Part of the Aging Well Through Arts Special Report
(This article appeared previously in The Pocono Record.)
I belong to a mindfulness group, a circle of companionable souls who get together once a week for meditation and other practices designed to foster attention and the ability to “be here now,” as Ram Dass used to say in the ‘60s.
One week, our group leader began the session by passing out crayons and photocopies of coloring pages with a variety of intricate designs. Mine, according to the caption, was a Panamanian mola, a type of bright, colorful textile made by means of complex cuts in multiple layers of fabric. I was familiar with this folk art because a friend had given me a mola many years ago. I liked it so much that I framed it and have hung it in every place I’ve lived.
But did I want to color a paper version? I thought the idea of coloring pages for adults was a little lame. Crayons? Really?
Nevertheless, I chose my colors and gamely began working along with everyone else. There was silence in the room as we all bore down on our respective designs. Soon I felt myself easing into the flow of the moment. Concentrating on this simple, tactile work made me feel calm and, yes, meditative. I thought of those Tibetan Buddhist monks who create mandalas out of sand, grain by colorful grain. Talk about the art of attention.
All the (Grown-Up) Kids Are Doing It
That was my first taste of what turns out to be a major new fad: adult coloring pages. Coloring books for grown-ups are suddenly a thing. You’d be surprised at how many people have told me they love to color or know someone who does.
Concentrating on this simple, tactile work made me feel calm and, yes, meditative.
As every little kid knows, coloring is creative. You get to make art. You choose the colors, add effects and — if you’re ambitious — even insert new elements into the picture. Moreover, it’s a refreshingly analog activity, balm for those of us who spend too much time staring into screens.
So a couple of months ago, when my cousin Karen asked if I might like a coloring book for my birthday, I eagerly said yes. She picked out one that seems tailor-made for an aging boomer. Titled Peace & Love Coloring Book, its cover depicts a peace symbol that has morphed into a mandala, emblazoned with flowers, hearts and swirls. Smack in the center is an anime-style smiley face. Does my cousin know me or what?
Bringing Back the Crayolas
Inside is hippie-style artwork in the manner of Yellow Submarine and Fillmore East posters. Very groovy. I’ve done just one picture so far, a psychedelic butterfly, using the colored pencils my cousin sent. I just bought myself a box of Crayolas. Maybe I’ll branch out into markers and gels, too.
Coloring is relaxing; it’s something you can do if you’re feeling scattered, overwrought or sub-par. That’s why I purchased a coloring book for a friend who’s just out of the hospital. She’s a huge reader, but can’t concentrate at the moment. Post-surgery, her attention span is roughly equivalent to my kitten Moe’s.
Coloring therapy should be just the ticket.
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