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Coloring (Living) Outside the Lines

By Marlene Buffa

In our formative years, parents and teachers alike encouraged – and sometimes required- us to color inside the lines of the all-too familiar coloring book. We learned to read by identifying the proper colors to use in each segment of the black and white image, making sure our crayon marks blended together to form a solid-looking filler. Sometimes, we'd press hard so the crayon wax embedded itself onto the paper, resulting in a beautiful sheen. Often, in early schooling, our coloring projects received grades for various aspects of the assignment – using the proper color in each portion of the picture, no combination of colors and most importantly, coloring inside the lines. As adults, we accrue credits for conformity, with no hint of the reward for compliance, yet we strive to obey the rules. When we begin to live outside the lines of our past, we bathe in a rainbow of gratification, breaking restrictions, and daring the possibilities for self-expression.

As toddlers, motor skills not yet developed, we learned by imitation and repetition. We saw our older siblings or parents adeptly color by example and even though our little fingers could barely hold the crayon, we attempted to follow their lead. Usually wielding a color unconventional for the subject matter, we gleefully and proudly scribbled all over the page and believed our artwork rivaled the steady handed elder. Seeing our primitive attempts as perfection, we presented our handiwork with pride to our family, and beamed brightly when it earned the esteem of display in a public place.

In many ways, we still scribble our way through life, attempting to follow a higher path and aspire to deeper meanings. We're proud of our progress and often feel it equal to those whose work we study intently. Our Creator, quite satisfied with our attempts, instills in us the drive to keep moving forward, all the while pleased with our sense of accomplishmentImportantly, when we examine our present moments, take time to reflect on the progress and note that where you are now sprung from the foundation of rudimentary skills coupled with the need to grow.

Choose Your Palette
Early years coloring books clearly pointed out the "proper" color to fill in the image. This simple direction allowed you to learn to read, match the word to the crayon, and fill in only that designated area with the color. It also taught us to follow directions and agree, on some basic level, on how things were supposed to appear.

As adults, we learn that things are not what they seem in life. The harsh lessons that stray from the saying, "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… then it's a duck!" put us in an uncomfortable place. When we, or a friend, dared to color the grass pink and the duck's bill purple, we suffered scolding from our friends and teachers. In retrospect, we see that assigning objects different characteristics than accepted by others, moved us into a new realm of questioning, and ultimately understanding. Today, we open ourselves up to ideas that the status quo no longer need remain static, and invite the inevitable change in our prism of possibilities to provide the shifts needed for growth.

Following directions carefully, we used our coloring projects as one of our first exercises in self expression. As we developed through childhood, our coloring books grew more elaborate, including more intricate images and even contained story-lines. The more sophisticated books included puzzles and games. Rarely, however, did the books encourage us to add to the images on the page. We simply colored what we were given and enjoyed the pastime. As we continued to grow, we realized that we could add birds, grass, trees and more to an image to personalize it and make it our own.

As adults, we find satisfaction in getting our needs met on a daily basis, and remain fairly content with our means of achieving that end. Bombarded with advertising for "more, bigger, better and improved" one-time luxuries now seem pass and our level of standard increases with each passing year. We argue that the extras are simply our basic "needs" as we see them, and not enhancements or frills. When we pause to examine the possibilities in life, we see than even the littlest embellishment enhances our life experience. Noticing the birds, grass, trees and more provides a richer appreciationNoticing ordinary things as extraordinary complements to our automated lives, expands the full spectrum of our enjoyment of today.

Adding text balloons
As we grew nearer to leaving coloring books behind, most of us enjoyed a brief phase of both reading comics and the funny pages while still enjoying our artistic expression with crayons. Daring to create dialogue of our own, we drew little balloons projecting from our colored pictures and wrote what we believed relevant comments to enhance the page. A glorious outcropping in the learning process, we carried over one learned element from the medium of comics and applied it to our own creation.

In our grown-up years we adapt similarly, as well. We enjoy a sense of fulfillment when we add our own "color commentary" to any given situation. From observations to opinions, our input declares our position in the present moment and demonstrates to others our grasp on understanding. We allow our voice to speak loudly, declaring who we perceive ourselves to be, by our dialogue with one another.

In following the rules, we find contentment in the order of things in society. By driving between the white or yellow lanes of traffic, peace and safety continues down the road of life. In the aspects of life which allow for creativity and spiritual expression, we grow through a poignant process. From scribbling in the color of our choice and knowing the majesty of our work, to the dedicated adherence to a dark outline of definition in the color specified, we see opportunities for growth and movement.

When we dare to expand our insight beyond the stringent limitations and add embellishments that heighten our awareness of the world around us, we open the door to freedom of expression. It is there, in the purity of the moment, we give ourselves permission to not only see and experience life differently, but to leave our mark on the world.

Taking a quiet sideways glance at life, Marlene offers insight through her words from experiences. A student of new-thought teachings, Marlene finds practical spirituality around every corner and seeks wisdom through observation of life's inter-relationships. Sometimes playful, sometimes poignant, always thought-provoking, her writing inspires readers in meaningful ways. Visit

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