Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 5 May 2014

Just Another Day: Regina Weavers' and Spinners' Mini-Retreat

We ventured out on Saturday morning in single digit temperatures and snow, yes, snow. While it's not unusual to have weather like this at the beginning of May (and we escaped the dumping Calgary took), the Winter-Which-Refuses-to-End has worn down many people.  It's hard to accept what's happening and live in the moment.  Sometimes, you need a bit of distraction and fun.  For me, that fun came in the form of the Regina Weavers' and Spinners' Guild Mini-Retreat.

I taught two workshops for retreat participants-Yoga/Meditation for Fibre Artists and Tapestry Weaving a Cellphone Bag.  It's been a while since I've taught either class, so I was a bit rusty.  I had a plan for both, timed to the minute, but the plan went out the window as soon as we started, as plans often do.  The classes were relaxed, casual, guided by participants' interests; as usual, I suspect I learned more than my students.

I focused on mindfulness meditation in the morning workshop. It's always a surprise to a newcomer to meditation when you inform them that the "zoning out" they often do while spinning, weaving, knitting in front of the television is not meditation.  In fact, it's likely not even concentration, which is usually what we're doing when we say we're meditating.  I always refer to Jon Kabat-Zinn's comment, "Meditation is not what you think," which I believe is the best non-description of meditation written in a very long while. If you consider the experience we often have when using fibre arts to relax-one in which we multitask while our hands act independently of our minds and our minds are all over the place-we can see that experience is a long way from mindfulness, in which we bring our full attention to the task at hand.  If our default mode is zoning out, then we can think of meditation as zoning in. We focus on what we are doing Now and only that. As the saying goes, "When you eat, just eat."  When spinning, you just spin.

If you can sort out the difference between zoning out and zoning in, you can consider the idea that what one does in meditation is not meditation itself.  "Meditation is very simple, but not so easy," is another famous aphorism.  Bringing oneself to a state of meditation requires devoted practice and it's likely that most of us won't get anywhere near a meditative state in our lifetimes.  You may get glimpses of that state along the way, but, of course, once you realize you're having the experience, it's gone.  So, what we are actually doing in most meditation classes is learning to concentrate.  Once we train our minds to single-pointed attentiveness (and again, that's far easier said than done), we are more receptive to approaching that meditative state.

Just as many meditation traditions use candle flames, icons, beads or other objects as concentration tools, so can spinners use their craft as a tool for concentration.  (I'll stay with the spinning practice here, although any tool can be used for meditation concentration.) Because we love spinning and are familiar with the process, spinning can be used to illustrate both attachment and aversion-attachment to the spinning habits we love, aversion when something changes to draw us out of our default practices. We can move out of multitasking and focus on the essence of spinning.  At the same time, we can practice separating ourselves from the results-"Am I doing this right? Is the yarn good enough?"  We begin to move into a state of detachment/non-attachment.

If you're a practical person, meditation/concentration will make you a better spinner, for how can it not? When we bring full awareness to the task at hand, when we use all our senses to not only see, but feel and hear and smell and even, perhaps, taste the yarn forming with the whirl of spindle or wheel through our guidance, we begin to notice subtleties not apparent while our hands are on auto-pilot, our eyes are on the images on that screen and our minds are rushing to a thousand other things of past and future.  Becoming a better anything by meditation is not the goal, but sometimes, it's a nice bonus.

I learned more than a few things this past weekend.  Plans go out the window.  Meditation is much more difficult to explain (and understand) than asana. Two hours is not nearly enough time to explore building a yoga/meditation practice. Then again, plans don't need to be written in stone; it's a good thing to practice teaching on the fly. Two hours is enough to give people a bit of tapas, a taste of possibilities. A steady practice of meditation/concentration will often give you glimpses of how the world has changed for you when you least expect to see them.  I had packed my camera and my iPad for the retreat. I had intended to take photographs to post and show the work students had done and how the day went for participants.  It wasn't until I arrived home that I realized I had not taken a single photo all day.  I was far too busy-teaching, visiting, eating, and, yes, shopping.  I was living in and enjoying each moment.  As a result, I had a very fine day.

You had to be there.


This is all I've got, folks: my purchases from the vendors-a Tabachek Compact Tibetan spindle from Golden Willow and two lovely batts from The Wacky Windmill, carded Polwarth, silk, bamboo and Firestar to spin.


  1. Deborah, are you in Calgary? I have been looking for someone to show me how to ply yarns, so I can start tapestry!! Can you help. or do you know of someone?? Thanks Fran

    1. No, not in Calgary, Fran. There is a Heritage Weavers and Spinners Guild in Calgary. You could contact it for help. You can use singles for tapestry weft (and for warp, too, if it's spun smoothly and tightly enough) if you don't want to ply.

    2. oh, too bad! I'm just starting to do tapestry; a man gave me his Grandmas's Tissart, and I promised to use it!! I also do some yoga, but less as the years go by, which is silly! At least, keeo writing the blog!. I need a push!