Mandalas, Stress, and Gestalt Psychology
Humans have natural ways to understand the world. Gestalt psychologists found certain rules that people follow when they need to organise information that come through our sensory organs to make sense of their environment. These rules are the natural way to organise information for the Gestalt psychologists and therefore they cause the least effort and fatigue for our brains. In other words, as indicated by Busche (2015) in her article about Gestalt psychology and design “The main idea [is] that when we perceive the world there are many different signals coming in at the same time. To organize them, and avoid going crazy, we visualize our surroundings as unitary forms or groups”.
On the other hand, Weiten et al (2015) in his book Psychology, points that people also experience sensory adaptation, which means that when people are exposed for a long period to a certain stimulus, we do not perceive it anymore until new stimuli appear to attract our attention because a change in the environment. The same author describes stress as a response to our ever-changing environment. Stress is the result of the effort to organise our world to maintain our well-being and sense of order.
Religion and spirituality is one of the ways to give direction to our life, for example Christianity anchors believer’s life in the love for Christ and what He represents in the world, so the bigger picture takes place at God’s level and His plans, that although unknown to us in the short term, there is the assurance that in the long term everything that happens in our life makes sense in His bigger plan. All religions offer a bigger picture level of life and offer a way to connect to the divinity as understood by their followers, this is mostly done through prayer, meditation, and a way to live life according their tenets.
However, this is sometimes difficult to grasp and the bigger picture can vanish for a while and the short-term circumstances override the assurance promised by religion. Moreover, non-religious people also find causes to believe in and to build their life around them, for example the well-being of the family, the progress of the country, democracy, protection of the environment among many others. It is important to note that religious people also embrace these causes but they link them to God’s purpose. It is also true that non-believers have also embraced religious philosophies such as Buddhism to give a space to their spiritual needs.
If we apply the gestalt principles to stress and life management we can find the reason behind the relaxing effects of a mandala, but first let’s see how they apply to our general life management. People usually have life goals at different scales, from the daily routines to the achievement of monthly or yearly objectives. There are also bigger picture plans, such as getting a pension, medical care, recreation, a position in society or living a religious life. Every individual will have different ideas about these points and will have a different priority in their life, but everyone will have a goal to pursue. Stress come from the effort to integrate life circumstances to the bigger and smaller plans of our life. Weiten et al (2015) summarises the sources of stress as frustration, conflict, change, pressure, and the ability to cope. I would say that the mechanisms described by the Gestalt laws do intervene in the resolution of challenges of daily life.
The gestalt principles have been summarised by Busch (2015) as simplicity, figure-ground, proximity, continuity, similarity, common-fate, common region, symmetry, parallelism, and closure. The brain uses these mechanisms to group stimulus and give them a meaningful sense as a part of a whole, rather than individual, separated signals. These principles are extensively used in graphic design, where the creators want to express several ideas at the same time, catching the attention of the viewer usually for marketing purposes.
I find that the same principles can be used to create mandalas to express the different sources of stress and give them meaning inside the circle that becomes our common region. The common region law says that we associate elements that are in a common region as be part of the same group, so a mandala is useful for integrating experiences expressed through art, even when they are in conflict. The mandalas are usually arranged showing symmetry, repetition of elements around the circle following geometrical angles and shapes, they usually communicate interconnectedness and purpose forming a unity. The mandalas offer a space to focus our attention where feelings and emotions can be expressed while enjoying a sense of order that is effortless for our brains to assimilate. It also offers a sense of control as the decision of what colours to use, where to start and when to finalise the drawing is mostly in our hands. Let’s not forget to mention that designing mandalas following the Gestalt rules is fun too.
© 2017 MariaInes