Joseph Anderson

Soul Cartography: Creating a Personal Mandala

The first activity in the Soul Cartography process is creating a personal mandala. The class as a whole is a deep and personal journey that encourages us to face the difficult aspects of our life so far (as well as discover unexpected resources). Starting the class with the mandala exercise helps create a safe space, a sacred circle within which the rest of the work can take place. (Read some more thoughts about the power of the sacred circle here.)

A personal mandala is a spatial symbol system: a protective, energizing, supportive force field to help you safely move forward on your life journey with clarity and confidence. This concept is utilized in different ways by many spiritual traditions around the world: Buddhist, Native American, Celtic, Christian, Egyptian and many others. While traditional cultures have many associations with the directions of the mandala, for this exercise I’m inviting you to make use of your intuitive wisdom and imagination. If you have knowledge of existing associations from a sacred tradition, do your best to tune that out and listen instead to your truest inner voice (which after all is also a fully authentic source for the sacred).

This process has several steps:

  1. For each of the categories below, brainstorm a list of at least four items (more is good).
    1. List items that have a positive association for you: that is, you like them and they give you energy.
    2. Stay open to being surprised by things you’ve not paid attention to before.
    3. Listen to your intuition, use a “first thought, best thought” approach and don’t think too much about your choices. This is a “first draft” and you can always revise.
  2. From the list of categories, choose four to six categories to include in your mandala. Choose categories that had a lot of energy and “juice” for you.
  3. In each category, identify no more than four items to include in your mandala. Again, choose the items that have the most “juice”.
  4. Spend a few minutes thinking about your relationship with the four directions: North, South, East, West. Jot down a few key words to capture your associations. Some examples are below (though your experience may be entirely different: trust your experience!).
    1. North: cold, winter, darkness
    2. East: sunrise, dawn, beginnings
    3. South: heart, summer, light
    4. West: sunset, nightfall, completions
  5. Create a grid with the four directions across the top and the four to six categories down the side. Then fill out the grid, mapping the items in your categories to the four directions. See what interesting surprises and connections emerge.
  6. Draw a circle divided into four quadrants, then fill each quadrant with the items for that direction. You might use concentric circles, geometric shapes, drawings, variations in lettering, etc.
  7. This is a deep and possibly lifelong project – keep exploring!


  • Colors
  • Plants
    • Trees (cedar, redwood, oak, cypress, maple, cherry, apple…)
    • Flowers (rose, daisy, iris, rhododendron, chrysanthemum…)
  • Animals (elephant, dog, cow, stag, antelope, beaver, bear, fox, lion, coyote…)
  • Minerals
    • Gems (ruby, turquoise, emerald…)
    • Metals (gold, silver, bronze, copper, steel…)
    • Other (granite, basalt, marble…)
  • People
    • Heroes (artists, writers, inspirations)
    • Mentors
    • Historical or fictional figures (Odysseus, Rambo, Gandalf, Xena, Cleopatra)
    • Ancestors (from the recent or more distant past)
  • Sacred Figures:
    • Saints
    • Angels
    • Deities (Hindu, Buddhist, classical, tribal)
  • Sacred Objects:
    • Jewelry, articles of clothing, utensils, tools
  • Places:
    • Mountains
    • Bodies of water
    • Islands
    • Places you have visited or never visited
    • Fictional places
  • Values:
    • Compassion, integrity, humor, intensity, honesty, responsibility, independence, gratitude, etc.
  • Other categories of your choosing that have meaning for you – the possibilities are limitless!