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Linda Farmer, Certified Zentangle Teacher


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Adapting the Zentangle philosophy to life, notes from Judy Okawa

Ohio tangler Judy Okawa has several tangles on the site and she’s also contributed an interesting string based on the Japanese art of kintsugi.

Today she is our guest contributor, sharing her thoughts on how Zentangle’s philosophy can become a philosophy of life and inviting you to share your ideas on this subject.

* * *

When I first got interested in Zentangle, I read through a lot of websites and books to learn more about it, and then typed up some notes.

I just came across my old notes, and realized that by changing only a few words, those notes about Zentangle become a “philosophy of life” (which I imagine is what Rick and Maria had in mind …). So I thought I would share my “adapted” notes.

I’m sure there are lots more aspects of Zentangle which can be applied to life, which I think is one of the things we all love about it.

Zentangle Notes, Adapted to Life

• In life, as in Zentangle, you start out not knowing what your creation/your life will look like. Zentangle encourages you not to have a preconceived idea of how things will turn out. With this approach, your life is not restricted by your expectations, and you can discover new possibilities that you might not have anticipated at the beginning.

• You make choices as your life evolves. You become more comfortable letting your instincts be in control. You learn that you do not need to over-think your decisions, and that it is okay if you don’t know what you are going to do next.

• Do not hurry. Be deliberate and focus on the present moment.

• There are no “mistakes”. If you think you’ve made a mistake, just find a way to work with it. What appear to be mistakes are often the beginning of new patterns of life, and can take you in unexpected and exciting new directions.

• There is no right or wrong way, so one can develop one’s own style of life. Analyze the style of life that you like, and embrace your own style.

* * *

Judy ponders, “I wonder if other folks will have more ideas about applying Zentangle to life …“.

Your thoughts are invited in the comments.

Click to learn more about the Theory of Zentangle. "Anything is possible ... one stroke at a time."




13 comments to Adapting the Zentangle philosophy to life, notes from Judy Okawa

  • Karl Reutling

    Judy Okawa, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I can heartily agree with your ideas. I would add that when doing a Zentangle, we do so within the confines of a small tile. Our work should be within these guidelines. The same in life, as we work to create our lives, we do so within guidelines of culture, law, and abilities. Even though restricted, the work can certainly result in a thing of beauty, if we stay true to our instincts, as you put it.

  • BJ Moore


    Great thoughts on the comparison of Zentangle with Life.
    We often worry about the way we are going about our life’s goals and considering that there are no mistakes, or go with them and adapt, we can relax and move ahead without stress.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Quite wonderful.

    • Judy O.

      I definitely agree with what you were saying about a Zentangle approach helping with relaxing and not worrying — And just the process of doing Zentangle is relaxing….

  • Judy O.

    I really like your thoughts about creating beauty within limits, both in Zentangle tiles and in our lives…. Your thoughts brought a couple other ideas to mind —

    We often draw light pencil borders on our tiles, and I wonder if sometimes in our own lives, we may create borders which confine us too much…. But in Zentangle we have a choice about where (or even if) to draw those borders, so I wonder if we can apply that idea to our lives, too….?

    And another thought is that even if we do draw borders on our tiles, sometimes our patterns extend beyond them….

    Thanks for giving me lots more to think about!

  • Dessie Arnold

    Thank you, Judy for sharing your insights! I love the way that Zentangle addresses the tendency towards perfectionism. It’s easy in the arts to get hung up on technical perfection (I’m a musician), but in so doing, you can kill the spirit of something. I have seen some “doodlers” post online elsewhere remarks that are critical of Zentangle and the guidelines that Rick and Maria have set up, but I have seen them as a structure that allows positive things to happen, and Judy and the other commenters have shown how beneficial this can be – both in the practice of Zentangle and life.

    Linda, thank YOU for all you do for this website and the community. Love, love, love it!

    • Judy O.

      Like you say, I find the structure of Zentangle very helpful – For me, it’s easier to work within some guidelines – fewer decisions! As applied to my everyday life, I’m finding that incorporating a little more routine is helpful in the same way – fewer decisions to be made….

  • Linda Dochter, CZT

    Thank you for your thoughts, Judy. Here are a few of my take-aways.

    1) Draw outside the lines. Think outside the box.

    2) “One stroke at a time” – Any more than one is a physical impossibility. Any less than one is procrastination.
    If you have time, check out a true story in the Zentangle Blog,
    (Sept 4, 2015)


    • Judy O.

      Linda, thanks so much for sharing your marathon story – What a wonderful example of applying the Zentangle philosophy to a very tough life situation…. Congratulations on completing your marathon!

      I really liked the idea that you added to “one stroke at a time” — that “any less than one is procrastination.” I hadn’t thought of that side of the expression before, but I think it’s equally important….

  • With Zentangle Method, one can be really slow; and just be in present moment, like aura after aura, line after line, a curve after curve, an O after an O; etc…we are building our dreams that we want it to come true. It deliberately takes our mind from the present problem, situation, events, people, and bring us into focus of creation. When we are done with the tile, we appreciate it and give back the love to the same creation that helped us to be slow and in present.

  • Anna

    Oh, well spotted Judy. What a lovely approach to life. Let’s hope that our subconsciouses have absorbed this while we’ve been tangling, even if it’s taken you to bring it to our conscious attention!

    • Judy O.

      I think you’re right, that we probably absorb the benefits of Zentangle, without having to consciously think about them…. For example, I think that we gain a lot just from the calmness that we feel when we’re doing Zentangle, which we carry away with us afterwards….

  • Susan Bertke

    As a relatively new Zentangler, this is the first time I’ve seen this post. Thank you, Judy, and all those who added their own insights in the comments. Beautifully expressed.

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