Indigenous Expressive Arts Exercise Invitation IV

Collective Natural Element Mandala

Age Range: 3 to 100

Objective: To create a mandala or natural design as a collective group or family experiential. The objective is to connect to nature, seek natural elements found through a nature exploration, calling on a childlike sense of play and curiosity.

*This natural mandala can be created by an individual as well as with a group.

Inspirational quote: “Each person’s life is like a mandala – a vast, limitless circle. We stand in the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life.”   –Pema Chodron

“The word mandala means ‘circle’. A mandala represents wholeness, a cosmic diagram reminding us of our relation to infinity, extending beyond and within our bodies and minds. The mandala appears to us in all aspects of life, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon and more obviously the circles of life encompassing friends, family and communities”.

Materials Needed:

  • A natural area to roam through and collect/gather natural elements
  • Bag with pouches to gather varying elements (wildflowers, sticks, leaves, rocks, pinecones, berries)
  • An surface to create your collective mandala (indoors or outdoors)
  • Native flute music or classical music if mandala is completed indoors (if desired)


  • Read the quotes above and meditate on your collective connection to the mandala and its meaning for you both collectively and individually.
  • Take a few moments to engage in nature by offering a group directive to connect to the natural environment. Take a walk as a walking meditation, following the breath in and out or noticing the sights, sounds, and scents as you connect to nature.
  • If desired by the group, take your shoes off and ground your body in the grass or dirt to feel the earth and charge your body.
  • Wander around and go where you feel led as individuals. Each person can follow their own inner guide to collect what they are drawn to. Allow yourselves to be with nature and go with the intention of gathering natural elements that speak to you.

* Be curious, turning things upside down and looking at nature anew!

  • Gather what’s beautiful, curious, forgotten, mystical, natural, wondrous, normally forgotten or perceived as devoid of beauty…
  • Once your family or collective community has gathered all the natural elements they desire, find a sacred circle or space to create the mandala.
  • In forming a mandala, it’s nice to commence and give order to the organic process by placing some elements in the center of the area to create from the inside out of the circle. (If you are outside by a small pond or waterfall, this may be the center of your mandala as well). The mandala can be large or small, symmetrical or asymmetrical.
  • Allow the group to work in its own rhythm, creating in silence to engage in a meditative and collective creative process. (There becomes a kind of order to the chaos, as is the nature of mandalas).
  • Once the last of the elements is placed, feel free to move around and observe the mandala from all angles.
  • After the process, a group or family discussion about the meaning and experience around this process can bring closure.

*I’ve led this activity with both my family as well as two different groups of colleagues. Each time, the process is different. Every result is beautiful and unique. There is a tremendous harmony that emerges in the group regardless of who engages in the process.

Special Consideration: When a group is forced to relocate the experiential due to weather or timing, etc., the energy and silence of the group can be severed. Bringing in meditative music or reading a quote about nature or oneness can create a holding space again and re-focus the group to create the mandala.

Group holding: Let go of rules, but create a small bit of structure and guidance for a group to help people feel playful and safe in the exercise.

Plan to be surprised! People who would not normally be inclined to do something like this can be very engaged and offer something very important to the collective. A child may create the order for the adults and an adult may bring the needed spontaneity. In the photo below, a child formed the word love from leaves with remaining earth elements.

Download the exercise!

Indigenous Expressive Arts Exercise Invitation III

Rock Beings

Age Range: 3 to 100 (A young child can enjoy activity on a more simple level)

Objective: To connect to the greater landscape through seeking a broader sense of connection to a rock or stone, something generally conceived as inanimate and devoid of life in modern Western culture. In this exercise, we invite a more indigenous spirit to expand from what you ordinarily feel and think in relation to a rock or other earth elements that are not “living”. The question becomes, “Are they devoid of soul and spirit even if they are not considered living?”

*A little unlearning is invited by way of approaching this expressive exercise, as you’ll discover in the procedures.

 Inspiration: Tunkashila is a word that has complex meaning, something simplified as the “mystery of all life” in translation of Standing Bear. Within this tunkashila spirit, there is a reverence and connection to rocks as persons, something authors Grim, Walker and Densmore reflect in Grim’s article. This “tunkashila” has embedded within the Lakota culture a relationship to rocks as part of the greater connection to all things, rather than as inanimate objects wholly unrelated to us.

“Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library”  — Standing Bear

 Materials Needed:

  • A rock or stone found in nature
  • Markers, paints, oil pastels…
  • Small and long bristled-brushes for detail painting if rock/stone is small; choose hardy brushes that are not expensive as they take some wear and tear
  • *Permanent paint for outdoors (patio paint or permanent ink at art stores)
  • *Urethane Sealer if desired to keep in the garden/outdoors


  • Read the indigenous quote above. If inspired, read the article attached that gave inspiration for this exercise.
  • Take a few moments to engage in nature. Take a walk as a walking meditation, following the breath in and out or noticing the sights, sounds, and scents as you connect to nature.
  • If you can, take your shoes off and ground your body in the grass or dirt to feel the earth and charge your body.
  • Wander around and go where you feel led. Allow yourself to be with nature and go with the intention of not finding a rock, but rather letting the rock find you. (This is where the unlearning comes into play. This is where the intellect will sabotage your connection to a rock or stone. If you can, trust the rock will find you). *Of course, make sure you’re in an environment that permits the taking of a rock!
  • Once you’re led to a rock, hold it in your hand with your eyes closed. Make sure you know this rock, sense this rock, and connect to the spirit of the rock.
  • If this is the rock that has found you, return to a quiet place in nature where you have your supplies.
  • This may feel sacreligious to now paint a rock spirit or being. It may feel better to keep this rock close and leave it in its natural state. You may sense the rock should remain where it is.
  • * If not, and painting or adorning it feels reverent and resonant, create any artistic reflection of the rock that emerges. You may find an image emerge from holding and contemplating the rock. Let the experience guide you in this process and emergence of an image.
  • My rock felt like a reminder of oneness and along came a sacred geometry image of earth elements in some unified design. Many painted rocks are animals, natural elements and organic designs.
  • Find a sacred place to keep the rock after painting it. Place it on an alter, in a garden, by your bed, in your home or office. Let it’s new home arrive by intuition if possible!

Special Consideration: Extracting from a deeply evolved and expansive culture’s sense of reverence and interconnectedness falls short of complete. In offering this “Western” take on indigenous wisdom, I hope to simply open a window to a deeper well of insight into the earth’s connection to all. This exercise was powerful and humbling for me and so it is in this spirit, I share it with the collective.

Download the exercise!


Reference: Grim, J. A. (n.d.). Indigenous Traditions and Ecology. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from