Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Seeds of Attention: A Meditation on String

The snow is melting quickly, a welcome change from the two metre high banks we had in places a few week ago.  There are signs of grass and other foliage and, of course, the usual messes hidden under all that white stuff.  Perky sparrows are rescuing the last of the feed we left for the rabbits who visited under the front yard trees throughout this tough winter.  Seeds of spring are in the air.

Someone asked me to explain the difference between finding fibre work meditative and using fibre work as meditation practice.  I thought I'd give a bit of tutorial because it's best to explore this yourself.  You'll need approximately 30 minutes to complete the exercise, but don't worry if you can't spend that amount of time.  Do what you can.

Find yourself a comfortable place to sit, away from distractions.  You'll also need some yarn and a set of needles.  I like to use my hand spun wool yarns and wooden needles, but use what you have on hand:

Cast on an uneven number of stitches, using the cast on method of your choice.  I use knitted cast on most of the time.  You will be working in seed stitch and in order to keep each row the same (K1, P1 across the row), you need an uneven number of stitches.  I've used 15 here.

Make a mental note of your start time.  Begin to knit in pattern, paying attention to each stitch.  Focus on those stitches, the touch of the yarn, the movement and feel of the needles.  Each time your mind wanders, bring it back to the knitting and only the knitting.  Stay attentive; your mind should remain active.  Don't think or judge-simply observe.

Continue this practice for several minutes.  When you stop knitting, note the time again.  Did the time you spent focused on the knitting seem longer?  Shorter?  Did you have difficulty maintaining attention?

Notice how this meditation differs from your usual simple knitting. When we knit to relax, we are making something.  Our mind wanders to events of the day, to what's on television, to whatever is outside the knitting.  Our hands work automatically.  Our attention returns to our actions only when we sense a problem-a dropped stitch, a knot in the yarn, fatigue.  We "zone out."

This is a fine way to use knitting.  By relieving us from daily pressures, knitting helps us reduce stress, anxiety and anger so that we can relax.

But, again, "Meditation is not relaxation spelled differently."  (Jon Kabatt-Zinn)

There's the difference: when we use knitting, spinning and other fibre work to meditate, we remain active.  We zone in, bringing our attention to what we're doing right now-knitting.  We do our best to stay there.  We aren't making anything.  We are simply knitting.

We are practising action, rather than distraction.

When we focus on action and attention, we calm down and reduce our stress in the long run, not just temporarily.  We learn to live in the moment.

When you're ready, move on to the next part of the meditation.  Remove your needle from your fabric and, one by one, undo the stitches you have knitted.  Ravel the piece until you are left with-a pile of yarn?  A simple ball?  Now ask yourself:  Is this yarn different than the yarn I began using?  What has changed?  Does the fabric remain in the yarn? 

Where did the fabric go?  It is clearly not there, yet it is-you can see the image in your mind.  The yarn it came from is here. So, what is the fabric now?

This exercise may give you an idea of the difference between using fibre to relax and using it to meditate.  It's a simple practice; but it can be difficult to maintain.  It may seem frivolous, a waste of time, especially since we are not making anything.  We are simply knitting.  What we know as "thinking mind" dislikes giving up control to "experience mind."  Thinking mind objects to this practice.  Let those thoughts pass and ask yourself:  what's wrong with paying attention to the things we do and love (or hate, for that matter)?

Knit, spin, live fully aware in whatever you do.

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