Knitting and meditation

Lace knitting is very much like meditation.

As you work the pattern, concentrating on when to make a yarnover, when to knit three, when to slipslipknit and when to knit two together, the mind wanders. In yoga, we often refer to this as chitta: the chattering that often occupies the mind. Thinking about your errands while you sit in a business meeting, daydreaming while you drive down the expressway, having an opinion about the shoes on the person sitting across from you on the train. All those extraneous thoughts that busy the mind throughout its day.

Along with this chatter comes judgement, for most of us. And most often this judgement finds us wanting. We tell ourselves that we're not fast enough, not pretty enough, not rich enough. Last week, Robert Birnberg, a teacher from Los Angeles who led a workshop on the Yoga Sutras at the studio wehre I teach, remarked that everyone in yoga class is an overachiever who thinks that he's lazy. I think that goes for just about everyone, everywhere. At least in our American, make it bigger, make it better, culture.

But notice, as you knit, or garden, or walk, how often your mind wanders away from the task to think about something that you did not do as well as you wanted to. Notice how often, even as you knit or dig or walk, your mind isn't where you are at that moment, but off in the clouds, thinking about something that you did yesterday or something that you need to do today.

And when that happens, let yourself notice. But, just as I tell my students when we sit quietly at the beginning of yoga class, don't judge or reprimand yourself. Just try to bring yourself back to whatever you are doing. And try to stay with that until the next time that you notice that you've started thinking about the floor that needs to be washed or the friend that you need to call. Then bring yourself back again.

Stick with the sensory stuff: the sound of the water running through the pipes in the kitchen, people talking in a backyard that you're walking past, the colors of the leaves in the trees, the play of sunlight across the floor in the morning. And again, try to notice what's going on right now, right here.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in A Miracle of Mindfulness, talks about washing the dishes just to wash the dishes. Not to get the job done, or the kitchen cleaned up, or to get it over with so that you can collapse onto the couch to watch tv. It's great advice.

Try sometime today to do just what you're doing. Much harder than it sounds. But just like a runner training for a marathon, it's all about showing up.


FairyGodKnitter said…
Your sentance about judgement finding us wanting really hit home. I have had times in my life when I've felt more secure about who/what I am and have been less caught up in the chatter. It takes effort to let yourself just be and to keep yourself out of the clouds but it is worth the effort and I agree that knitting can be a tool to get you there. I think this is why I took to lace knitting so well, the ever longer rows create a quiet rythmn that can keep you on center. Although I am somewhat unfufilled in my Catholic faith, I love to say the rosary for the same reason. The repeated prayers, the beads sliding through my finger tips, the meditation within myself is just as important as any prayer.
That said, I love the color brown you are using for the Swallowtail, it seems very woodsy and season appropriate. Have you reached the nupps yet? They may undo any quiet in this knit. Make sure you slide the stitches back on to the cable part of your needle before trying to purl the 5 stitches together.
Anonymous said…
Great article! I feel the same way about lace knitting... but I'm knitting lace with beads right now, and my mind doesn't have much room to wander. lol. I do always feel more peaceful after knitting a few rows on my stole.
Donyale said…
I like that - going to try it with lace and see what happens.
--Deb said…
Great post with a lot to think about--thank you!

Nichole D. said…
Wow. This struck me really well today. Thank you for sharing it, I think it could really make a difference in my life, as well as others, to think about these things.
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