I flagrantly paraphrased the title of a wonderful book. But I love the title of this post, and think I may unpack this over several posts. (holla back to my yarn wall!!)
Today was a Monday. Let me tell you, it was MONDAY. It started off literally with me having to send an “All the best” email. For those of you who don’t work with me, that’s how I say “FU” in a professional email. Everyone I know in any sort of customer service gig has a phrase like that, like “Have a nice weekend”, or “Enjoy your day”. How are we to deal with these days? Well, I craft.
“Zen is the “spirit of the valley,” not the mountaintop.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
…And so it is with me. Crafting has been there for me in my valleys. My very first yoga instructor explained how yoga/meditation can create some space around ourselves. A mental moat, if you will. That moat gives you space to respond to, rather than react to people and situations. Many articles have been written about the difference between the two, and how important that difference is. Reacting is sending the email that says “had you read the previous email, jerkwad…” Responding is “all the best”. Actually, responding is probably “I’m sorry you feel that way”. “All the best” lives somewhere in the middle. This is a journey, Dear Reader, I’m not there yet.
Even before I understood what meditation was about, I think I was meditating while crafting. As I form a stitch, or spin a length, or any of the myriad tasks I complete on my way to my finished project, it is almost as if I enter an altered state. While I engage one part of my brain to do my craft, another part is processing complex thoughts and feelings. More articles talk about what meditation can be. I have taken from my research* that anything done mindfully can be a form of meditation.
I find it difficult to do traditional meditation. I know I’m supposed to let the thoughts pass through, but I seem to pick at them. When all I’m tasked with is paying attention to my breathing, I get bored. It’s not good to admit. But, Dear Reader, if I don’t admit to the two (ha!) shortcomings I have, you’ll never think I can relate to you. When I am crafting, though, I don’t seem to need to to pick at the thoughts. They can come and go. I can pay attention to them, or not. That little bit of attention to what my hands are doing is all it takes for me to enter into the appropriate head space.
Not every project is a good Zen candidate, though. You need something that you can “zone out” doing. That thing depends on your familiarity with the craft in question. It also depends on what you need out of the project. Something that is technical for you may not give the “Zen” experience. In fact, there have been many times in my crafting where I’ve needed to meditate to deal with what I’m trying to craft! Crafting to solve my crafting problems! It’s crazy!!!! (We’ll talk later about what those more complicated projects can do for you mentally)
Granted, crafts don’t start out as being calming or soothing. I remember directly after teaching DeAnna to knit, her telling me I was crazy for thinking she’d ever find knitting relaxing. Well, no, not while you are learning. But it wasn’t even a couple of months later that she related a story about being irritated with her 70 kids (there are actually *only* five), and one of them brought her her knitting bag because he thought she needed the stress release. She has many stories of using knitting as a stress relief (which is what meditation is supposed to do, right?). The point is not to take up crafting in the hopes that you will suddenly find Nirvana. Unless you hid “Nevermind” in the bottom of your craft basket.
If, however, you have already taken up a craft, see if maybe you can use it as meditation. Is there something repetitive that you do in this craft that needs you to pay just a little attention? I, personally, have many projects going at the same time. Each has a purpose, and one purpose could be meditation. Even if you don’t have an entire project for this purpose, you may find that within a project, there is a step you dread because it’s mind numbingly boring. Instead of looking at it as boring, does it help to use it to see if you can turn it into meditation? (I’m looking at you miles and miles of stockinette stitch in the body of a sweater–and don’t think I don’t see you quilt binding that needs to be hand stitched…)
Crafting has the added benefit of being “useful”. It gives us an “excuse”. While we can discuss the reasons why it’s BS that we need excuses, the fact remains that excuses make things easier. You don’t have to explain you don’t want to talk to anyone today because you sent five “all the best” emails. You are crafting. You don’t have to react to your family member’s questionable political view, because look, that stitch just dropped. Hunh, where did that go? And those days you just can’t even? For literally no reason other than it’s Thursday? Well, you’re being productive. And you didn’t have time to shower because you had this project you needed to finish. It’s not depression (unless it is, and if it is, get help for that shit, you are neither Superman, nor Wonder Woman)
That’s not to say that those who are close to you won’t know. But just as it’s easier for you not to have that argument, it’s easier for them as well to not have that argument. You don’t have to explain you need to decompress. You don’t have to explain that yes, you are just sitting there doing nothing, but that in itself is doing something. You are making Things. And if secretly, you are building a moat so that you don’t scoop out their eyeballs with a spoon to feed to feral dogs, well, we can let that be our secret (that was oddly specific–unless you live in my head–in which case, it was just specific).
The featured photo is a gift for Barb. It was Zen crafting at its finest!! I spun the yarn, and was able to be soothed by that. And then, the pattern was simple enough and repetitive enough that I was able to be soothed by the making of the scarf as well!
*there are no sources cited. This is a blog, not a dissertation. Use Google, like I had to!
5 thoughts on “Zen and the art of crafting”
Friend, I love your voice. I love the truths that you tell, even though you may be reading my mind as well.
I’m going to steal one of my favorite truths I got from you in the next blog 🙂
Well written post 🙂 very interesting too
I am glad I found your blog. I enjoyed this post. I pray and meditate a lot, and knitting kinda falls into that category when I am not knitting with friends. Don’t worry about trying to conform to ‘traditional meditation’; I think each person’s experience is different. I have mornings where my mind is totally blocked and other times when I feel like I am in a complete state of calm.