Culture and Community: Coloring in Spiritual Practice

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The new craze of adult coloring continues to sweep the nation, becoming what appears to be a very lucrative financial business and a hobby for those seeking some sense of creative solace in today’s times. The popularity of adult coloring has increased significantly in the last few years and has rapidly become a household concept. From Barnes and Nobles or Amazon, to your local Michael’s craft store, you can find a nice selection of coloring books specifically marketed to adults, which address concepts of stress, mindfulness, and creativity.

We are no longer looking at just the coloring books of Barbie dolls and Winnie the Pooh. Instead we are seeing elaborate books that have mandalas, gardens and various patterns. Despite the this recent burst in popularity, the concept of art or coloring as a means to reduce stress and increase mindfulness is not a new one.

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[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

Carl Jung was one of the first psychologists to use coloring mandalas and designs as a means to support relaxation in sessions with his clients. Today many psychologist, therapists, and social workers continue to use coloring as an activity to support those working with elements of depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, dementia or other mental health related illnesses. Teachers in classrooms as well as others in a variety professions have used coloring to increase focus and mindfulness among their students or employees. The benefit of coloring as a de-stressor or a mindfulness activity has been proven by many different studies, linking the impact of coloring on the functions of the amygdala and the cerebral cortex.

As more people are looking for ways to decompress from the pressures of today’s modern world, we are experiencing an influx in mindfulness activities that support feelings of wellness and comfort. People from all walks of life are pulling out their color pencils to create colorful patterns. For those who are not especially skilled at meditating, coloring provides a wonderful alternative to achieving the same result.

The magical, devotional and often mindful practices of modern Pagan and Polytheists can make this particular exercise useful for spiritual many practices. The ability to de-clutter the mind and body, increase focus and connection to the spiritual mind without the distractions of the world can make for a beneficial and necessary addition to one’s own practice. Coloring can help.

Kerri Hirsch-Upton

Kerri Hirsch-Upton [Courtesy Photo]

In addition to the many popular coloring books on the mainstream market, there are Pagan, Polytheist, Goddess/God, and Social Justice oriented coloring books that can be purchased and incorporated into regular mindfulness routines. Kerri Hirsch, a Pagan artist and singer with the group Spiral Rhythm, creates and sells Goddess and Pagan inspired coloring books. On her Etsy page Unleash the Goddess, Kerri talks about her art as a means to spiritual expression and exploration. She writes:

My art is an expression of the spiritual exploration of myself and the universe around me. I embrace the vine thru Goddess inspired energy and translate it into a vibrant, primitive outpouring. I enjoy using bold, bright colors that leap from the surface and grab your attention – then you can really look deep and see the layers of color and movement, some subtle and some quite obvious.My art is an expression of the spiritual exploration of myself and the universe around me. I embrace the Divine thru Goddess inspired energy and translate it into a vibrant, primitive outpouring.

Kerri’s selection of coloring books are available for purchase on her Etsy page. And, other artists are embracing this medium of spiritual connectivity as well.

So how are people using the act of coloring within their spiritual routines? What do people feel are the benefits of coloring for them? I reached out to a diverse group of practitioners from different paths and walks of life to ask those very questions.il_570xN.468687450_dto8

Coloring puts me into mindfulness mode. I choose colors at random, then spread that color out through the picture in a pattern.  Then I pick the next color I feel is complimentary.  As a part of my spiritual practice, I feel that opening to “channel” to which picture I color, the colors that are selected, the attention I pay to how I color and participate in the co-creation of art is magical.  I tend to like coloring of people, Gods and and Goddesses a bit more than abstract or geometrical art, though in doing both, I can enter a state of meditation which lifts my spirits and makes me happy. “We Are The Beauty We Love” – Mari P.

In a nutshell, peace. I tend to color fantasy scenes or abstracts so it’s 20 or 30 minutes of the slow and gentle taking a drawing that is black and white and adding life into it. It’s a tiny bit of control too. No one gets to tell me I colored it wrong. For me it’s mostly indirect, I think. It’s meditation and peace that gives me back some of myself in the busyness of the world. A lot of times I color when I’m stuck on an idea or want to noodle through the thought processes and it’s a great way to do that (like doing the dishes). I’ve done it off and on for years now and it’s always a pleasure when I rediscover it. For the price of a box of markers and a drawing that can take upwards of 3 weeks to finish it’s an amazing tool. – Jaime Morgan

Colouring is one of those actions that allows the mind to wander creatively. It is the physical action of doing something, but not something TOO demanding that lets the mind run free. It fosters an engaged relaxation. And if you’re lucky, at the end of it you have something pretty to show for your time – Thalassa Therese

Coloring beautiful seasonal scenes assists me to attune to the energy of the upcoming Sabbat.  I also do pieces as devotional art to my Matron Goddess. – Kristin Barton

I started using adult coloring books about six months ago.  Prior to then I had been having vivid and disturbing dreams and when I was awake I would experience random feelings of anxiety.  An old friend suggested I meditate.  I knew I had trouble stopping my “mind chatter” long enough to actually meditate, so I tried adult coloring books.  When I’m coloring I slip into meditation, seamlessly.  I feel grounded, which allows me to better interpret dreams and deduce what’s driving my feelings.  Coloring has become a part of my spiritual practice even more so now.  I  assign meaning to the colors and shapes I’m coloring as part of my ritual or other spiritual workings.  – Mika Hills

[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

Coloring is a wonderfully centering practice. It is a way to get quiet within myself and slow the chatter of the monkey mind that so frequently takes hold of my attention. It is a fully sensory experience, the qualities of color and texture, the feel of the pencils in my hand. I color to ease anxiety, anger, and stress. This weekend, for example, I’m bringing my coloring supplies to the hospital so I have something to ease my worry as my father undergoes bypass surgery. I color for the sake of playing with the myriad hues and shades in my palette. Sometimes I set a sankalpa, an intention, before I sit down to color. As the pigments flow from pencil to paper the intention is set in motion and from that, I have a beautiful representation that I can hang upon my wall. – Nathania Apple

I find coloring to be very relaxing and calming. Just the act of touching my gel pens to paper, feeling the smoothness of the ink flow, and watching the picture come to life. Intricate, fiddly patterns are particularly quieting, because they can look a lot like noise at first, but as you color one section, then another, and then another, the picture starts to emerge. I’m finding this a metaphor for my spiritual development, especially this year. I’m an Initiate in my spiritual tradition, and gradually discovering all the layers of not only my tradition but parts of myself I haven’t addressed is not unlike coloring an intricate picture. Both require patience, a sense of wonder and discovery, and a willingness to allow the process to unfold. – Ravensong Phoenixfire, Wildflower Initiate

Coloring is a practice in mindfulness and focus. I can’t color and Facebook or Tweet. It’s one of the few times in my day where I’m only doing one thing with no screens in front of me. I like to color things that have some relationship with my current spiritual work. During a year long working with Baba Yaga, it was a whole lot of woods and at the end a picture of her. It helps me to really make a connection with the Goddess to literally be focused on her for a few hours to a few days depending on the level of detail of the image I’m coloring. – Root

When I color, whether a page in a child’s coloring book, a beautiful mandala, or doodles on a notepad, I am transported to a place where I can commune with my inner child.  Color, creativity, shape, and imagination blend together and bring a sense of joy.  Adding the activity of coloring into my spiritual practice does much the same thing.  I am able to bring the energy, creativity, and imagination of my childhood into the present, and mix it with the wisdom, guidance, and intention of my adult self.  Using different colors when creating a sigil can bring into the physical a much wider array of intent than a single color can convey.  Coloring a mandala can bring to my awareness my current mood, or even let me know something I am avoiding, simply by looking at the color palette I have chosen to use.  Using different colors to create doodles on a name paper or written petition can add nuanced dynamics to our magic.  Color, and the act of coloring, can indeed add a rainbow of possibilities into our creative and magical works. – Darrell “Ash” Standring

Family coloring night

Family coloring night [Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

Coloring plays a part in my spiritual practice by helping me turn off my busy mind and get in touch with the part of me that’s pre-verbal. It’s a symbolic gesture, images and colors and allows the analytical mind to rest. – Tanisha Rose Jolie

Coloring is like a labyrinth, I can shut out the world to process and express what I am feeling in colors, texture, and depth. Sometimes there are no words for the feeling, but there is a color. – Shelbi Dawn

I had tried for years to sit in a classic meditative style position with my eyes closed, clearing my mind and focusing on the stillness. Needless to say it is one of the things within my magical path that I have struggled the most to master, and probably never will. The racing thoughts and serious case of imagination overload never seems to leave my mind long enough to benefit from certain methods of meditation and mindfulness.

My husband successfully convinced me to sit down with him and color one day. After a few moments of resistance, I relented and sat down with a “adult coloring book.” Before I knew it thirty minutes had passed, I was more focused than I had been in a while, and the world around me felt still.

Whether one likes to color intricate patterns, childhood images and cartoons,or whether one prefers to color inside the lines or scribble color all over the page, the usefulness of coloring has a place in the adult and in the spiritual world. So don’t be surprised if you see a “Coloring for the Gods” workshop at your next Pagan convention.

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This column was made possible by the generous support of the members of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven, an eclectic, open, drop-in Pagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area.