During our August member training day, we colored mandala circles as an art therapy activity. There were just five of us NHC members at this particular training, those of us who started the service term later than our fellow ‘16-’17 Corps members and had not completed the term in July (we crowned ourselves ‘Late-Starts’ in our GroupMe chat). Our timing put us in a unique position: we were saying our good-byes to the past NHC members that finished their terms in July while saying our hellos and welcomes to the new ’17-’18 group in September. I guess that makes us the ‘Malcolms in the middle’. As I was saying, in August, it was just us five at our member training day, and that naturally led us all to be more vulnerable as we colored our mandalas and reflected on what we were grateful for.
We were to draw a mini mandala circle and write what we were grateful for around it. I wrote that I was grateful to be an NHC-AmeriCorps member, for my family, for my fellow NHC members, for friends from back home, for Jacksonville, and for my host site, the Florida Department of Health. I added that I was grateful for the ability and time I was granted to work out and do relaxing activities like yoga, and for access to basic necessities like water and food. I thought about how I was grateful for miscellaneous things like podcasts, music, movies, beaches, Wi-Fi, books, and for more existential concepts like love, support, and life itself. It was not quite Thanksgiving yet, but drawing my mandala helped me to see how privileged I am compared to the underserved populations that we serve through AmeriCorps. I realized how easy it is to take these people, places, and values for granted.
We finished coloring our mandala circles, reflecting on our service terms and on our time together. When it came time to leave, I had not finished coloring my mandala. I was being super methodical on which colors I wanted to use. The first picture below shows the mandala drawing that I had left to fill when we closed out that day. After that August member training day, I periodically colored in the remaining white spaces, but only at times when I felt that I had made strides in my service. I finally finished coloring in my mandala this past October!
This mandala has been an ideal metaphor for my service term. Through a little Google search, I found that a mandala, meaning “circle,” represents the universe in Hindu and Buddhist practices. The Celtic mandala is a symbol for spiritual growth as well as a tool used to realize your heart’s desires and visions. The circle patterns in mandalas draw the viewers in closer, allowing them to perceive themselves within the mandala. I had not previously known that part of the mandala’s purpose was to draw you in and/or encourage you to include yourself within the mandala design. Initially, I had been just using colors that I liked and matching them with other ones, but upon seeing the finished mandala, the colors revealed to me my complexity as a person, and how complex we all are.
My mandala grew from an outline into a complete, fully colored image, making it a perfect analogy for how I grew as a service member-- steadily each day, learning from both the good and the bad. I have seen how our troublesome experiences--more so than the good--truly build our character and make us better people. I am grateful to have experienced all that I have this past year, which makes this A Mandala-Full-Circle of Service!
This blog post was written by NHC Florida AmeriCorps Alum James Hopkins.
James served with FDOH-Duval County in the 16-17 Program year.