In past blogs I have written about ways to self soothe, including activities which when practised mindfully, help me to bring my feelings into focus, stop the rising tides of unmanageable emotions and short circuit the cycles of increasing impulses to manage those emotions by turning in on myself. I am always really pleased when I encounter new ways that help me to build variety to suit my many moods.
Colouring has been one way that I introduced a while ago in a very simple exercise to colour in a heart in colours representing my mood. This has been a great simple tool when I have been unable to concentrate on anything more complex.
For my birthday this month I spent some of my birthday money on a copy of the 'Secret Garden' the best selling 'adult' colouring in book. Before I even get my pencils out of the box, there is a joy in the beautiful drawings. There is a treasure trove of variety and complexity, as well as a treasure hunt with things to look out for as I progress through the book.
Above all I am able use my time colouring in mindfully. One of my increasing struggles is to justify to myself spending time doing something which is not strictly 'productive'. Non judgement is essential to allow myself to enjoy choosing the colours and then the products of my time spent colouring.
The abstraction of colour allows me to become free from thinking in words or indeed numbers, which for me is a vital part of managing my emotions. In a sense my tendency as a wordy person is to veer towards 'rational mind' and use words to bring clarity to what is going on. Sometimes, though my emotions have exhausted me so much that words become confused and linear thought is impossible. Working my way through the floral complexities of 'The Secret Garden' (other pen and ink drawing colouring books are out there) there is no right and wrong way to begin. I can choose a page to match how much time I have, what I feel like doing. There is no colour key, I can randomly select colours and observe the outcome, without trying to impose colour discipline on the activity, or I can toy with colour combinations in a more organised way.
Here are some simple rules to help me relax into colouring make the most of the activity as mindful.
1) Whatever is going on around me or within me, anchor myself in the here and now. The act of holding the book and the pencil ensures that my feelings do not carrying me away through day dreaming or flashbacks.
2) Match my breathing to the action of colouring, so that physically I am addressing any tensions related to negative emotions such as anger or anxiety.
3) Don't allow the silence to tempt me to think about doing other things at the same time. It is tempting to follow other thoughts that may come related to my anxieties in particular. Here the mindful principles of observe, describe help to bring me back to noticing what is going on in the page as I colour.
4) Remember it doesn't have to be perfect. There is a freedom in colouring in without knowing the end result - or indeed caring what it will be. As a striver towards excellence all my life in the hope of acceptance this is incredibly soothing and helps me to give myself a 'break'.