Category Archives: meditation

Just doodling around

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYears ago when I worked at a hospital, every day started with morning rounds, in which staff going off night shift gave us day shift staff members a comprehensive report on each patient. I am not a morning person, so rounds was a great way for me to start the day. I could just listen, ask the occasional question, and…doodle. I doodled through rounds constantly in my Week at a Glance book with my favorite pen at the time, a Rotring cartridge pen. It might have looked like I was still half asleep, or bored, or not listening, but that was actually not true. In fact, I think it was the opposite; I think I was in an exceptionally tuned in zone. Throughout the years, doodling has remained an art activity of choice for me, both personally and in work with clients.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe think doodling is something you do when you lose focus, but in reality, it is a preemptive measure to stop you from losing focus. Additionally, it has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing.  -Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADoodling has gained more attention recently as a mindfulness technique. Good old doodling in book margins during class or meetings will probably always be around, but the use of more varied media and more methodized doodling techniques abound. Zentangle, for example, is a method of creating beautiful images by drawing structured patterns to enhance focus, relaxation, and creativity. When I searched doodling on youTube, I found a TED Talks presentation by Sunni Brown, a visual thinking consultant, instructional doodling videos, and many videos that people have made of their own doodles. Here’s a CBS report called The Higher Purpose of Doodling:

I also found numerous articles on doodling, including I Draw Pictures All Day by designer Alma Hoffmann, Doodling Your Way to a More Mindful Life by art therapist Cathy Malchiodi, and an interesting article about doodling as an art therapy process on a site called Enchanted Mind. You can cite these sources the next time your teacher or boss calls you out for not paying attention because you’re doodling.


k1, p1

I learned how to knit as a kid, but then knitting sat on the back burner for about twenty-five years before I took it up again. I’m really glad it had a revival in my life, because there’s so much I love about knitting. The colors, textures, warmth, and beauty of yarns. The variety of projects, patterns, and stitches. The community that gathers at my wonderful local knitting store, where people share patterns, joys, sorrows, and news to the gentle clicking of knitting needles. My rhythmically moving hands. Watching stitches form into a perfect pattern.

I’ve used knitting with a few art therapy clients over the years and I think they’ve felt some of the kinds of benefits mentioned above, particularly the tactile, rhythmic, meditative comfort knitting offers.

For those also into knitting and/or recycled art, here’s a knitting artist to inspire you. Ivano Vitali spins yarn out of recycled newspaper and knits up gorgeous garments and wall hangings on huge needles.


Black Bijou (2011) is a cardigan and skirt outfit. The cardigan is knitted with black ads and has a white edge crocheted with newspaper in a daisy motif. The transparent skirt is made with the black edges of the newspaper.

Boa (2005) was knit from the yellow pages.

Lots more here!


The new year has me thinking about mandalas. Something about coming full circle, back to the beginning again. A mandala is a circle, a symbol of the universe. A Hindu or Buddhist mandala is a circle enclosing a square with a deity on each side that is used as an aid to meditation.

Some art therapists make mandala-making a primary part of their therapy practice. Although this is not true of me, I see a mandala as a representation of wholeness, and experience has shown me that creating mandalas can be very therapeutic. In spiritual traditions, mandalas may be used for focusing attention and establishing a sacred space. In therapy, creating a safe space is paramount, and focus and self-reflection are ongoing goals. With children that are very disorganized, that lack focus, that have difficulty containing themselves, a paper with a pre-drawn circle to work within can be very helpful. It creates a frame, a container, and the circle form surely contributes to a feeling of centeredness. According to Carl Jung, who wrote extensively about mandala symbolism, “The severe pattern imposed by a circular image of this kind compensates the disorder and confusion of the psychic state—namely, through the construction of a central point to which everything is related.”

An eight year-old girl came to see me weekly for art therapy. She and two younger siblings landed in foster care because their father used regular, severe corporal punishment as his primary teaching and discipline strategy. She struggled with severe anxiety, among other things, and each week when I greeted her, her brow was furrowed with worry. But she loved to make art, and found some safety in the sessions. She was easily engaged and lively, and enjoyed the looseness and playfulness of the art process. But experience had taught her to contain herself and to avoid messing up at all costs. So when she did allow herself to loosen up, she could only enjoy it for a little while before the anxiety came flooding back.

In a memorable session, we spent 50 minutes blowing colored feathers into the air (her idea) with a hair dryer (my idea). After we had spent some time on this playful, silly, fun activity, I became aware that she was becoming anxious. This surfaced in the form of a kind of forced jocularity, a change from fun silly to nervous silly. And I knew that giving her a way to contain her anxiety (Jung’s “disorder and confusion of the psychic state”) was very important. So we brought things down to earth and made this mandala (Jung’s “construction of a central point to which everything is related”).


This time lapse video of Tibetan lamas creating a sacred sand mandala is fascinating to watch. It is over 15 minutes long and spans a four-day process. It’s a slow start, but if you can stick with it, I think you will find that the simple observation of the amazing process is a meditation, and the magnificence of what emerges over time is a revelation. For those who are not Tibetan sand mandala-savvy, there’s a surprise ending.