Mandala Color Books: Relaxing Fun or a Tool for New Age Meditation?
Adult coloring has recently become a national passion. In fact, of the top twenty best-selling books on Amazon.com, ten of these were adult color books. Proof of this can be found in any bookstore where the first thing you’ll see upon entering is shelves brimming with every kind of color book imaginable. And congregated around these shelves you’ll find enthusiastic colorists who’ll be eager to share how enjoyable this current fad can be. Like many others, it may not be long until you’ll be picking up a book or two just to try it out.
Now, from your first examination of these color books, you’ll note they aren’t like the color books of your youth, for at least half of them are distinctly New Age in look and content. And second, you’ll note that they almost all purport to help calm, soothe, de-stress, and relax you into a meditative state. Finally, you’ll soon discover some of these intriguing books have tantalizing patterns called “mandalas” that will entice you to look at them over and over. These mesmerizing “sacred circles” are designed to visually take you to their centers to discover “Your Higher Self.” And yes, they are deceptive, and no, they aren’t Christian!
So be aware that there are many seductive “spiritual” color books out there both for adults and children alike. Thus, if you should decide to try out some coloring or are planning to buy one for someone else, you would do well to heed the admonition in Psalm 101:3 that states: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.” And because “mandalas” do have a hidden agenda, this booklet is written to inform colorists and non-colorists exactly what they are, and what their purpose is.
Adult Coloring Books—A Spiritual Practice?
While there is certainly nothing harmful about adults coloring, in and of itself, much of the contemplative spirituality connection has been propagated by Sybil MacBeth’s Praying in Color book series. On MacBeth’s website, she gives 8 reasons to color while praying:
1) You want to pray but words escape you.
2) Sitting still and staying focused in prayer are a challenge.
3) Your body wants to be part of your prayer.
4) You want to just hang out with God but don’t know how.
5) Listening to God feels like an impossible task.
6) Your mind wanders and your body complains.
7) You want a visual, concrete way to pray.
8) You need a new way to pray.
Sybil MacBeth’s book, Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, is endorsed on the back cover by emergent writer Phyllis Tickle (who once said Brian McLaren could be the next Luther). In MacBeth’s book, she speaks frequently about lectio divina, a meditative practice used in contemplative prayer. With Tickle’s endorsement and the promotion of contemplative practices, we must question what MacBeth’s “new path” to God is. A look at the endnotes in the book may provide an answer to that question. She cites Thomas Merton (panentheistic contemplative Catholic monk), Parker Palmer (New Age sympathizer), and Tony Jones (contemplative emergent leader).
In a 2015 Religious News Service article titled “Coloring Books for Grown-ups: Calming—but a Spiritual Practice?,” it states:
Alison Gary used to go to church on Sunday mornings, but lately she’s embraced a different ritual: staying home and coloring with her 6-year-old daughter, Emerson. . . . “Emerson and I color almost every Sunday morning,” Gary said, while her husband, a yoga teacher, cooks and listens to music. “I let my mind let go, and I feel more connected to the world, more centered.” . . . Gary is not the only grown-up rediscovering the contemplative joys of what once was considered a childish pastime. . . . Many books feature circular mandalas and Zen patterns, as well as mystical peacocks. . . . While adult coloring is mostly being marketed as a balm for the stress of modern life, many fans, like Gary, also describe it in spiritual terms.
Which raises the obvious question: Can coloring seriously be considered a spiritual practice? Some may scoff, but “it can become more than just coloring, if you want it to,” said Sybil MacBeth, author of the 2007 book Praying in Color. . . . MacBeth shares techniques to “incorporate the intention of prayer into coloring,” by doodling names of people or events, and intercessory requests such as healing and peace. MacBeth, a “dancer, doodler and former community college math professor” married to a retired Episcopal priest, believes coloring and doodling can be powerful prayer practices—a revelation she stumbled upon by accident.1
Sacred Circle Mandalas: Conduits to Meditation
Mandala means “circle” in Sanskrit—a sacred circle or container that uses alluring symbols, dazzling colors, and mystical patterns. Alberta Hutchinson, in the Mystical Mandala Color Book, defines mandalas this way: “symmetrical geometric designs which are traditionally used for meditative purposes by drawing our eye to the center of the circle.” Little Mandalas color book calls them “mystical motifs which symbolize the universe, wholeness, and eternity.” And a kids’ color book, My First Mandalas by Anna Pomaska maintains mandalas are a Far Eastern tradition with “intriguing centers and fascinating focal points.” In summary, “Mandala” from Religionfacts.com says:
Simply stated, a mandala is a sacred geometric figure that represents the universe. When completed a mandala becomes a sacred area that serves as a receptacle for deities and a collection point of universal forces. By mentally entering a mandala and proceeding to its center, a person is symbolically guided through the cosmos to the essence of reality.2
Mandalas are a visual tool to take one into a meditative state just as mantras are a vocal tool to lead one into emptying one’s mind. Labyrinths are used in much the same manner. As one repeatedly gazes, contemplates, looks upon, stares at the mandala while following its hypnotic patterns, it can have the effect of relaxing the person into an altered state or even a trance.
Speaking of a “meditative state,” on December 12, 2015 the Orlando Sentinel had this front-page article: “Adults Find Meditative State Coloring Away Stresses of Life” by Bethany Rogers. The accompanying photo showed grandmotherly types coloring Color Me Calm pages at the Minneola Schoolhouse Library. This was but one of four “Color Me Calm” sessions where ladies gathered, sipping tea, coloring, and listening to a flute tune titled “Morning Stillness.”3
Shakti Color Book’s Goddesses and Mandalas
A look at Ekabhumi C. Ellik’s color book should be an awakening to any who are considering mandala coloring. The cover depicts Bhuvaneshvari, the goddess of spaciousness, regent of manifest creation, and universal earth mother.
On the book’s Facebook page, you’ll see pictures from the book colored by people who post them to the site.
One very disturbing post shows a child posing as a goddess while her mom tells how obsessed with the goddesses her child was. Ellik’s reply to this mother was, “I’m so happy to contribute to helping girls recognize their inner divinity.” A comment below reads, “Beautiful little goddess, keep that feeling.” Another post photo shows a young girl proudly holding up a goddess in a mandala she’d colored.4
YogaDork’s article: “Grab Your Crayon’s and Say Om: Coloring Art as a Meditative Practice” has an excerpt from Ellik’s book. In it, Ellik speaks of the goddesses depicted in the book by saying:
The goddesses who appear in the The Shakti Color Book encompass the entire spectrum of cosmic phenomena, mirroring our most expansive Self. . . . Their mystic diagrams—their mandalas and yantras —have a powerful influence on our awareness when we mediate upon them and visualize them internally. Our energy body is repatterned . . . helping us to recognize behaviors that our of alignment with our most expansive nature, which is the Goddess herself.5
Ellik has also begun a “Shiva Color Book.” And Ellik asks readers: “What images, forms of Shiva, related deities, mandalas or yantras should be included?” Ellik also invites all to join him at an “Embrace Your Shakti: A Yoga Coloring Workshop” where they can begin their New Year with some goddess power.
In an August 2015 comment, Ellik sums up the purpose of his color book when he says:
It’s an opportunity to introduce sacred art as an intrinsic part of YOGIC practice to a HUGE number of people who may think it’s only stretching and feeling calm.
He also notes, “. . . to have readers introduced to this book is a great way to help shift public opinion away from yoga-is-exercise-to-look-and-feel-good and back toward, well, YOGA.” Ellik gives us a truth many undiscerning Christians are not acknowledging about Yoga and mandalas! Think about it!
Mandalas for Adults
It’s clear that coloring pre-printed pages is a pastime many adults enjoy. Whether one finds it relaxing or not is up to the individual. Yet the main thrust of marketing color books to adults seems to be the promise to bring calmness or alleviate stress. The claims made by the designers of mandala color books, however, go far beyond this and straight into the realm of New Age religious practices, as you will see from these few examples—
Steven Vrancken in “Your Introduction of the Healing Powers of Mandala Color Pages” spells out the powers behind the mandala in this quote that says:
I awaken to the power of the mandala, A sacred circle of light and energy, A pathway to center—to my center and to the Universal All, A channel for healing body, mind, and spirit.6
Presbyterian Jungian psychotherapist and art therapist Susanne F. Fincher is the founder of Creatingmandalas.com. According to Fincher’s website, she has led thousands of people to the “spiritual, psychological, and health enhancing dimensions of creating mandalas.” Author of four Coloring Mandalas books by Shambhala Publishing, Fincher’s book, Coloring Mandalas 3: Circles of the Sacred Feminine is completely pagan beginning with “Prayer to the Earth Mother.” Inside notes tell the colorist to consider these sacred images holy and to set aside a sacred space to work on them. Doing this will allow one’s “harmonious designs” to kick in just as repeating ancient chants will resonate within one in calming and revitalizing ways. An introductory description of the book explains:
Coloring the circular designs . . . is a relaxing, meditative activity enjoyed by adults and children alike. . . . The mandalas in this book are . . . designed to provide a creative encounter with the Divine as a feminine presence.7
The Mandala Lady, Maureen Frank, is a mandala artist and intuitive reader, who does channeled visualization “Mandala Reading Sessions” for customers via Skype or telephone. Maureen relates that during a Reiki session she was told she wasn’t into the creative side of her brain and she should get herself a color book. Maureen did. Later, at a New Age bookstore, she came upon mandalas. First, she colored them, but soon she began to create them and then meditate on them. Soon she had “mandala messages” for others. Now, she creates daily, week, monthly, and yearly mandalas as well as a whole line of “color your own” cards, prints, and color books.8
Mandalas for Kids of All Ages
Mandala coloring books can be purchased by unsuspecting parents and given to children with the admonishment to “play quietly for a while.” This is understandable. But Christian parents should be aware that schools, children’s clubs, libraries, and various websites will be luring their young ones to use mandala art in ways that can introduce them to Eastern meditation and the occult.
For example, the “Do You Yoga” website tells kids their whole body is a “mandala” with its center being their “belly button.” Kids, in a “child’s pose,” color mandalas with quiet background music. The site advises when a mandala is finished, hang it up and use it for meditation. It suggests one breathe deeply, gaze at the center of the mandala, and let thoughts and emotions come without following them. Then, “slowly dive deeper into the center of the mandala and into the harmony and love it represents.” And Do You Yoga says kids from five and up can participate.9
Everyday Mandala for Children is a series of activity books designed for ages four and up based on “The Shichida Method” that uses mandalas with youngsters that requires them to mentally capture the image of a mandala within seconds, and apply the colors onto an uncolored mandala. The method boasts even a child of two can do it. Its method includes holding a mandala against a plain wall, asking a child to stare at the mandala focusing on its center, and then visualizing it in their mind. Children are told to hold that image there as long as possible. One article suggests you, as an adult, should join in.10
An article from the Kids Growing Up Psychic series by psychic Melissa Leath details how she uses “active meditation” or anything that keeps kids focused and calm while making mandalas. Afterward, kids softly stare at their mandala while trying not to blink. As they breathe in and out, Leath explains, “a shift” comes while colors in the mandala seem to change and move. At this point, says Leath, kids will feel energy flowing from the mandala. They are then to close their eyes to see an inner vision, and to feel more energy. And so Leath a medium, mentor, and author leads kids into her psychic world.11
There are many many children’s mandala materials available to the public; the bottom line is that the mandala coloring craze is not just an adult coloring book problem, it is being marketed to children and teens. Be watchful! Teach your children what these seducing circles really are about!
Mandalas for the Church?
Baptist Global News assistant editor Jeff Brumley wrote a piece: “Adult Coloring Books Emerging as Popular Spiritual Practice.” How so? Brumley says, “Using crayons . . . to focus the mind while praying or to contemplate Scripture can be as beneficial as walking a prayer labyrinth or creating an icon, say ministers of spiritual formation.” Brumley goes on to say that Blake Burleson, his co-editor and senior lecturer in religion at Baylor University, teaches that praying while coloring puts the mind on hold while elevating the role of the heart in prayer. Burleson also states, “Every religion uses art to express itself—whether it’s an icon, a mandala, calligraphy, or a cave painting.”12 Maybe, Burleson should turn to Ezekiel 8 to see what the Lord had to say about idolatrous wall art in the temple!
Rev. Sharon Garner, a United Methodist pastor and Ignatian Spiritual Director, conducts “Praying Mandala Sessions” at a Jesuit Retreat House as well as at a United Church of Christ location. To further her mandala cause, she’s written Praying with Mandalas: Contemplative Coloring for Contemporary Christians. The mandala is used here as a “tool” to practice contemplative prayer and enter a contemplative state!13
In “Coloring IS a Spiritual Practice,” the Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens contends during his Spiritual Formation retreats he’d notice a few people “will be bent over their desks with intricate mandalas in front of them . . . listening to me . . .” as they color. Now does Owens feel these “poor souls” are being duped by falling for this new color fad? Does Owens feel they should be “engaging in a real spiritual practice like praying or reading Scripture?” “No,” says Rev. Dr. Owens, “I give thanks that they are discovering a way of prayer their churches never taught them, but that is helping them listen to God and be present to others. And when,” says Owens, “I enter Barnes and Noble . . . I only hope that more Christians might discover this practice and deepen their lives with God.” Then Owens, after thinking of the biblical Martha’s distractibility reflected: “Do you know what Martha needs? A color book.” A coloring book, avows Owens, is just a form of “mindfulness practice.” However, mindfulness is a practice based on Zen Buddhism.14
Color Me Discerning, or Color Me Deceived: Which Will It Be?
We’re in the midst of a meditation invasion via color books—and specifically through mandala color books as I’ve shown in this booklet. My question is if you’ve already bought into this color-book craze under the guise of finding relaxation and calm, will you continue as a deceived colorist, or will you become a discerning one? Will you understand that although coloring is not evil in and of itself, if it leads one into idolatrous sacred circles or other images then one must be very careful not to get entangled in this color-book web. May we remember the Lord’s warning in the Old Testament: “Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; turn away your faces from all your abominations” (Ezekiel 14:6).
And may we strive to become discerning, rather than deceived.
Mandala circles will not give one true rest, or peace, or hope, for this can only be found through the Lord Jesus who said, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). May our desire be to do as the old hymn admonishes: “Turn your eyes unto Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way. (Psalm 119:37)
To order copies of Mandala Color Books: Relaxing Fun or a Tool for New Age Meditation?, click here.
To order copies of Mandala Color Books: Relaxing Fun or a Tool for New Age Meditation? in booklet format, click here.