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When art is meditative

Let’s face it. The world is a chaotic place and it’s not easy to find peace here. No matter how hard we try to remain calm, something or the other is bound to shake us up. Maybe looking for an external source of calm can’t help. Perhaps, going inwards is the only solution. But how do we do that? Some meditate, others pray. Some read books, others cook. Some find it in art; they draw, sketch, paint, sculpt or carve. Each one has their own means of finding solace. 

Remember this scene from the epic war movie Troy? Odysseus watches a man carving a toy horse to give to his son upon returning home. Even medieval soldiers are known to have dabbled in art, to find a moment of peace in their war-ridden lives! No wonder creativity and art therapy often feature in anecdotal recovery journeys.

UK artist Adrian Hill is said to have been the first to have used the term ‘art therapy’ to describe the application of image creation to therapeutic experiences. In the 1940s, he’d been trying to recover from tuberculosis and had found tremendous relief through drawing and painting. Hill believed that ‘completely engrossing the mind (and fingers) … [and] releasing the creative energy of the frequently inhibited patient’ could fortify them against life’s ups and downs.

Unlike other forms of drawing, Zentangle requires using a pen. So, that means there’s no room for ‘perfection’, thereby pushing us to simply flow with the ink. 


We don’t have to be artists to engage in art. It is just a matter of letting go and flowing with the strokes. Of course, some of us might not be very comfortable with it, especially, if we’re first-timers. Perhaps, Zentangle could help us there. It is a newly emerging art form created by US-based Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. Roberts brought the Zen aspect with him, having lived as a monk for about 17 years, while Thomas’ lettering and calligraphy shaped the ‘tangle’ aspect.

Unlike other forms of drawing, Zentangle requires using a pen. So, that means there’s no room for ‘perfection’, thereby pushing us to simply flow with the ink. Explains certified Zentangle teacher Dilip Patel, “What differentiates it from the other forms of sketching, doodling or drawing is its method and the philosophy behind it. While sketching or other forms of drawing may require pre-planning and a subject matter, Zentangle is created without any pre-planning. And while doodling is an unconscious and secondary process, Zentangle is a conscious and primary process.”

Zentangle requires utmost concentration. It helps participants zone out of their everyday problems and simply focus on creating random and repetitive patterns on paper. When Patel trained 44 drug addicts and alcoholics, 42 of them reported feeling calmer engaging in Zentangle. Experts believe that this relaxed feeling probably has a correlation with neuro-kinetic energy. We’ve often heard the importance of mind-body relationship in wellbeing. Clinical psychologist and neuro-kinetic pranic healer Dr Joy Banerjee explains, “Zentangle requires concentrating on uniform designs and styles. This helps connect the missing neural energy pathways and subsequently overcome negative emotions, through energy healing.”

According to studies conducted by John Nordell, a Zentangle trainer, the art form has been found to reduce anxiety in senior citizens and even cancer patients.


Perhaps, it’s got to do with being in the present moment. Maybe, concentrating on the now helps steer clear of past pains and future fears. Prithvi P M certainly thinks so. Prithvi is a primary school teacher, who also moonlights as a mural artist. But her most favourite form of art is Zentangle. She says, “Whenever I’m angry or frustrated, Zentangle comes to my aid. It gives me a creative outlet to vent out. It’s about being in the moment. You’re conscious of every second because you’re using a pen to create random, abstract patterns. It’s like meditating.” 

Prithvi is not alone in finding that Zentangle helps reduce negative emotions. Many of Patel’s students too feel the same way. In fact, according to studies conducted by John Nordell, a Zentangle trainer, the art form has been found to reduce anxiety in senior citizens and even cancer patients. That’s not all. It’s been observed that Zentangles are of great help to trauma therapists who may have to deal with Vicarious Trauma–VT (whereby therapists start experiencing the same or similar symptoms as the patients they treat), owing to the nature of their profession. While not all therapists might experience this response trigger, it’s not uncommon for many to succumb to it, reveals a study conducted by Martha H Moore, a social and behavioural sciences researcher. According to her findings, the mindfulness involved in practising Zentangle is very beneficial in keeping trauma specialists from experiencing VT. 

One thing’s clear: Zentangle is more than just an art form. Perhaps, it even makes a strong case for inclusion in art therapy. When trying to find peace outside of ourselves seems futile, we need only look inwards. Art has long provided a means to find that calm space within ourselves. With Zentangle, we can not only find solace, but also learn to live in the moment, trying to form patterns without plans.

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