Vocation in Avocation: Zentangle
By AJ Keith, Communications intern
Inner peace has long been something for which people strive, but for S. Caroljean (Cj) Willie and some of her “star pupils,” a practice called zentangle demonstrates that it is a state of mind to be nurtured rather than attained. An ancient art form, zentangle has been used for millennia and the Sisters of Charity have used this pastime as a meditative and creative outlet.
Zentangle is a practice most commonly associated with Zen Buddhist monks, though this has been practiced for thousands of years in different ways. Characterized by a variety of divisions and patterns within a shape, zentangle is usually used for meditation and relaxation. For S. Cj, she discovered it only 10 years ago online and taught herself the art form. Since then, she has thoroughly enjoyed the hobby for its meditative qualities. “It’s really the art of creative doodling,” S. Cj says. “When I find myself particularly overwhelmed with things that need to be done, it’s the best thing in the world to calm me down.”
Meditation was simply not enough for S. Cj’s new hobby; she felt the need to share it with others. S. Pat Newhouse, for example, was one of the people who participated in the art. An appreciation for art has always been a component of her personality and so the chance to learn about zentangle through S. Cj’s classes was eagerly taken. Since she retired 10 years ago, S. Pat has been engaging in various art activities, but she says that zentangle has its own unique effect on her. “Zentangle enables me to create works of art for others to enjoy,” S. Pat says. “In some cases, I have inspired them to try it themselves.”
Another student of S. Cj is S. Grace Catherine Aufderbeck, who has taken on the hobby in place of reading because of medical issues, and has found the practice to be wholesome for her creative impulses. Before S. Cj, S. Grace did not know what zentangle was, but after a few classes, she immediately went to Michael’s Craft Store where she found various books on the subject. The books’ covers claim that the art can “Reduce Stress and Improve Focus,” a claim which S. Grace substantiated. She accepted the hobby and made it part of her daily routine. “I usually listen to music when I start my designs,” S. Grace says. “It quiets me and the music becomes a meditation.”
Since she renewed her interest in zentangle, S. Pat’s sketches are requested by others and she usually gives her designs as gifts to her friends and family. Usually drawing animals, flowers, nature and other abstract designs, S. Pat brings joy to herself by “zentangling” because she is bringing joy to others. “I have found that zentangle art relaxes me and strengthens my creative ability,” S. Pat says.
Both Sisters Cj and Grace’s favorite form of this practice is drawing zendalas – which is a mandala, or map of the cosmos based on Buddhist or Hindu faiths, with a zentangle design. They also enjoy the pleasure of others company where they can share designs and patterns to make the hobby communal. “Anybody can do this, that’s what makes it fun,” S. Grace says.
Just as there is creativity in designing these patterns, S. Cj has also found a creative spin on the practice as pertains to her faith. Believing that prayers are often a one-sided conversation with God, this practice opens the mind and allows people to listen to what God is saying to us. “Sometimes when we become busy, our minds and prayers can become scattered,” S. Cj says. “When you start doing this, we slow down and focus on the silence; it centers me and brings me an inner strength so that we can pray better.”
For S. Pat, however, the art she creates allows her to focus on the details that make a bigger picture. While there is beauty in the creative process itself, S. Pat says, “Zentangle makes me aware of God’s creation and how He has made each of His creatures so imaginative.”
The order of our minds can sometimes resemble the scattered designs of a zentangle image, but it better represents the different aspects of our unique identities. Just as each design is unique and multi-dimensional, the Sisters of Charity express their individuality through this art while becoming centered and mindful of prayers like S. Cj and her students have.