Apr 4, 2016

Mindful Knitting

Many years ago, my mother and I attended a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh in Denver. My memory in most things is pretty terrible (let me tell you about how little I remember from going to see the His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak...), so the only things I remember are some rather excellent chanting by a group of Buddhist nuns and a discussion of dishwashing and tooth-brushing. Seriously, my memory is crap.

Dishwashing and tooth-brushing seems an odd recollection, not to mention an odd topic, but it revolved around mindfulness. I am by no means an expert in this, but this is what I took away from it: When you are doing dishes, don't be thinking about how much you hate it, or what you will do next, or what you wish you were doing, or whether or not you have clean underwear for tomorrow. The same goes for brushing our teeth - don't stare into the mirror wondering how it is possible that your pores look like they could store a Buick in them. To be mindful is to live in each moment. When you are washing the dishes, focus on washing the dishes - the feel of the soap and the water, the look of the crusted on lasagna. When brushing your teeth, focus on the action of running that toothbrush across each tooth, the toothpaste suds in your mouth, the bristles on your gums. Live in each moment. Keep your mind in each moment.

It is tough to do consistently, but trying it in just one mundane task and you realize he's on to something. The task seems less onerous, it feels more important, and you lose that feeling of regret/sadness/anger that you weren't doing something else. Pro tip: smartphones make this so damn hard to do (although one could make an argument for mindful candy crush).

There is a peace that comes with mindfulness, and Thich Nhat Hanh says that this is the true path to happiness.

"The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it."
--Thich Nhat Hanh

My favorite activity to apply mindfulness to is knitting. Too often, I am knitting while (insert any activity ever here). Watching TV, at the movie theater, at a sports game, driving (in the passenger seat, natch), waiting in lines, having coffee at a cafe, hiking, etc. My mind is not fully focused on either my knitting or the other activity, and as such, is not fully in the moment. Ok, I'm not going to stop multitasking with knitting - I get twitchy just sitting and doing nothing in front of the idiot box. However, it is really rewarding on occasion to just knit. Not only knit while doing nothing else, but to really focus on my knitting. I try to be attentive to the feel of the needles in my hands, the yarn slipping over my tension finger, the beauty in the repetition of the needle going into the stitch, grabbing the yarn, pulling it through, slipping the stitch off, the sound of the gentle click of the needles, the color and texture of the yarn. I don't think about how much further I have to go before I can join sleeves, or what project I want to work on next, or ponder whether or not I can justify buying more of the yarn. I focus on the moment, on the knitting.

It is surprisingly difficult, but also incredibly rewarding. It does create peace and a sense of happiness, but (and here you see why I am not a great student of mindfulness) it also results in getting far more accomplished than normal. I am far more efficient a knitter when being mindful than when not, and that is reason enough to give mindful knitting a go!