Tangled Up in Zen

Life is crazy these days. Between a pandemic and politics, we’re living in a world of confusion and uncertainty. Emotions run high, spirits are low, and life as we once knew it is a thing of the past. No one knows for sure where we’re heading on when we’ll get there.

Day after day my e-mail program shows more and more information about meditation. There are a lot of meditation courses, tapes, and programs available — some online, some downloadable, some free, some for a fee. I’ve taken part in a few online group meditation sessions, and I’ve enjoyed them.

Still, getting me to sit down, sit still, and be silent for twenty minutes or more is quite a challenge. After a few days of the online meditations, I found myself getting too busy to log on to the group. I had too many other things I wanted to be doing here in my art studio.

Making time or taking time to meditate is hard for me, so I’m fortunate to have discovered how restful and relaxing art can be when approached from the right perspective. Yes, art can become a form of meditation, a mindful practice that can bring a feeling of peace and well-being.

I’ve noticed it with graphite drawing. It happens a bit with oil painting, too. But without a doubt the one way I can always get into that blissful meditative state is through doodling.

I’m not the only one who’s discovered that, of course. Back in 2003, a couple of artists — Rick and Maria — realized how beneficial doodling was, felt it was important to promote the idea, and created what we know today as ZentanglesSince then, others have taken the same essential idea, and have promoted it as zen-doodling. If you do a quick search using either term, you’ll come up with lots of information, lots of books, tutorials, and other resources.

In the craziness of the the world around us, I’ve been playing around again with doodling, using it as a morning meditation. It’s refreshing. It’s beautiful. It’s deeply satisfying on its own level. Doodling, you see, is something we all do, and when we do it with a purpose… well, first, it’s surprising to see how quickly time passes while we’re doodling away in a Zen-like state.

Here are three zentangles I made this morning:

ZenTangles 10-21-2020

My zentangles aren’t much to look at compared to the exquisite doodles some artists make, but comparison is neither the point nor the purpose. Zentangles or zen-doodles are all about doing, not about what a doodle looks like when it’s done.

Unlike my “Fletcher Doodles” — the doodle-inspired drawings I create while waiting for my husband at the retinologist’s office — these doodles aren’t intended to represent anything at all. They’re simply little works of art designed to bring pleasure and peace of mind through the quiet process of mindful, meditative drawing.

Each of my doodles (above) measures 3-1/2″ square, the size suggested by the official Zentangle website. I’ve written about the process before, but I’ll share it again here.

The artist begins with a sense of gratitude, expressing thanks for the materials. Then, in a quiet state of mind — using either a pencil or a pen — the artist places a small dot in each corner. These dots are then connected to form a border. Curved lines — called strings — are then drawn inside the area and then the doodling begins. The initial drawings may be made with a pencil, but the doodling itself is done with ink.

There are lots of ways to doodle, and in time I hope to learn a few new shapes and patterns to create. For now, I’m just keeping it simple, sweetheart, and using lines, circles, dots, and little doo-dads to fill in the various tangles — the different areas outlined by the strings.

Zentangles has become a thriving business, it seems, with a program to certify teachers, give workshops, and sell Zentangle-related merchandise, including “project packs.” If you really want to get good at tangling, you can check it all out at the official site.

For me, well, no. I’m content to do my own simple doodling without investing a lot in training or materials. To take doodling classes or follow project tutorials would detract from the purpose, in my opinion. Doodling isn’t something I want to take too seriously. I love to doodle because it’s such a lovely way to pass the time. I love to doodle because it does quiet my mind and settle my emotions. I love to doodle because it’s the best form of meditation for me to practice.

Sure, I could do more with my doodles. I could shade them, color them in, learn more intricate patterns and designs — and most likely I will do a bit of that. But mostly I just want to doodle for the sake of doodling, to sit quietly and listen to nature sounds while my pen moves over the paper. That’s all I want to do.

It’s a crazy world we live in, and it’s good to find a little peace now and then.

17 Comments

  1. I love the look of the zentangles. I have tried doodling, but I am never pleased with the product. For me, painting is enough to get me in a mindful zone that tunes out all the chatter, even when I am displeased with the product. I think if I do something free form, it might be just swirling about the gansai colors and watching what they do.

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    1. We can find peace in many different forms of art. I don’t get into the meditative state so much with painting because my mind is too actively involved in making choices and decisions. It feels much more intuitive for me when I’m drawing — or doodling. Plus I love using black and white. That alone makes me more thoughtful, I think,

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  2. I have never really got into angle because I resented anyone trade marking doodling for a long time. it put me off, since I used to do pages and pages of doodles many moons ago as a twenty something at uni. As time went on, I did have a go, but found having to look up the tangles irritating and would rather simply just doodle. after many years, I understand the process vs product nature of it, but I would still just rather doodle. I think I said the other day and see someone else said, that they find zen in painting. I find it in watercolour play and like you in graphite drawing.

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    1. I used to make ink doodles back in high school. It was the only “artistic” thing I was capable of doing. I can see them now as a form of art. At the time I figured people would just laugh if they saw any of them them. I don’t know that my “doodles” are really “Zentangles” — I don’t really know too much about the real process involved, so I think of mine more as “Zen-Doodles”. I did several this morning, just playing around with different patterns. I want to play around a little with colors, too. Mostly, I just want to enjoy the process. It really does quiet my mind and bring a feeling of peace. Graphite drawing does the same thing when I’m working on something very repetitive.

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  3. The whole point of meditation can get lost in the commercialization of the process. We are conditioned to produce that final ‘thing’ and bypass the enjoyment and thoughtfulness (or thoughtLESSness) of what we are doing. Stitch, draw, doodle, paint–whatever gives you time to slow down, enjoy your thoughts, settle into just being! It’s all good for the soul.

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    1. Yes, for me it’s all about getting lost in the moment, forgetting about time, and simply enjoying whatever actions I’m performing. Doodling and graphite drawing work best for me, I’ve found. I can get completely caught up in making marks.

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