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  Lindsay Banner  

Richmond Times Dispatch


Wednesday, March 1, 1995


Symbolic Art: Path to the Heart and Soul

When people take their troubles to Michael H. Brown, they usually end up flushing their wounds with creativity. "We try to convert the creativity into wisdom," said Brown, a licensed professional counselor and human resources consultant.

"If people are depressed," Brown says, "Let's draw that and see what we can learn."

It's not just play, he said. It's play with a purpose in growth and development. He uses mandala art as a tool to help people see what is going on inside themselves. Mandala art is an ancient art form found in many cultures, said Brown, a Mechanicsville resident whose office is in eastern Henrico County. Mandala means circle, and mandala art is the symbols drawn or painted in the circle. Tibetan Buddhism has used mandala art for thousands of years to depict the demons and gods it believes plague and uplift humanity, Brown said. Navajo sand painters use it in healing rites. Many American Indian rituals use the medicine wheel, a mandala form, to connect to Earth energies and the wisdom of nature.

He will hold a seminar on symbolic art Monday at 7 p.m. at the Mechanicsville branch of the Pamunkey Regional Library. The seminar is sponsored by the Hanover County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Drawing a mandala is like holding up a mirror to a person's unconscious mind, he said. "By the simple fact that it's round, the mandala helps us begin to experience ourselves as whole," said Brown, who has drawn about 3,000 mandalas since 1973. "It's a way for me to look into the heart and soul of a person. It's also a way for the person to look into his own heart and soul. And it's a way to ventilate," he said.

Pat Mitton, 53, of Highland Springs, who has been a client of Brown's for about 18 months, agreed. "Being able to put what is in my head on a piece of paper in an art form really helps me. I have never experienced anything like it before," she said. "Once you get into it, it's just so unbelievable what comes into your mind and the reason for it. You don't realize the reason for it until you put in on paper. It's such a reward to me."

Brown said, "When people walk into this office, they have tried everything else, and now they have to come to terms with their lives. There's a fair amount of hopelessness when they come because they can't avoid the problem any longer."

He became interested in the art form when he was in training at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center at Spring Grove State Hospital in Baltimore. "It's very exciting for my clients to discover how to work with imagination, how to look at their lives creatively," he said. "This does provide hope to people."

The upcoming course is not the first Brown has presented for the parks and recreation department. Last year his seminars on imagination, communication skills and stress management were well-received, said Jeannie Chewning, recreation program director. With next week's course, "We wanted to try something different and maybe help some people," she added.

Brown's job is to help people understand their lives. "How do we gain self-knowledge? How do we get to know who we are? One way is through feedback from others. Another is feedback from ourselves. And that's how symbolic art is helpful," he said. "When somebody draws a mandala, my job is to ask: 'What do you see here? What do you feel when you look at this? How is this like your life right now?' Brown said. "The quickest way to help people touch themselves in an important way is through relaxation, imagination and through art."




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