For the past couple of years, adult colouring books have been quite the rage. Walk into any newsagent and there will be a display somewhere of them, particularly around Christmas time, Mothers Day, Fathers Day etc. as they are great gift ideas.
The idea is that they can be fun or a form of meditation, something to relax you and not just for children.
I guess they are a great money-spinner as once you’ve bought a colouring book, then you need to buy the pencils.
Some months ago I succumbed and purchased a mandala colouring book, then I bought the pretty coloured pens and pencils. Not content with that, I had to have a nice pencil case to keep them all tidy.
Then I sat down to do my ‘meditation’. I had to choose which colours, being really careful so that none of the little parts had the same colours side by side. Hmmm, starting to get a bit difficult here – but it’s only a colouring book and I’m an adult so I can handle this with one hand tied behind my back!
So, I selected a colour and started, and discovered it really wasn’t anything like meditation for me at all, as I was paranoid about colouring between the lines. Grown-ups shouldn’t go over the lines, because they are – well ‘grown-ups’!
I found it more difficult than I’d thought it would be as I discovered I have a bit of a neat fetish. So in doing the colouring in, I revealed the really pedantic side of myself.
I started thinking more about it, and likened it to many of the tasks we attempt in life.
As children when we start colouring in, there is no attempt to keep within the lines, not even any pretence of colouring according to the ‘rules’. Children have green bears – sort of – purple suns and various weird colours for things and they don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Really there isn’t, but we make it seem so.
Then the adults come along and tell them that the sun should be yellow, the bear should be brown or black an so on. Plus the child is praised profusely when they manage to keep within the lines. So they learn that colouring should be done a certain way, and when it is done to the satisfaction of the adult nearby, then they are rewarded for their efforts with praise.
As adults, we often approach life tasks much like the colouring in books. We’ve learnt that if we follow the ‘rules’, then we are praised, and most people like to be acknowledged positively for their efforts. So if we do the ‘wrong’ thing, or go over the lines, we beat ourselves up. Feel bad about what we’ve done and often give up because it’s too hard.
People who don’t conform to society’s rules, who don’t colour between the lines and dare to be different are often looked at with suspicion. What makes them so special that they can get away with being different?
I think too that the early stages of some mental illnesses, can be like that. Things don’t go according to the life rules, so that means they are different from the flock. Looking back now, I recall Kelly going through a phase of being quite different from the Kelly we knew. Our Kelly was precise, neat, tidy and part of ‘normal’ society. The changes were subtle, gradually becoming obvious to us, and it was puzzling. But not enough to make a big deal out of it – “She’s just going through a phase!” but that continued, until she wasn’t anything like our Kelly. She seemed to be someone quite different, embarrassing even, but now I see that it was the beginning of her mental illness and we just didn’t understand.
So perhaps we to relax and not worry so much about conforming, and look more kindly on those who don’t seem to be colouring between the lines.
I think that the really important part is doing the colouring in the way you want to do it, not the way others think it ‘should’ be done.