This all started last Christmas, when Jen bought me a colouring book as one of my Christmas presents. Jen loves colouring books. She has lots of them with all sorts of themes. She finds them very relaxing, almost meditative, and she can sit colouring for hours. She thought that anchors would suit me and that the images might give me some inspiration for a new tattoo. She knows me so well. I loved it.
I had another reason to love it other than the anchors though. I’d read somewhere that staying within the lines and generating a coherent pattern was good brain training and that it had the potential to slow down the effects of diseases like Parkinson’s. My hands have been a bit worse lately – touch screens can be a nightmare on a bad day, there’s no telling where I’ll end up on the internet! So, it seemed to be a good idea to get the mind gym on the go. A challenge, it seems, is much better than a rest.
For some reason though I wasn’t feeling colour. Jen and I have been on drive to get creative lately and I’d bought some sketching pencils, so I decided to use shade instead. As it turned out that added an extra dimension to the experience that I had never expected. The pencils range from H to HB, H2 and H4. Before I started this little project that had meant nothing to me, but I soon learned that H is the hardest and most precise and as the range progresses the leads become softer and the lines wider and smudgier.
I began to find that there was not only satisfaction in staying within the lines and developing a pattern, but that there was pleasure in the feel of the different pencils and their interaction with the paper. I found myself enjoying the rough, scratchiness of the H with it’s light shade compared with the thick, dark lines and soft feel of the H4. As I continued, this became a natural part of the process and sometimes it even affected my choice of pencil.
It was only later, on reflection, that this struct me as odd. I would never have expected this level of sensitivity in my hands, not with the tremor. And as I began to think more about that, I began to understand how utterly consumed I had been by the process of shading. Hours had flown by and I had only stopped when I had to. My mind had been totally focused on the job at hand. In that sense it had been a state of meditation. It was mindfulness too, because at times I also pondered concepts that the process threw up, like ‘perfection’. When I made ‘mistakes’, went outside a line or didn’t like a shade I’d used, I realised that it didn’t matter. What mattered was trying, experimenting and learning. And all of this meant that I felt no effort in what I was doing. I stayed within the lines (mostly!) and I’m happy with the result.
It’s well recorded that meditation and mindfulness have positive health effects and for me this has proved the point. My hands and I must have been feeling very calm to achieve this. All I have to do now is to transfer that sense of calm into the rest of my life. That’s a huge challenge and, sadly, not just for me. This world we live in can be incredibly stressful for all of us at times, but possibly worse is the level of ambient stress that we can begin to accept as ‘normal’. Touch screens are a good example for me! But if you ever want to get away from all of that, you don’t have to go far. Just pick up a pencil and start shading.