Breaking Through Writer’s Block: Mind, Body, and Mandala Making

butterfly mandalaThe best cure for writer’s block? Stop writing. Close that lap top, get up, and stretch. Go exercise. Dance. Bake a pie. Eat. Draw. Listen to music. Play an instrument.  Whatever you do, get off that hamster wheel because you’re only making it worse. If your creative juices are blocked in one area, loosen up a few others and you will intuit what your characters need. Conflict drives plot, and the best plots are character driven. Characters are driven by emotions, and emotions are housed in the body.

“That’s poppy cock,” you say, “I think about how I feel.” Psychotherapy has long held the view that the mind is the source of emotions and feelings, and thus the only proper focus of treatment (Young, 2008). Yet, severe mental illnesses such as chronic anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Major Depression, are characterized by physical symptoms (DSM V). Ever hear the expression, “He died of a broken heart”? Brain research would indicate the amygdala—the part of the brain involved in sensory reception and instinctual drives—is the store house for the lasting effects of extreme emotions  inaccessible to the conscious mind, such as trauma (Lanius & Van der Kolk, 2006). SPECT scan technology has revealed when one experiences the loss of a loved one, the limbic part of the brain (housing the amygdala) becomes irritated and enflamed (Amen, 2007). This stimulates chemicals that affect your appetite (feeling unable to eat or desiring comfort food), sleep patterns (too depressed to get out of bed, or can’t sleep because you can’t stop thinking about it), and libido (lack of sex drive, or using sex as a salve). “Talking” therapies (or for the purposes of this article, an overemphasis on words) often miss out on a rich realm of possibilities by ignoring, or not considering, the potential of tactile stimulation, and bodily activation.

Creative Arts Therapies (encompassing dance, drama, art, music, and play therapies) are physically and tactilely activating, while conjuring and containing unconscious material through mental imagery and symbolism. Art therapist Natalie Rogers creates a lens through which the above stated process of transformation and integration of the different aspects of the self might be achieved, in her article, “Person Centered Expressive Arts Therapy: A Path to Wholeness” (Rubin, 2001). Rogers describes how art making and authentic movement combined, encourage integration and personal expression. She states, “Using the arts in sequence evokes inner truths which are often revealed with new depth and meaning… Movement unlocked our creative energy which, gets expressed in visual art” (p.165). This experience, according to Natalie Rogers, would reveal ‘inner truths.’

So, you’re writing a book, so what? What lesson are you trying to teach? What lesson are you learning from your own characters? Why should anyone besides you care about this book? Every writer is both therapist and patient, teacher and student, Master and apprentice. If you don’t add a little body to your mind, your story will fail to make good on the “promise of the premise” (Snyder, 2005), and your characters will fall flat.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 5.12.46 PMIn my own practice, I use mandala making as a way to shift creative gears and loosen those muscles. A mandala is any image emphasizing a circle with a center, often including some representation of quaternity, such as a cross or square. It is a symbolic expression of one’s “Higher Self,” what spiritual writer Sonia Choquette describes as “your most authentic you,”—the part directly connected to God. Tibetan monks design mandalas from colored sand in their meditation practices, to put the body, mind, and spirit into balance.

There are many structured and unstructured ways to make a mandala. I simply draw a circle and see what comes up, typically with a particular character in mind. When I’m finished, I reflect on the following questions, and assume my character’s perspective:

1.What would you title your mandala?

2.How did you feel during the process of creating your mandala? Was any aspect more or less difficult?

3.What was your approach? Did you follow the rules, break them, bend them? Did you remain inside the lines? Did you want to breach the perimeter?

4.If your mandala had a message for you, what would it be?

5.How did you address the center of your mandala? How does every aspect of your design relate to the center of your piece?

6.Where does your eye go when you look at the mandala? In what direction does your eye follow the “flow” of your design?

7.How are your colors represented? Are they saturated, or transparent? Are your lines and shapes bold, or are they timid? Is your mandala full or are there empty spaces?

8.What will you do now with your mandala?

9.If you were to put your mandala in your body, how would it feel? How would your body move? Move that way now.

10.Where is the safest place in your mandala and why? Where is it unsafe? What could you add to make it safe?

11.If your mandala needed something what would it be? If it wanted something, what would it be?

BIRDS MANDALA_REDUCED SIZEIn responding to the above questions, we bring the journey full circle; having collected answers from the body, to feed the mind. Pin your mandala to an idea board or keep it for later reference, as it will help when mapping your character’s conflicts and how they move plot forward. It might also give you some insight into your own motivations for writing this character, and the lessons he or she has to teach you. And that’s what makes the job worth it.

For more on how to make your own mandala  check out

(Found this article helpful? Please share your comments and /or mandalas, and I’ll post them with your website and social media information to my twitter feed).


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