Dancing the mandala of mandalas: A group poem

At the 2016 Enhancing Practice Conference in Edinburgh, we, Angie Titchen and Brendan McCormack, facilitated a 25 minute creative design workshop in a classroom at Queen Margaret University. The purpose was to create an experience where people could feel the power of working with critical-creative companions (us!) who, over a number of years have developed the professional artistry of dancing the mandalas of critical creativity. We suggest, before reading the abstract below, that you sit back, relax and listen to the poem that was created effortlessly (in 15 minutes), by those 60+ who joined us at the workshop. It is presented exactly as it was called out by participants at the workshop and then followed by the slide show they watched, in silence, before moving into a visualisation and reflective walk through words. We suggest you watch it full screen.


After the poem was created, Angie read it out loud.  Participants were incredulous and in awe of its beauty and depth.  They wanted a copy of the poem and they wanted it recorded. So here it is … !



The abstract

Dancing the mandala of mandalas: Unearthing and earthing the patterns of critical creativity in practice


Creating the conditions for human flourishing as end and means of transformational practice development, research and learning is complex and skilled work. This is especially so because transformation often, not only takes place in turbulent contexts and situations, but also in the inner and outer turbulence within and between people.  Such work therefore requires a multi-layered practice pattern of patterns. Intentionally, over some 15 years, first within the International Practice Development Collaborative and then together, we have studied our own practice patterns as we learned how to meld and blend cognition with the body, imagination and creativity in our work as facilitators, practice developers and researchers. Thereby, we have unearthed the beginnings of a new worldview we call critical creativity.

The architecture of critical creativity is founded on philosophical, theoretical and methodological principles and elements of human flourishing. These are set out in three frameworks or mandalas (a mandala is an ancient symbol that shows the parts and the whole and the patterns between them). Slowly, these mandalas are being tried out nationally and internationally, but it is not clear whether they are being used individually in isolation or altogether as they are intended to be used. We have our doubts.

First, the mandalas were published piecemeal as they were unearthed and, as yet, we have not published them altogether with commentary on how to work seamlessly between them. We are about to put that right in 2017. Second, when we work alongside practice developers, critical companions, educators and doctoral students to help them translate the mandalas in their own practice and contexts, we have observed that there is a tendency for people to work with just one of the mandalas and often not to venture beyond it. We are not surprised by this tendency because we know that it is hard to remember the parts and their relationships with the whole, until they become embodied or earthed in practice. We also know that this takes time, practice and critical-creative reflection, preferably with a companion. The danger for critical creativity becoming earthed back in practice is that people miss the need to ‘dance’ the mandalas to be successful as a facilitator or critical-creative companion in creating the conditions for human flourishing to occur. This ‘dancing’ means developing the capacity to move seamlessly and fluently between the frameworks according to what is happening and any inner and outer turbulences that are occurring and support flourishing and resilience.

In this creative space, we will help participants to metaphorically, or even actually, dance and dialogue with the mandala of mandalas. How participants engage will be their choice, but we will invite people to take a risk and step out of their comfort zone – into a small degree of turbulence perhaps?



McCormack B. & Titchen A. (2014) No beginning, no end: An ecology of human flourishing. International Practice Development Journal, 4(2), [2] (http://www.fons.org/library/journal/volume4-issue2/article2

Titchen A. & McCormack B. (2010) Dancing with Stones: Critical creativity as methodology for human flourishing, Educational Action Research: An International Journal, 18(4), 531-554.

One thought on “Dancing the mandala of mandalas: A group poem

  1. I was at the workshop when the poem was created and I remember it vividly even 6 months later. I have to admit that I was quite unaware of the purpose of the workshop when I went into the room but was intrigued by it having only recently discovered critical creativity. Interestingly, I didn’t feel apprehensive like I normally would have in a situation like that at the time and I felt quite at ease going through the process of visualisation and creative expression. I remember being overwhelmed by the amount of creative expression that emerged and in awe of how the words seemed to fit together and make sense to me immediately. I felt that there was a shared understanding in the room of what we were doing (even though I didn’t quite understand) and a togetherness between all of the people that I had never felt or experienced before. Finally, it was so enjoyable and meaningful for me at the time and still is now. It was my introduction to the world of practice development and helped me to understand the value of working together in this way. I have read the poem about three times since you posted it and can feel still the meaning when I read it.

    Liked by 1 person

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