Beyond the Boxes: Mandala Introduction and Nursing Organizational Application

Guest contributor: Ellen E. Swanson
This post introduces the new “Practice Exemplar”
describing the application of Mandalas in nursing

See related Education Exemplar

We have constructed so much of our society based on the traditional hierarchical or linear organizational model. This model has dominated and influenced our thinking and behaviors. The linear model has also affected how we organize various types of information in the educational, health care, social, religious, economic, and political arenas. This hierarchical organizational chart looks familiar to all of us.

The energy is linear and we are all in boxes. I want out, don’t you? So, let’s play with this. In place of the hierarchical chart, a new circular model in the form of a mandala template is now available for organizing information. One translation of a Sanskrit root word for mandala means “that which is the essence” (Huyser, 2002 p. 2). In the recent Nursology Education Exemplar highlighting a class at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, “Nursing Theory Mandala Based on Modeling and Role-Modeling Theory”, we showed the mandala template application to holistic nursing and also to the specific theory of Modeling and Role-Modeling.

© 2011 Ellen E. Swanson, all rights reserved

The template features four rings and a center. Each ring has a suggested definition for application.

  • Ring 1: Outer rainbow ring – seven resources or sources of energy for the chosen application topic.
  • Ring 2: Teaching and learning ring – what each resource or source teaches or contributes.
  • Ring 3: Inner resources ring – resources available from or applied to the body, mind, and spirit either literally or figuratively (ancient cultures included emotions in the mind arena).
  • Ring 4 and center: Manifestation ring — based on the Feng Shui Ba-Gua system and its life aspects.

Visuals are powerful, affecting us consciously and unconsciously. So how then might we use this template visual where energy is circular and therefore synergistically self-enhancing to show the essence of other topics? Let’s start with an organization and look at the application to the MN Holistic Nurses Association. The definitions of the four rings above apply. For an organization, in ring 3, the body segment could be values or purpose, the mind segment could be the mission statement, and the spirit segment could be the vision statement.

© 2011 Ellen E. Swanson, all rights reserved.
The Minnesota Holistic Nurses Association has included their mandala on their website at Minnesota Holistic Nurses Association. This mandala makes visible the holistic nursing theory concepts of trust and collaboration as experienced in the organization.

Download the PDF file of the MinnHNA Mandala here

This mandala makes visible the holistic nursing theory concepts of trust and collaboration as experienced in the organization.

Huyser, Anneke. (2002). Mandala Workbook for Inner Self-Discovery. Havelte/Holland: Binkey Kok Publications.

About the Author

Ellen E. Swanson, MA, RN, BSN, PHN, HNB-BC (Retired) had a 46 year career that included ortho-rehab, mental health, operating room, management, teaching, care managing, and consulting. For fifteen years she had a private practice in holistic nursing, focusing on health and wellness teaching and counseling. She served on the leadership council for the Minnesota Holistic Nurses Association for ten years.

4 thoughts on “Beyond the Boxes: Mandala Introduction and Nursing Organizational Application

  1. While I respect and appreciate Swanson’s reference to the Holistic Nursing grand theory, modeling role-modeling (MRM; Erickson, Tomlin, & Swain, 1983). The concept of this article seems reasonable however, referring to the Western linear model as traditional is misleading and when I first began to read it, I had to stop and reorient my thought processes. Traditional denotes time honored practices in this case the mandala is representative of at least a 5000-year-old philosophy and is a tradition. Western linear, boxed/siloed, reductionist is far from traditional, perhaps conventional or conventional Western would be more illustrative and clear and keep the term Traditional to refer to the Traditional healing systems, which are time honored and as this article points out society is beginning to learn from that the Traditional Healing Systems have more to offer than once thought.

    • Thank you Ann for your comments. The circles I move in use the terms traditional and ancient. What I am referring to as traditional goes back to the mid 300’s C.E. when King Constantine empiricized the church, thus legitimizing and applying the hierarchical beyond politics, which has persevered through time to the present. I refer to ancient as prior to that event. I’m glad you helped clarify this for those who use the term conventional instead of traditional and the term traditional instead of ancient. My belief is that we all are here for the purpose of helping one another. Thank you for helping with this understanding.

      Ellen Swanson

  2. I love the integration, synergy & non-linear-ness of this model. However, as an current NPD Practitioner & aspiring DNP Cardiology CNS with a mission to empower Nurses at in ALL Cardiology settings to leverage their nursing competencies to optimize outcomes for Heart Failure patients, how does such a non-linear model translate to empowering Cardiac nurses to make their optimal nursing
    contribution to helping HF patients live their best life? In our current world, we are lucky if nurses stay more than 2 years in a direct-care cardiac nursing role. Given such limited experience & expertise, doesn’t Benner’s Novice to Expert tell us that the most we can hope for in 2-3 years is a Competent Cardiac Nurse, capable of managing/influencing/optimizing typical Cardiac patient issues? The more holistic-integrative model proposed appears to require Expert-level processing rarely seen when nurses only stay in a job for more than 2-3 years? How do we develop theories & models that facilitate & inspire higher-order Proficient or Expert nursing in a mobile world in which Clinical Nurses leave for “Advance Practice” or non-Clinical jobs after only 1-2 years of traditional bedside experience?

    • Thanks so much for this insightful and practical questioning, Matt. There are 3 Practice Exemplars on the Nursology website which I hope will speak to this for you. Once you pull up the Practice Exemplar page, they are under “Using Mandalas — an Holistic Approach to Practice.” After the introductory comments, there is an index of 12 practice exemplars, and numbers 6, 7, and 8 would speak to what I consider to be two important prongs to the situations you are describing. First, the patient/client assessment via mandala, then second, relationships between colleagues via the nursing department and unit mandalas and the annual appraisals of employees. The patient/client assessment mandala, #6, sets up a more egalitarian relationship with the patient/client. Exemplars #7 and #8 set up a more egalitarian way of relating among colleagues. I experienced lots of hierarchical relationships among nurses, and found it very stress producing with burn out occurring rapidly. The mandala applications are a process, not a quick product. It will take time to change such deeply embedded systems. All the more reason to get this started NOW and give hope to the upcoming generations. I give illustrations in the texts of the practice exemplars of the positive results I had when using a more egalitarian/circular approach, and I have some other examples that I didn’t have room to include in the exemplars.

      Many thanks for all you have laid out on the table. It is only as we sup together on this that the ‘meal’ will become nourishing and nurturing for each of us and our profession.


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