I’ve always disliked that “For Dummies” series, since it seems to require a hefty dose of self-deprecation right off the shelf. Of course, its creators don’t give a rat’s ass about what I think, seeing as they’re sitting around their cabin in Vail or their villa in Tuscany, drinking port and toasting the millions of dummies who have made them very, very rich. (I have similar distaste for the Chicken Soup people, but again, I am clearly in the minority.)
But I digress.
What I want to write about today is the joy of knitting and how it has afforded me a way to calm body and soul without actually having to meditate. I taught myself the basic stitch back in 2005, and I was hooked (needled?). Five thousand four hundred eighty-two scarves later I’d mastered the fundamentals and could begin to move on to more complex projects. At this point I’ve knit everything from cell phone covers (for some reason, I get lots of teasing for that one) to sweaters (kids’ sizes turn out better) to stuffed animals and lap blankets (excellent for trying new stitch patterns) and socks and countless felted purses and washcloths and tea cozies. It’s my (mostly) harmless addiction — God knows I’ve had plenty of harmful ones.
Back to meditation. For the longest time I couldn’t stand to sit still with myself, to let the monkey mind jump and spin until it tired itself out and perhaps I could experience a flash or two of detachment. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to sit and breathe, because I couldn’t stand myself. Meditating seemed like the equivalent of a long car trip with a crotchety great-aunt who was expert at finding flaws and picking at them until the wounds were raw and bleeding. Fun!
So I had to get to a nicer place, just to be able to recognize that harsh inner voice that piped up so often when I sat still — and to realize that I could disengage every time I noticed it. Pema Chodron talks about lightly touching and releasing our thoughts, as if they’re soap bubbles, and as I made friends with myself I got better at doing this. Ah, there she is, the harsh irrational perfectionist harpy. Hi, honey. Thanks for sharing, but I’m not interested right now. Buh-bye.
But knitting. So it’s rhythmic, it’s productive, it’s tactile, it’s concrete. I watch the stitches stack into something lovely and while I knit I can either focus on it completely (now I am making a knit stitch, now I am making a purl stitch) in a way that brings me viscerally into the moment. Or I can let the knitting go on auto pilot and allow my thoughts to range freely, using that touch-and-release technique to practice not identifying with my mind (have you seen those bumper stickers that say “Don’t believe everything you think”? Word). And since I’m not compelled to knit — think of all those thick sweaters for the fishermen in Nova Scotia! All those socks for soldiers! — I can stop whenever I want.
In any case, knitting is not for dummies. It’s for smarties — or at least, knitting seems to make me a smarter and calmer person, less prone to impulsive decisions and foolish mistakes. If I’m not sure what’s next, if I’m agitated and ill-at-ease, I don’t need an insultingly-titled handbook to tell me what to do. All I need is a comfy chair, some needles, and a ball of yarn.