This spring my friend Deb and I suffered a tremendous loss when her husband, and my good friend, passed away after a heroic battle with cancer. None of my usual coping mechanisms (like journaling) seemed to be working and I felt like I was floundering when suddenly I remembered a blog post by Ajoobacats (http://ajoobacatsblog.com/2015/06/05/a-different-type-of-book-review-millie-marottas-animal-kingdom-a-colouring-book-adventure/) about adult coloring books that had intrigued me. Though I’ve never been artistically inclined, the thought of having something positive to do, rather than just sitting there day after day thinking or trying to write, was appealing. With a coloring book Deb and I wouldn’t have to generate drawings, just color them in. How hard could that be? But before I purchased one, still somewhat skeptical, I consulted my friend Carla Schorr Rose, a Creative Arts Therapist at Children's Hospital at Montefiore, to see if she thought the books actually worked.
Carla told me that she uses them in her work, where she deals daily with loss and illness, and finds them very beneficial for her patients and their families.Here’s why she says adult coloring books have a therapeutic value:
“When you give your mind a task to do that requires focus and concentration, the usual chatter of the ‘monkey mind’ moves to the background, allowing your conscious thoughts to settle. Coloring difficult patterns does this automatically and effortlessly, causing a calming state of mind.”
This sounded exactly like what Deb and I were looking for at the moment; a way to contain racing and repetitive thoughts and bring some order to our worlds. She loved coloring as a child and was enthusiastic. I was less so, having had a traumatic experience with an elementary school art teacher. However, willing to try anything, I went to the local bookstore and purchased an adult coloring book with quotes and intricate drawings (somehow having words accompanying the art made it less scary for me!) and two boxes of colored pencils. We met in Pittsford, NY and set up our small creative station at a picnic table along the Erie Canal. It was a beautiful day and, despite myself, I felt a rush of excitement as I gazed at my pristine Crayola Twistable Colored Pencils. Though I had remembered how much I disliked drawing, I had forgotten the thrill I always got when I realized that I had a plethora of colors to choose from and to put wherever I wanted. Finally I would be in control of what was happening!
Deb and I colored by the canal for almost three hours. In that time we only finished one picture each but the longer we colored the better we felt. What Carla said was absolutely true, as you color, you find yourself beginning to think in the present tense and your various thoughts and worries gradually begin to sort themselves out. Whether you talk intermittently or color in silence, you’re left feeling calm and deeply relaxed, similar to what you’d achieve with other meditative techniques. We felt so good by the end of our artistic experiment that we celebrated with some Chenin Blanc and Herkimer Chocolate Cheese Fudge at a nearby wine bar!
I guess the moral of this story is that sometimes, especially in times of trouble, words will fail even those of us who write for a living. When this happens, don’t despair. Instead, try another artistic medium and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised!