Colouring books: how to use them for spiritual growth

by Amber Hatch, author of Colouring for Contemplation, More Colouring for Contemplation and Nappy-Free Parenting

You’ve probably come across the latest craze – colouring for grown-ups. With colouring books sitting on the top spots of the Amazon bestseller charts for the best part of a year, and stands in every bookshop and newsagent, it’s been quite hard to miss. Most of the 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. However, in virtually every case, when you open the book up, it is simply a colouring book.

Doing mindfulness
Many people nowadays are aware of the concept of mindfulness, and would like to bring it into their lives, but they are not sure how. So the idea that colouring can help us do that 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
Maintaining mindfulness is not always easy. I’ve been practising Samatha meditation for six years, which emphasises a formal daily sit. I’ve found this discipline to be invaluable in providing a backbone for my mindfulness practice. I also try to raise mindfulness whenever I remember, as I go about my 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. I “attach” mindfulness to a particular activity, such as reading my son a bedtime story, or doing the washing up. Whenever I do these tasks, I try to bring my full attention to the activity at hand.

CCThumbSo 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 you have chosen your colour, very little complex thinking is involved. This gives us an opportunity to slow down our busy minds (if we choose to use it!). 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.

Meaningful pictures
In our book, Colouring for Contemplation, the pictures themselves are inspired by quotations from some of the greatest thinkers and teachers around the world. The pictures and words interact with each other, helping to create new layers of meaning. By colouring the pictures, you too help to create the images
as a visual representation of the words. I think that this gives an added depth to the colouring experience, and can help us evoke some of the positive qualities of the teachings in our meditation.

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