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Drawing as a form of meditation

Updated on December 6, 2012

Don't just sit there! Do something!

For most people meditation brings up images of austere monks sitting in barren rooms in hours of silence. While this is perfectly useful for some individuals, it is certainly not the only way to meditate. As an artist and a Buddhist I have been very interested in creative ways to focus energy. Afterall, meditation is nothing more than a technique to do exactly that. If just seeing someone sitting on the floor in a lotus posture fills your head with thoughts of pain and discomfort then traditional meditation may not be for you. When your mind is distracted by such thoughts you have already begun self-defeat. The key to successful meditation is getting and staying "in-the-zone" for extended periods of time. That particular trigger will be different depending on who you are. Meditative states can be achieved through any activity. I am particularly adept at drawing, so I would like to share my knowledge about methods relating to drawing specifically for anyone else who may have similar preferences.


Two Types of Meditation Drawing

Empty your mind or Focus your mind

When you decide to draw as meditation you first need to be clear on what exactly you're trying to achieve (or not trying to achieve). Let me explain: There are numerous reasons to meditate and or draw (I'll refer to that partnership as draw/meditate from here on out). One very popular reason people draw/meditate is to reduce stress. Some people are just looking for balance in their lives. Other people meditate to find solutions to problems. Still others, are looking for enlightenment. Why do you need to draw/meditate at this particular time in your life? Once you answer this question for yourself you can begin to follow some of the techniques I'll explain.

For our purposes the drawings/meditations will serve one of the two basic purposes:1) To empty your mind or 2) To focus your mind. However',with practice you will soon see that one achieves the other just as effectively. As you read through the experiences you will probably "get it" intellectually. Don't confuse understanding theory with actually having the experience first hand. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING! Drawing/Meditation is something you do. The importance of actually going through the experiences yourself cannot be stressed enough.

An Experience to Empty Your Mind

Automatic Drawing

First of all, why would someone want to empty his/her mind? Easy answer: We carry around so much baggage as a result of our conditioning that in order to live with a free spirit and tap into our creative potential we first have to rid ourselves of all the filters we carry around. Grab a small sheet of paper, a pen and follow these instructions.

Preparation: 1) find a place alone and 10 minutes of uninterrupted time. The Process: 1) Begin moving your pen on the paper. Don't try to draw anything specific. Just continue to move your pen slowly and let whatever comes off the tip flow onto the paper. Don't analyze it. Don't stop to evaluate it. Don't judge it in any way. It's more than likely going to look pretty abstract, but occasionally images may suggest themselves as you draw, if they do go with it until you feel something else, then follow that stream of conscienceness. Continuosly draw/meditate for 10 minutes (set a timer ahead of time so you don't interrupt yourself by looking at the clock). Some people like to have some gentle instrumental music playing, but nothing too drastic. Some people just prefer silence. Either way is ok.

The point of this drawing/meditation is the experience, not the outcome of the drawing. In fact, it's probably best to just toss out the finished drawing when you're finished so that you're not tempted to go back and critique it later, thus unravelling all of your efforts.

Enjoy the peace you feel after completing this experience. With practice you can maintain this state of drawing/meditation for an hour +

An Experience to Focus Your Mind

Creating Mandalas

Sometimes you just need focus. We live in a very multifacited and sometimes chaotic world, and drawing/meditation allows us to create order from the chaos. Creating mandalas are one way to achieve this. I'll lead you through this experience:

Preparation: 1) Get a medium/large sheet of paper, a pen, and a compass. Something round like a cup works well too if you don't have a compass. 2) Come to this experience with an issue that you need to focus on or need some clarity about. The Process: 1) Draw a perfect circle in the middle of the paper 2) Write your issue in the middle of the circle. For example, if I needed to focus on making the best career choice for myself I would write "career" in the circle. 3) Next, begin to just draw/meditate around the circle images that come to mind when you think of your issue. These can be literal things or just graphic symbols that denote feelings (like jagged lines for anxiety). Continue to just build images around your focal point until you reach the outer edges of your paper.

You'll be surprised at how this exercise can bring clarity to your thinking just by simply drawing/meditating around your issue in the center of the circle. You may actually want to keep this drawing if it's some question you need to develop an answer for. Also, it can just be used to focus for a performance or presentation.

Great Stuff on Amazon

These books are great resources. They approache drawing/meditation from a different angle than I have with the mandalas and automatic drawings, but they compliment those methods.

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      michael 2 years ago

      its not possible to empty the mind, you can slow it down into a relaxed state but there will always be activity. and you wont be able to slow it down at will.

      meditation is observing whats going on without interfering or trying to control the mind. so the phrase 'emptying the mind' is a nonsense

    • profile image

      holger-wendt 4 years ago

      Hi Trevor and everyone else who follows this blog. Michelle from Holland, and I, from Sweden, are just about to launch a zen drawing game, drawing daily for a month, and I just wanted you to know that you are welcome to join. It's on Facebook. Look for: zen drawing game - public

      Warm regards, Holger

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Hi Trevor and everyone else who follows this blog. Michelle from Holland, and I, from Sweden, are just about to launch a zen drawing game, drawing daily for a month, and I just wanted you to know that you are welcome to join. It's on Facebook. Look for: zen drawing game - public

      Warm regards, Holger

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont

      Drawing is definitely my meditation ...

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 5 years ago

      Oh, I love this meditation idea. I've done something like that before but not in such a focused way. Maybe it's time to try it again. Thanks!

    • TrevorLedford profile image

      TrevorLedford 5 years ago

      @anonymous: That's great. There's certainly a place for color theory and drawing techniques, but sometimes instinct is the best guide. Watercolor is a great medium for spontaneous mark-making. Thanks for visiting my lens.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm just finishing watercolor classes. I've never drawn before, much less worked with colors. I struggled with trying to draw something that's typically watercolor art- seascapes, still life, etc. My final project is to pick a poem and create a watercolor representing it. I had written a haiku a few years back and used it as my inspiration. My instinct told me to just go with the flow and be mindful of what I was painting. I was literally in the zone. The watercolor is abstract something much more that I can relate to. Your article has given me better insight to get the creative juices flowing. Thank you and Om Shanthi

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 5 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi I have tried walking meditation and like it very much.This is the first time reading about drawing as meditation,will have to give it a try.Thanks for the info.

    • earthybirthymum profile image

      earthybirthymum 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Drawing can definitely be a meditative experience. Thanks for sharing

    • Holysheepskin LM profile image

      Holysheepskin LM 6 years ago

      I totally get this lens! My art is exactly that to me...a form of meditation, a way to clear my mind and let it rest. Sometimes I am amazed at just how long I can stay in that wonderful place of serene. My most creative works come when I really detach from the world.

    • Inkhand profile image

      Inkhand 6 years ago

      I never tried meditation by emptying my mind, it's so kind to not to think, I guess I will try your suggestions for "Automatic Drawing". A great lens.

    • semas profile image

      semas 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing a creative meditation method.

    • TrevorLedford profile image

      TrevorLedford 6 years ago

      @aesta1: That's great. I really hope you do. It's a wonderful experience.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This lens is just wonderful. I will certainly try this.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      There's some very helpful tips here. As someone who finds it hard to empty her mind and who does like drawing, this form of meditation may just help me :)

    • TrevorLedford profile image

      TrevorLedford 6 years ago

      It's totally meditative (as is coloring). It's my therapy; much cheaper than a psychologist : )Thanks for your comment.

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 6 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      I find doodling very meditative. Love mandalas.