processes. The mandala is merely
a tool to help you make them conscious. It might be useful, as you
go along, to try to identify what each part and process represents to you
in your internal environment.
Parts of a mandala
There are a surprising number of parts of the mandala. Probably
the most important is the center. Center symbolizes eternity,
the eternal potential, the mind of God, the primary syllable Om, Logos,
or seed center; in other words, the highest level of being. It can
also represent space-time, self-renewing energy, Bindu and the eternal Now.
It is the Essence, a process of continual renewal, the beginning. The
center of all parts of the mandala are the same point and the center holds
all the polarities together.
From the center comes radiation of energy, so we have rays or something
to represent radiation. The simplest form is concentric circles.
You could think of rays as that which divides your circle into sections.
It can be any number and depends upon what kind of feelings you are going
to depict. The higher number of rays results in more complex figures.
Consider an eight-part vs a two-part division, for instance. Pages
86-91 in Cunningham’s book give you examples and instructions on how to create
radiation in your mandala.
Another key aspect might be cardinal points or directions. These
can represent seasons, cycles, elements or directions. They tend to
come in fours though conceivably could result in other numbers. The
usual depiction of directions includes east, south, west and north.
You will find these on the Native American Medicine Wheel. Medieval
churches and many modern ones were built with a floor plan oriented to the
four directions. Catholic and Episcopal churches usually have a floor
plan shaped in the form of a cross which is a classic example of a four-directional
Exercise: Medicine Wheel
Read The Sacred Tree by Lane, et al (2004). This is a little book
that summarizes some beliefs attributed to the Native American tradition.
Pages 72-3 list many of the associations that could be made with the four
directions of a medicine wheel, so you can see how potentially rich a symbol
this is. Select one connected set of these that has meaning for you
and construct your own medicine wheel. You could draw, paint or make
a collage for this project.
Gates were mentioned above. They enable movement through
the mandala and suggest partitions between parts of the diagram. Gates
represent the going into and coming out of the center. They can be
open or shut. In the sand mandala I saw under construction, there were
four gates near the center. From each one a different color flowed outward
and formed a kind of courtyard in the same color.
Color is very significant because it influences our emotional life.
Greens and blues tend to be calming and harmonizing while reds and oranges
tend to be stimulating. Black can be depressing. These effects
may be related to the colors in peoples’ auras which are directly related
to their emotional health and well-being. So the colors in your mandala
will reflect the feeling tone of your state of being. I once rented
an apartment that had red counter tops in the kitchen. It took a while,
but I finally figured out why I was so angry whenever I had to cook in there.
Moving solved the problem.
Shapes are kinds of symbols. And symbols are able to carry
multiple meanings at the same time. So you want to choose your shapes
carefully in order for them to represent your situation accurately.
Cunningham recommends you play with the shapes, and this is probably a good
place to begin since play is also a projective technique. But when
you have generated a variety of shapes, you can then be selective about which
ones to include in your mandala. The ritual associated with mandala-making
that will be introduced later will give you some more guidance in how to
Knots are an especially interesting addition to a mandala.
Their use comes out of the Celtic and Buddhist traditions where they are
often used to symbolize eternity or timeless experiences. Knots suggest
connection and flow, as well as regularity in change. The symbol for
infinity is the simplest knot which tells us something profound.
Processes in a mandala
In addition to the component parts of a mandala, there are important principles
that define the transformation taking place. Some have been mentioned
already. The principle of the center controls all the
basic forces creating and sustaining them through the power of the center.
The law of center prevents splitting from opposing forces or polarities.
It holds cycles together in concentric patterns. Involution and evolution
flow in and out of the center in a symmetrically radiating manner.
The center is self-renewing and continually pours out energy as it draws the
observer into its eye. Perhaps it is no accident that the Ajna Chakra
is located in the third eye.
Symmetry is essential to maintain balance of all the parts.
So, for instance, the rays must each occupy the same number of degrees within
the circle. The shapes should balance each other in apparent weight
and color even if they vary in outline. The earth mandala on page 125
and the mandala on page 130 of Cunningham’s (2002) book show how different
shapes can be balanced in a symmetrical manner.
Duration refers to the movements in and out of the center that
are self-contained and self-renewing. What makes this movement unique
is that it does not run down from inertia. It is rather like breathing
in which the beginning of an inhalation is inherent in the ending of the
former exhalation, and the reverse. It feels to me like the impetus
of a movement might be deflected back from the inside of the circle, so that
we would have a motion somewhat like that of the yin/yang circle. Involution
and evolution would be examples of duration on a grander scale. Arguelles
(1985) says that “Ongoing awareness of and participation in this creative,
self-renewing constitutes a fundamental alchemical activity” (p. 63).
Alchemy, you will remember, refers to the process of transmutation,
changing one thing into another. So, for example, if we wanted to transmute
hatred into love, we would wait for the return surge and try to ride the
wave back to the other shore. This actually can be done using the breath
to move emotional energy from the third to the fourth chakra.
Resonance has to do with attunement. It relies on the fact
that material bodies vibrate; and, if the frequencies are in phase, one
body will begin to vibrate in tune with another that is already in motion.
In this way, we achieve harmony in music, tune the chakras, find ourselves
feeling at one with nature, experience rapture in contemplation, etc.
One of the interesting characteristics of the human mind is that it is capable
of changing its frequencies of vibration to enable it to tune into the Divine
One. Sometimes this is called prayer, other times it is called meditation,
or ecstasy, rapture or samadhi. Another way of saying it is that we
can get entrained into a rhythm that is outside of our bodies. Mind
to mind communication and ESP probably rely on the principle of resonance.
Synchronicity refers to the occurrence of two or more related events
at the same time without their being physically in contact with each other.
A similar idea is synergy in which the sum of the parts does not equal
the whole but is greater than the whole. These concepts may seem strange
at first, but you must realize that we are discussing processes that go
beyond our ordinary ideas about how things are. An example of synergy
might be the process that occurs in creation of a mandala. In addition
to the overt production of a diagram, there is a related process of movement
and change going on inside the person making it. This is greater than
the diagram itself, but it is integrally related to it.
Organicity refers to the interdependence of all parts of the whole.
They are in a state of unity with each other by virtue of their connection
to the center. You can see how this principle works in the cosmos,
in your Self and in your spiritual journey. There is always an internal
focus or locus of control that regulates the internal changes, so they are
lawful and predictable. It is the kind of thing that makes it difficult
to think of the dynamically organized universe, to say nothing of a conscious
human being, coming into existence without the aid and creativity of an intelligent
Higher Being. Some characteristics of organic living are self-maintenance,
self-reproduction and self-realization. Divine union which is dynamic
and indivisible is another example. It is a fundamental principle
of mystical thought and symbolism. Another word for organicity is
the Primal Arrangement which refers to the essential harmony of the universe.
This is celebrated in the I Ching in the eight basic trigrams.
The third eye, represented by the Ajna chakra, means the direct
perception of reality, ability to see from the center of oneself just as
the all-pervading light is radiated from the center. It emerges in
concert with singlepointedness of mind and is a factor in inner vision.
It sees without seeing, without the use of one’s eyes. It is knowing
from direct experience, prana, or inner wisdom. This suggests that
we already know all we need to know for the journey though we may not know
we know it. That is why enlightenment is often referred to as Self-realization.
Finally, dissolution is an essential principle. Here it means
the dissolving of one developmental stage of consciousness back into the
center toward the void/chaos. This is necessary in order to make room
for the new emergent awarenesses which will flow out of the center according
to the actions of duration. Destruction of the mandala when it is finished
is symbolic of this. We cannot hold on to a stage of being because
stasis is death. Attachment to anything prevents us from going forward
on the journey through life. Detachment is of the essence, one might
The mandala can be used as a means of self-healing. Please refer
to Cunningham’s book for more detailed information about how to do this.
Ritual for mandala making
Arguelles (1985) offers us eight steps in creating a mandala that I am
going to summarize for you. It might be well, if you can find a copy
of his book, to consult it for more details. Please allow me to put
this in the form of an exercise for you.
Practice: Mandala ritual
1. Finish heading Cunningham’s book, so you have a sense of progression
in the process.
2. Collect the materials you will need and, if you have an altar,
bless and consecrate them to the task.
3. Use the following steps, summarized from Arguelles (1985), to
complete the process:
∙ Purification – Bathe and put on clean clothes.
If your body feels polluted from overindulgence, you might want to fast for
a short time to cleanse it.
∙ Centering – Sit for meditation until your mind
is quiet. Then attempt to turn your energies inward and focus them
on the mandala idea or the issue you wish to address.
∙ Orientation – In your mind, create a coherent,
organized field pattern: Identify the predominant energies and see
how they wish to relate to each other. Concentrate on them and hold
your consciousness steady. You are not yet visualizing, but working
with just the energies. What does it feel like? And what does
it feel like it wants to do? When some kind of stable pattern
emerges, then you can allow yourself to visualize. Or you can move directly
to construction and let the forms emerge as you work.
∙ Construction – Build the mandala in whatever
medium feels right and comfortable to you. See Cunningham’s book for
∙ Absorption – Contemplate the mandala and meditate
on what you perceive. What you are doing here is absorbing the new
meanings that have emerged from the construction of the mandala. You
have projected internal material into the diagram, and it has taken on new
identities, forms and relationships. So now, you draw the new meanings
into yourself. They are conscious now instead of unconscious and can
be assimilated into your larger concept of Self. Take a good deal of
time with this stage since the more you perceive, the more identification
with the work, the more self-renewal you will experience. I find it
helps to put a piece of work up on a table or shelf, walk to the other side
of the room, then turn and look at it. It often gives a perspective
that is missing in close-up work.
∙ Destruction – If the absorption stage has been
completed, you can become detached from the mandala because its essence has
been internalized. There is a danger in taking pride in your creation
as another ego-manifestation, so it should be destroyed. If, however,
you can restrict yourself to using it as an object of meditation or remembrance,
you may find new meanings in it on other occasions. You must be the
best judge of how you will use it.
∙ Reintegration – This does not happen until
after detachment. The healing inherent in this process depends upon
reconnecting with the Source, becoming whole once again. So the new
insights must be integrated into your own Self-concept as a divine being.
∙ Actualization – This means for you, as a sacred
representative of divine order and chaos and one who is able to ride both
waves of actual reality, to carry the new insights and changes out into the
world through your own life and work. What was once an experience of
fragmentation and isolation has now become a unity with all that Is.
4. It seems to me that a proper response to this experience is gratitude.
So you may wish to design another ritual of thanksgiving for your transformation.
Exercise: The Unitive Life as Mandala
Read the Introduction and Phases I and II in The Path to No-self.
Either outline or make a list of the main points as you go along as you will
need some notes later.
Equanimity and Balance
How would you know that you have achieved balance especially since it
is not a static state of being? Well, there is a relative feeling
of equanimity, a feeling of peace, harmony and grace that pervades all parts
of yourself. It is almost an emptiness. I remember the first
time I experienced it. It felt like something was missing. It
was almost too quiet. What was missing was the up and down roller coaster
of emotional upheaval. In time, I came to enjoy it and later to depend
upon it for life-giving solitude.
Balance means you are beyond the gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas, in a
condition called gunatita. Qualities of things are no longer
important to you. You no longer need a flashy car, fashionable dress,
a big house, a prestigious job or any of the other material conveniences
advertised to us continually by the media. Nor do you need the good
opinion of others, friends or family, and you can graciously refuse to be
manipulated by them. Your motivations are now determined from within.
Your mind is crystal clear and empty except when it is called upon to
solve a problem or do some work. In fact, emptiness is the main quality
in your life now. The Buddhist reminder that emptiness is form and
form is emptiness has acquired more meaning for you now. The mantra
says, “Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha” which means “Gone,
Gone, Gone beyond, Gone beyond beyond, So let it be.” What is gone
is the old self-image and the need to protect it. Gone are all the
social requirements to conform. You are now your own person. Present.
. . Present in the Now.
These developments transcend pride. All of the ego manifestations
have disappeared in favor of maitri which means unconditional friendliness
to all of one’s experience regardless of whether it might formerly have
been judged to be good or bad. Judgment, itself, has disappeared.
It makes no sense now since who you are is a center of consciousness which
is everywhere. From this position, you may find yourself reaching out
to the world with generosity, patience and all of the other paramitas.
Exercise: The Unitive Life, Phase III
Please read about Phase III in The Path to No-self by Bernadette
Roberts (1985), pages 77- 111. See if you can integrate what she is
saying with the process of mandala-making. How would she identify the
The Unitive Life
This title is a Christian idea that comes out of years of Christian mysticism.
If you have been working through these guidebooks, you will recognize the
term from Underhill’s (1961) book, Mysticism. Roberts (1985),
however, takes us further on the spiritual journey by extending it
to a position of no-self. This being so, the unitive life is now merely
a station on the journey rather than the end point. From her own experience
that began when she was very young, Roberts describes that passage in The
Path to No-self. Then she tells us about the end state in The
Experience of No-self. The main difference between the Unitive
Life and No-self is that, in the Unitive Life, there are still two players,
the individual soul and God. In the end state, there is only God.
What this means is that the soul is absorbed into the identity of the One
Being and, subsequently, lives God’s life in the world.
In the Unitive Life, we have a condition of contemplative union with God.
You have just read about it in Roberts’ book. It is unity consciousness
but in relation to a life in the body. We are still embodied and are
engaged in a subject-object relationship with God. There are still
two of us though the distinction is fading. I am told that this is similar
to Dharmakaya in Buddhism. Roberts refers to Stage III as the peak
experience of the Unitive Life because of the joy and rapture inherent in
the closeness to God.
Exercise: The Unitive Life, Phase IV
Read the material on Phase IV in The Path to No-self, pages 112
- 151 and make notes in your journal about the new developments in this stage
of the journey and how they might relate to your own journey.
In this unit on Balance, we have looked at some ramifications of becoming
a whole and integrated human being. The process of making a mandala
is offered as a tool for developing higher consciousness.
Arguelles, J. & M. (1985). Mandala. Boston: Shambhala.
Bly, R. & Woodman, M. (1998). The maiden king: The reunion
of masculine and feminine. Hew York: Henry
Bopp, J. & M., Brown, L. & Lane, P. (2004). The
sacred tree. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Campbell, J. (1973). The hero with a thousand faces.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cunningham, B. (2002). Mandala: Journey to the center.
New York: Dorling Kindersley.
Peers, E. (transl. & ed.) (1959). Dark night of the soul
by Saint John of the Cross. New York: Image Books.
Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children, 2nd
ed. New York: International Universities Press.
Purce, J. (1974). The mystic spiral: Journey of the soul.
New York: Thames and Hudson.
Roberts, B. (1985). The path to no-self: Life at the center.
Spitze, G. (1981). “Syzygy: A Symbol of Maturation,” The American
Theosophist, 69 (10), 323-329.
Underhill, E. (1961). Mysticism: A study in the nature and development
of man’s spiritual consciousness. New York: Dutton.
Wegela, K. (2003). “Nurturing the Seeds of Sanity: A Buddhist Approach
to Psychotherapy.” In Mijares, S. (Ed.). Modern psychology
and ancient wisdom: Psychological healing practices from the world’s religious
traditions. New York: The Haworth Integrative Healing Press.
Wilber, K. (1983). Eye to eye: The quest for the new paradigm.
New York: Anchor Books.
This completes Unit III. Balance. The next Unit IV. Mind will examine how the mind functions
at the Ajna chakra level of development.
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