It’s guest post time once again, and this week we have Janice Ropers. Janice is a mother, knitter, and writer located in the far northern suburbs of Chicago. Although she’s practiced occasional meditation for years, she’s only recently started a more regular practice and connecting it with Buddhist philosophy. She can be found blogging occasionally at redwagonmusings.blogspot.com.
Focus on the Knit, by Janice Ropers
I’m new to regular meditation practice, and, like many beginners, I’ve been having trouble focusing my mind. Either I keep thinking about all the things that I should be doing, or I come up with new and exciting thoughts and ideas that tempt my mind to chase them down a rabbit hole.
I’ve tried to focus on my breath, but that only works very short-term for me. Often, watching a candle flame or a fire built up in our fireplace will work quite well, but, with a toddler in the house, flames are not always an option. But I’ve recently discovered something that works quite well for me: knitting.
I learned to knit as a child, so the basic movements come very naturally to me. They’re simple and rhythmic, and have calmed me through some of the more stressful moments of my life. Finally it occurred to me — if knitting can have such an influence on my state of mind, can’t I use it as part of my meditation practice? Can it be so different from the walking meditation practice I’ve heard of?
I’ve used knitting as a meditation focal point several times now, and it works for me on multiple levels. It helps to still all those thoughts of what else I should be doing with my time. Knitting is a productive craft, and my family appreciates the fruit of my labors, so I don’t feel guilty about spending some of my time with sticks and yarn in my hands.
If I’m working a simple pattern, my muscle memory takes over and I can watch the progress in a rather detached way, similar to the way I watch a dancing candle flame. I feel the yarn sliding over my fingers, hear the clicking sound of the needles, and watch the knitted fabric taking shape under my hands. Other thoughts usually drift away and I can just sit and observe what is happening before me.
If I’m working a complex pattern, mindfulness sets in. I need to be aware of what I’m doing, count my stitches, follow the pattern, and do the right stitch at the right time with the right colored yarn. There’s no room in my mind to think about anything else. My full attention has to be on my knitting. The electric bill will still be waiting on the kitchen counter when I’m done.
On occasion, I’ve even visualized knitting when I needed to calm down away from the needles. I close my eyes and see my hands working the needles in their familiar way. I try to feel the yarn slipping through my fingers. It’s my favorite calming technique in a traffic jam.
Okay, so not everyone knits. But the same principle can probably apply to any activity that has some basic repetitive motions such as sweeping the floor, weeding the garden, or working out on a stair-climber machine. Someday I’ll try that walking meditation, and maybe even someday I’ll manage to sit and do nothing for a period of time and not have to pull my mind out of countless rabbit holes. But until then, I can at least sit and knit, and my mind will be the calmer for it.