Unravelling an anxious mind through doodles and meditative drawing


It’s a habit of mine, doodling, when I’m not writing, that is. I doodle while on the phone or in meetings – well, it does improve concentration, psychologists tell us so. Although, they would likely be more interested in my state of mind when they look at my doodles right now

Usually, my doodles would be circular rather like spirals which, according to doodle experts, indicates someone who solves different problems and thinks about tasks. I concur with that. I also sometimes flirt with doodling flowers which indicates someone who has a positive attitude and in good spirits. Sounds all good right? Well, not anymore.

Doodles provide a wake-up Recently after a conversation with my sister I noticed my doodles had changed and were looking more boxy. We had been talking about the lockdown and I noticed during that conversation that I wasn’t relaxed. I was feeling anxious and unsettled. Although during the lighter moments of our conversation I had been drawing petals, maybe an indication that a part of me still harboured a positive side.

This intrigued me so I looked into what this type of doodle means and found that drawing boxes, particularly ones that form a pile or stack (which mine were) indicate feelings of being overwhelmed. I hadn’t really thought I was overwhelmed but actually seeing that in my doodle made me realise (or at least accept the fact) that I was.

Releasing feelings through meditative drawing I am by no means an artist but when I am overwhelmed, I find solace in meditative drawing, which I teach. What I particularly love about this form of meditation is that it releases emotions and creates a path of self-discovery. Through patterns and shapes, you often find random words making their way on to the page. It allows you to reflect and express yourself in ways that sometimes, words cannot. Often reflecting on what you have drawn can produce unexpected insight and inspiration.

Before I start to draw, I focus on breathing deeply, consciously breathing into the areas that feel tense such as my neck, shoulders and lower back. Closing my eyes and focusing on the breath prepares me before I start to draw. Usually, my intuition or a sudden urge will be an indication for me to start drawing. Or perhaps a word might spring to mind such as ‘stress’ or ‘calm’ and I will use that as my prompt and draw what that emotion looks like. I usually end up with something abstract, and if anything, it does encourage a chuckle at how wild my stress can look, and what colours I have chosen to use for that emotion.

Reflecting…the most important part of drawing Once the pen, pencil or even crayon hits the paper I have no clue what pattern will emerge, as opposed to doodling. I just go with the flow and see what develops, just like doodling. There is no inner critic which, I often experience when I write because I am not drawing to be an artist, I am drawing to release my emotions. These patterns may be waves, zig-zags, circles, scribbles, fireworks, a whirlwind or a tree – I did stay it was random. But the most interesting and important part of meditative drawing is reflecting. Reflecting on what you have drawn, what thoughts arise and, what you discover about yourself. Always, when I draw, I wonder what will I discover next? Certainly, drawing does bring in feelings of calm even during moments of anxiety, stress, and frustration. It is an instant mood lifter.

Doodling Vs meditative drawing There is, of course a fine line between the two forms of expression. Doodling, I will do while listening to a phone conversation, it helps me to focus and retain information, and while it is meditative, I tend to do it while multi-tasking. Whereas in meditative drawing I am completely focused on drawing as I seek to bring clarity to how I am feeling. Negative feelings are often offloaded and as I draw, I feel my body and mind sink into relaxation. Both are good outlets for calming the mind, stimulating new ideas and encouraging creativity. However, for me, the main difference is the reflection. I’ve often been surprised by the thoughts that arise when I reflect on what I have drawn. One time I drew a tangle of spirals which prompted me to write: ‘Tangled up in our worries we gather up moments of peace. This is how we live, always trying to untangle the ravels we make.’

Of course, we are always untangling, not only worries but all our emotions. There’s so much unravelling to be done but doodling, drawing meditation or any other form of creativity can surely get us there.

Find out more about meditative drawing at www.mindfulthinkingatplay.com or listen to ‘The SlowDown’ podcast on creativity available on Spotify.


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