Meditating and me, we just don’t click. I can remember lying in bed as a child, struggling to fall asleep, and trying to count sheep. I never even made it to ten before I’d be off track, imagining a wolf hiding behind a fence, waiting for his lunch, thinking about what I myself had had for lunch, and would there be any mango left over for lunch tomorrow, and thinking about how Soandso had sat with Whojimmywhatsit again, and my mind would be off racing.
Fast forward to adulthood, and I have the same problem of extreme distractibility as soon as I am supposed to immerse myself in concentrating on nothing. I’ve tried and failed to empty my mind so many times, and as much as I love a challenge, I do not like repeated failure.
This past summer, though, as I was hunting for how-to books for making art with my kids, I stumbled upon a series of books about pattern-making called Zentangle.
The Zentangle Method is a way to create images by drawing structured patterns. It was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, who found that she entered a meditative state as she drew her tangle patterns. According to their web site, Zentangle began when Maria described “her feelings of timelessness, freedom and well-being and complete focus on what she was doing with no thought or worry about anything else.”
And it really is an all-absorbing, relaxing and fulfilling way to focus on something while thinking of nothing.
Carol told me recently about a tip someone had given her about how to occupy herself while sitting keeping her kids on task doing homework. You know how sometimes, when you are sitting with your kids while they are doing homework and you get the urge to stick a hot poker in your eye just so that you can have something else to think about other than how much you’d like to escape? Grab knitting needles instead. It is more productive and less likely to end in bloodshed. Knitting, once you are past the absolute beginner stage, is a brainless and soothing way to keep your hands busy when your mind has to be occupied. Knitting also has the enormous value of giving you something in return for your effort, and at the end of the homework session, you will both have accomplished something other than screaming. Drawing patterns has become that something for me.
Productivity is part of why I fail so spectacularly at meditation. Believe me, I do get the irony of wanting meditation to be productive, but let’s face it, it’s not like I have lots of time to devote to getting it right. I struggle and struggle and in the end I feel that I have wasted my time and energy and emerged with nothing, but not the nothing I was supposed to be aiming for.
Doodling patterns gets me into that totally focussed state of mind, gives me a feeling of well-being, and at the end of a doodling session, I have an image to show for it. That is enormously satisfying. I am working my way through doodling the letters of the alphabet. This is what I made while the kids did math:
If you’d like a quick tutorial on how to make one of the Zentangle designs, grab any old sheet of paper and something to draw with and follow along: