Mindfulness in Detention

Before last week, many of the kids in Henrico Detention Center solemnly described “Mindfulness” as someone sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed and humming “Ommmmmmmmm”. Now most of the same youth, some hardened felons, have embraced the simple technique of drawing “Zentangles,” and are eager to describe how much calmer, focused, and mind-full they feel after spending almost an hour designing their own.

In search of a good method to incorporate mindfulness and self-discipline with line and shadow into my groups/classes last week, I thought of a relatively new and exciting method of doodling called Zentangles. Rather than random, completely spontaneous, and mind-less doodling, drawing Zentangles requires intention and increases focus, yet relaxes the mind and body in its repetitiveness, like a visible mantra. The technique simplifies drawing into four basic shapes: lines, curves, dashes, and circles, and provides a foundation from which you then build your own design.

We first studied pictures of a lovely Zen garden and explored its purpose and intentional construction. I then taught the woven left-right drawing technique you see in the video:

Our Examples

The first image is one example of turning the initial design” around 3 times, with a random “scale” pattern thrown in the last quadrant to symbolize freedom of thought. The second image is how we later applied Zentangles to initials, adding other patterns around the foundation design – a project the kids sometimes spent hours completing. Of equal importance was ongoing discussion about the need to more mind-fully untangle their own relationships or situations, use better self-discipline like they exercised building their designs, and how to go forward with more focused intention.

K. Montgomery, MS-ATR, C-SOTP


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