by Amber Hatch
Have you come across colouring books for grown ups? It’s been pretty hard to miss them this year, with every bookshop and newsagent displaying a stand. Most colouring book titles make reference to some kind of art therapy, or the calm-inducing properties of colouring, or (most popular of all) to mindfulness. I’ve found, however, that inside the covers, most of these books are pretty traditional colouring books. So is this simply a clever marketing ploy, or can colouring books really help your wellbeing?
Mindfulness is about becoming aware of what’s happening in the present moment. It helps us connect more deeply with the world around us, gives us a sense of perspective, and gives us the freedom to make conscious choices about the ways we behave. Mindfulness is a very popular concept right now, but people are often unsure how to do it. So the idea that colouring can help us have mindfulness is very appealing. But I need to be honest about this: it’s perfectly possible to colour unmindfully. Because the truth of the matter is that mindfulness does take a bit of effort. We can’t expect any activity – whether that’s colouring, or a flotation tank, or sitting in the lotus position – to do mindfulness for us. Mindfulness is something we have to practise ourselves.
Three ways to practise mindfulness
Mindfulness can be practised in formal meditation, sitting silently with no distractions. You can also try to raise mindfulness whenever you remember, as you go about your daily tasks. I think of this second way as ‘moment-to-moment’ mindfulness. The third way is a kind of half-way house between these two. You can ‘attach’ mindfulness to a particular activity, such taking a walk or doing the washing up. Whenever you do these tasks, try to bring your full attention to the activity at hand.
So how exactly is colouring supposed to aid mindfulness?
Colouring can make an excellent choice for this kind of activity. When we sit down and pick up a pencil crayon, that probably means we have a little time to ourselves, free from interruptions. The repetitive nature of the task means that once we have chosen our colour, very little complex thinking is involved. This gives us an opportunity to slow down our busy minds. The following paragraph is an extract from our book, Colouring for Contemplation:
Colouring as a meditation
Each time you notice that your thoughts have wandered away from the task, you can note where they are and then gently bring your attention back to the pen or pencil in your hand. Although this instruction is very simple, it can be difficult to follow. At first it can feel like an effort – you’ll be amazed at how active your mind really is. You may even find that several minutes go by before you realize you have lost awareness. Keeping the mind on task is rather like trying to keep a kitten in a basket: it keeps on climbing out. Remember to smile at its antics as you gently put it back.
A record of your journey
One of the lovely things about using colouring as a meditational activity, is that once you have finished your meditation, you have a beautiful visual record of your practice. You may like to stick your handiwork on a wall somewhere where you can remind yourself of the qualities you have evoked.
So in short: colouring makes a great meditative practice, as long as we make the effort to turn it in to one. Colouring for Contemplation explains exactly how you can do that, and provides meaningful artwork to work with.
Amber Hatch is author of Colouring for Contemplation, with artwork by her husband, Alex Ogg. Follow them on Facebook.
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