The circular design known as the mandala is an ancient symbol that represents wholeness. Mandalas usually have a focal point in the center that can represent the divine presence within.
For centuries, Buddhist monks have created sidewalk mandalas out of colored sands, only to sweep them away when they finish to signal the passing nature of all things.
Now, mandalas are experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Many adults are taking up the coloring of mandalas – usually in silence -- as both a meditative practice and way to relax.
Local artist Marcia Hirst first began using mandala coloring as a way to calm her rambunctious teenage art students at Bloomington High School. She now teaches the practice to adults as a meditative tool.
"The mandala represents man in the world and the center of the mandala represents you, the soul, and what happens as you move out into the world," Hurst said on GLT's "Sound Ideas" magazine show.
"Being able to let your mind sort of empty out and not be thinking where you are going with something, just being able to choose color and patterns helps you to unhook your mind. You are not thinking as intently or organized as you do when you are working in your daily routines," she added.
Humans have an innate propensity to use their hands creatively, Hirst said.
"The process of coloring, of simply taking some kind of media and putting it onto paper is good for humans. The nature of our spirits is that the physical, manual process of putting something from the hand onto something else is instincitve. And it's something many times in this [modern] world we don't get to do," she added.
Hirst said Tibetan monks who create mandalas as part of their meditative practice are on a "spiritual journey" and use the practice as a pathway to prayer rather than relaxation.
"It's a spiritual thing and it's quite prescribed in the way they fill those in, the direction in which they put the sand down, and the colors they use. The symbols they use inside the mandala are quite prescribed, very specific."
Hirst began using mandalas at Bloomington High when teaching her students about radial design based on a repeating image
"I realized all of a sudden the room was quiet. There weren't any wigglers or kids walking around the room or even sharpening pencils. The restlessness was down. I looked around and thought, wow, this is very unusual in a classroom."
She said she noticed that on days when the students were to work on mandalas, "they would come in and couldn't wait to start."
Hirst said the process of working on a mandala -- whether coloring one, creating it -- encourages "a sort of quiet, calm and stillness.
She said she often begins coloring a mandala "when I am anxious or cant' seem to resolve my thoughts about something. I use it as a quieting process. It allows me to let my anxieties out and calmly work through things."
Coloring mandalas can be a tool person can use as a prayer centering technique, she said.
The pioneering psychologist Carl Jung wrote that every morning he sketched a mandala "to correspond to my inner situation." Jung said, "With the help of these drawings, I could observe my psychic transformations from day to day."
"Psychological research shows when we are brought into world we are circular," Hirst said. "There are psychologists who talk about how from a young age we perceive world as circles because of shape of our eyeballs ... As we develop, that kind of continues."
Hirst said there are numerous sites on internet that offer mandala designs for download and they can be found at craft stores and bookstores as well.
"If you open your eyes to it, you will see mandalas in many many places," she added.