In the marketplace of therapies for the soul and mind and body, colouring books are a relatively recent innovation. Nothing new about colouring in; generations of parents and teachers have used books of pictures and patterns for children to amuse them, develop motor skills, stimulate imagination and pass the time in a useful pastime. But colouring books for grown ups? Sophisticated, expensive, in a wide diversity of themes, requiring the same skills and dispositions as children - patience, care, paying attention, imaginative expression? Really?
The psychology of relaxation is complicated and different for all of us. For some recreation is rest, for others activity, for others socialising and yet others solitude. The means of relaxation is equally varied. Sport, art, tapestry, walking, bird-watching, poetry, photography, music, film, quilting, archaeology, reading, writing, swimming, tai chi (and for me chai tea!) - and these are only the ones I can think of that I know my friends do.
And I have a young friend who does colouring books. He does a lot more and lives a very active, even at times exhaustingly full life - but he does colouring. The photo is of one of the pages in his latest colouring book. I met with him for coffee and cake recently and we talked, laughed, enjoyed the food, and then did some colouring. He invited me to do some of the leaves on a particularly complicated pattern of interwoven branches. So we sat and talked some more, and coloured in. What makes a colouring book so relaxing is that the process is very simple. Choose your colour and stay within the lines; colour each shape till the pattern is completed. Simple.
But what was happening was far from simple. It was rich with possibility, a social interchange of two friends collaborating in a task that needed care, patience, co-operation, staying within the lines, agreeing the colours, or at least trusting each other that the colours would be "right". This was a shared project, though my part would be very small, and by the time we parted, by far the largest part of the page had still to be coloured. But when it's finished it will be the work of two people, and it won't matter, indeed it will never be known, that more than one person did it.
In another sense it matters immensely, because the two people who did it are friends, and the picture captures not only those moments in time when we ate, talked, laughed and coloured together, but the friendship that led to us meeting to do this in the first place. I don't do colouring books. I do tapestry, and the similarities are close enough to know that patience, imagination, choices and staying with it till its finished are needed for both. And the same disciplines of patience, imagination, and staying with it faithfully and willingly, are just as important in the colouring in of our relationships, and friendships.
And my young friend taught me, without it ever being an intended lesson, that the best colouring books are the ones where we have shared the work and the joy of making something good, and maybe even beautiful, and doing it with others who have contributed what they have to give. Life is like that, My life is like that - a colouring book where various people have helped in the colouring in.