Blog Post

Why Do We Need Zen to Doodle?

(Image courtesy of Wikicommons Images,
Author Trinity Verlag in der Scorpio Verlag GmbH & Co.KG, CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED)

N writes: "I am an artist. My local art association had 2 women guests come and demonstrate the art of Zentangle recently. It is aform of doodle-ing . They said that it is associated with Reiki, Yoga and New Age. . . .

"They use symbols that the creator of Zentangle created. The names of some of the symbols are Opus, Aura, Bales & Cadent ( cadent is from Canine & Dental).  I did not participate in the drawing of a bookmark. I just observed while about 35 others did try it.

"When I talked to the one presenter afterwards, I asked her if she knew that Reiki is connected to the Occult. She said no.  A few others that I told this to did not believe it.  When leaving, one woman said that she felt like she was in a trance when drawing!

"The presenters said that Zentangle is being taught to adults & children alike. To those who need therapy for physical, mental or emotional reasons. It is a so- called meditative & relaxing form of de-stressing from life.

"A man & a woman started it. The man is a former Monk! When they have classes they often play New Age or Yoga music. I felt that someone needed to confront them on the Occult connection .

"What is your opinion of Zentangle? And what else can I say to my fellow artist friends about it? Their website is Or just google Zentangle."

Zentangle is one of those practices that seemed to be nothing more than harmless doodling until I probed a little deeper into the people and organizations who are promoting it on the web.  Sure enough, many of its promoters are engaged in all kinds of New Age and occult activities. For example, check out this Zentangle instructor who is also a Reiki master.

For those who have never heard of Zentangles (also known as Zendoodles), they are abstract drawings done with pen and ink that consist of sections of patterns, known as "tangles," which are built with small repetitive strokes. As N mentioned in her e-mail, these patterns have names such as Opus, Aura, Bales & Cadent and dozens of others.   These drawings require no artistic talent and are said to be very relaxing.

The founder of Zentangle is Rick Roberts whose former vocations included cab driver, musician, photographer, printer, flute maker. He also lived as a monk for 17 years. His wife, Maria, is an accomplished artist and calligrapher.

As their website explains, one day, in the fall of 2003, Maria was at work in her studio adding patterns to the background of a large gilded letter. As she was working, Rick tried to interrupt her and she was so engrossed in the work she didn't hear him. She later described feelings of "selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness, and a rich immersion in what she was doing – all classic aspects of a flow state. Rick, who had practiced meditation for many years, said, 'You’re describing meditation'.”

They discussed what happened and realized how easy it was to draw the patterns behind the letters, drawings that anybody could learn how to do because they didn't necessarily require artistic ability. The couple began to develop the idea and went to a B&B in western Massachusetts for a few days.

"All the way there and back, and all the time we were there, we recorded our conversations in that book. It felt like we were taking dictation. Everything we wrote became the Zentangle Method as we now teach it."

I have no doubt that doodling patterns can be a fun escape from the stresses of daily life, and in this regard, there's not a thing wrong with Zendoodling. However, it's important to keep in mind that there is a definite meditative aspect to this art form which involves techniques that are associated with eastern religions.

For example, this site describes Zentangle as "yoga for the brain" because of its calming and stress relieving effects on people. This site applauds its "mindful" qualities.

The bottom line is that there's nothing wrong with doodling, just be sure to stick to drawing and pass on any non-Christian forms of meditation that might be introduced in the class.

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