Coloring in books for adults have many benefits, but one that is being increasingly reported is ‘mindfulness’. It is being claimed that coloring in is a ‘mindful’ activity, and even a form of meditation.
So first of all, what is mindfulness?
I always go back to the definition given by my long-time yoga instructor. He said that mindfulness is about being fully present in this moment in time, and not ‘reversing or rehearsing’.
Reversing means thinking about the past, and going over previous events in your mind. It means you’re focusing on something that happened 5 minutes ago, or an hour ago, or yesterday, or even years ago.
Rehearsing refers to thinking about the future. What you’re going to do, planning on doing, wanting to do. It’s making to-do lists in your head and mentally running through them, what you’ll do, how you’ll do it, what might happen, what might not.
When we’re reversing or rehearsing, we’re mentally reliving the past or projecting onto the future. This means that our minds are not really present in the here and now. We’re focused elsewhere, and missing out on a lot of what’s happening in the present moment.
Being mindful is about actively being present in the here and now.
Coloring in does not equal Mindfulness
The act of coloring in is not necessarily mindful. Mindfulness is not a designated activity, but self-awareness.
If you’re shading in the leaves on a beautifully illustrated green tree whilst mentally rehashing the argument you had with a co-worker that afternoon – you’re not being mindful. You’re reversing.
If you’re coloring in the petals of a dahlia whilst worrying about how you’re going to get the house cleaned before your in-laws turn up on the weekend – you’re not being mindful. You’re rehearsing.
Being fully present in the moment you are living, and opening all your senses up to the world around you, is what mindfulness is all about. It takes practice and time to develop, and while coloring in can be relaxing, that does not equate to mindfulness (despite what all those media reports are currently claiming).
When you catch yourself mentally wandering off into the past or the future instead of focusing on what’s before you – a coloring page, a conversation with a friend, a domestic task, or even enjoying the afternoon sun on your face and the smells of a barbeque as you walk down your street – practicing mindfulness means developing the self-awareness you need to gently bring your mind back to the present moment.
So it is possible to be mindful when you’re coloring in a picture, but there is no such thing as a ‘mindfulness coloring book’. Mindfulness does not come in the form of a book, or an activity such as coloring. It is simply about living in the present moment (though it’s not always simple to do). You can be equally as mindful at a rock concert as sitting at the kitchen table coloring in – or not. It’s all in the mind.