The Self-Connection Podcast E8 with Stephen Buckbee: Exploring the resources of the Self through the Mandala

Today we have our first guest on the Self-Connection podcast, Stephen Buckbee. I really enjoyed connecting, hearing and learning from Stephen. He demonstrated a strong understanding of systemic work and expressed that through his experiences with the mandala. His joy, passion and positive are inspiring and shine through in this conversation.

1:48 Meditation using the various elements of the Mandala: Physical, emotional, contextual, relational, spiritual force, sensory

8:10 Our conversation begins. Stephen shares about how Virginia’s work influenced/affected him. He found her work to be unique in its effectiveness, its tools. He started working as a social worker in 1973. He liked her way of working with systems. He describes her as congruent and aware of the context (using everyone in the audience to work towards change).

1986 he joined one her process communities for 30 days.

10:44 We discuss Stephen’s observation of congruence and context-awareness in Virginia that were unique. Stephen shared she made contact with clients powerfully intimate and would use sculpting. Stephen described the family session Virginia lead. The family was hoping for a change in the mother and as Virginia worked with the mother, the son observed the audience's expectations of his mother and his own that kept him from seeing that she was always trying the best she could.

Virginia seemed to be aware of the parallel contexts: Audiences expectation of Virginia, Son’s expectations of mom, Audience expectations of mom, etc.

Virginia made the most use of whatever resources were there either in people or in the environment.

16:00 Virginia was one of the first people working with whole families systems. She made use of physical sculpts to create pictures and experiences that help us understand what we are experiencing and also how others experiences are different from our own. For example, using sculpts to help people understand the different family experiences based on birth order or across generations.

17:45 The uniqueness of Virginia is not to be found in the form or the words but in the spaces between the forms. Her strength was not getting locked into a particular pattern of relating and allowing her self to make a unique contact with unique people at a unique time and place.

19:53 She talked with people and made contact with them. I take this to mean that she did not just respond to people in a role or with technique but as a human being feeling with others and allowing herself to feel along with and to fully present and fully human with others.

20:15 Virginia gave tools and a framework that helped people change.

Context is constantly changing whether we are talking about inner or outer context.

Virginia helped teach people and gave them tools so they could understand the parts and resources within themselves and within each other that perhaps they had no idea were there.

Virginia was creative and innovative. For example, she would have a woman who was shorter than her husband stands on a step so she and her husband could for the first time have a conversation eye to eye. This demonstrated her understanding of the importance of making physical contact and her belief that people need to connect at a level playing field that is of being of equal worth and value.

22:40 We begin to discuss what the mandala is. Virginia liked to say “Everyone has a belly button” and it indicates our separateness and connection. She highlighted the human universals and she made connections with people through these universals. The core of the mandala is the Self and the various dimensions surround the Self. Virginia wasn’t afraid to express what was universal wisdom.

26:10 We talk about the interconnections between context and spiritual; specifically geographical and cultural context impacts the way spiritual life is expressed. Cultural context can set rules around what you can learn (intellectual). Senses are how we take in information and then this impacts emotional and intellectual life. The important point is looking at and exploring “How do we take in information?” and second “How do we create meaning about what we take in?” Stephen shares an example where a person upon seeing someone who is reminded of memory with a different person in their past is like putting a ‘hat’ on that person that doesn’t belong to them. Stephen clarifies that meaning exists in the intellectual and emotional levels of the mandala.

29:40 Stephen shares his distinction between feelings and emotions. Emotions are hardwired, basic emotions like fear, anger, sadness and feelings are the response to the emotions, which also have to do with our rules about emotions. Emotions can trigger survival reactive patterns and then reactive perceptions “I am inadequate” Feels and emotions are triggered by the meanings we create.

Stephen shares a wonderful and useful application of how we can look at family rules across the 8 elements of the mandala to understand the impact of the rule on our lives. For example, if a person has a rule “Don’t ever show anger.” What impact does this have on the interactional, emotional, sensory level? Using the mandala as a tool helps us become broadly aware of the broad impact that such limiting rules can have.

31:45 Stephen talks about nutritional piece. This layer deals with a fundamental and universal question which is “How do you feed yourself?” Whether that be spiritually, emotionally, relationally, literally, nutritionally, physically, etc. Stephen describes the nutritional element as what we do to be nurturing towards ourselves.

We thrive in connection, in nurturing, in love. Stephen says, “How quickly people heal often have to do with what kind of support systems they have.”

Stephen talks about the nutritional level as ‘taking in things.” Essentially what we allow into our lives.

34:30 We discuss how important it is to note these various layers as processes rather than as fixed forms. Virginia used to remark, “The content provides the context from which to engage in the process of change and it is the process that is essential” Nurturing seems to be a general principle that is part of all layers of the Self. What are we allowing into our lives, our bodies, our relationships? What are we consuming in terms of information, experiences, connections?

In our conversation, Stephen is educating me about how interconnected each of the aspects of the mandala are. That each layer offers a resource that adds to the whole that without it the whole would be significantly diminished.

When we teach someone to interact differently, to feel their feelings, to be intellectually aware or to shift the perspective, all of these things related to how we can receive something that is positive and growthful for our lives.

Imagine if we thought about the principle of nurturing alongside the interactive and that our wish to give and receive things were aligned with the value of only giving and receiving things that meant a value of nurturance.

37:28 Interactional has to do with how you talk with yourself and how you talk/treat with others. Therapist help people change their inner dialogues. These patterns are based on their experiences from their family of origin. This layer is where we can explore and understand the survival coping stances we have learned and used (placating, blaming, super-reasonable, or irrelevance).

38:30 Stephen explains that we each have vulnerabilities at every level of the mandala and these vulnerabilities is where our defences can be triggered. We will use a survival stance at any layer depending upon where our vulnerabilities exist.

39:20 The physical layer is the container for all of our energy that is related to our name. When we get connected to our bodies through movement, this experience of grounding enables and empowers us then to contain and hold our emotional experiences. People experience physical sensation and symptoms that express /communicate from other areas of the mandala.

41:45 We discuss how the use of the mandala points to universal that Satir emphasized “Wholeness”. It is in the integration of our various resources that we experience our wholeness.

Stephen has an exercise where he has workshop participants try to give themselves an appreciation at each element of the mandala. The areas where there is resistance or difficult mark an area of growth.

Stephen describes each of these elements of the mandala as ‘parts’ of Self.

45:00 The education around the mandala is learning how to use each resource with respect to one another especially at a moment in time of vulnerability, weakness and need.

This tool is intended to help people connect to their own inner resources and empowerment.

“Therapy isn’t something that’s done to anyone; it’s something you do with someone.”

47:00 Therapy might be thought of a ‘resourcing’ process, of taking the things that are there and transforming things that are rejected and making them something useful and oriented towards growth.

48:40 Stephen shared that Virginia goal was to expand and advance her tools not just repeat her. Stephen shared how he had used the mandala in training staff to be more aware of the wholeness of the people (vulnerable youth) and to look with greater depth and beyond assumed cultural norms/patterns that were significantly different between staff and youth. Exploring these universal dimensions creates a sense of common humanity and deep empathy. The awareness of the mandala within each person allows us to see behind and around behaviour rather than defining a person by what they have done or how they appear on the outside.

50:20 Stephen recommends that we also integrate the use of the mandala with our assessment and tracking of the process of change. It seems to be particularly helpful to recognize where the individual is experiencing the foreign element that is creating chaos (trauma) within the mandala.

52:30 We talk about Stephen’s hope for the growth and expansion of Virginia’s work. He talks about the hope and wishes that her work can be taught in college and universities. Stephen describes Virginia’s work as transcending mere theory but being a powerful practice model that provides concrete tools. We talk about how her work is relevant in education generally from early childhood all the way up to higher education because her work helped people learn hot to be fully human and to become aware of inner resources and ways of connecting that were aimed at health and growth. Virginia taught at a level that was not full of jargon but was accessible to a broad and general audience.

Please visit to learn more about Virginia Satir and various trainings and workshops there. Also consider joining the Satir Global Facebook page and connect with the community there: