April 9, 2009
It’s so easy to enter a meditative state while knitting. Something about the rhythmic movement back and forth between the right and left hands, something about the soothing repetition of movements. Something about it…
I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to write about knitting as a meditative art. People have tried to understand it in right brain/left brain terms. It has been compared to EMDR with its right and left eye movements. There have been lots of attempts to explain why it works, as if people need to prove its therapeutic benefits. I don’t really care why it works, it’s enough for me that it does.
I picked up knitting at a particularly stressful time in my life, not realizing that it had become a craze. Having learned it when I was young, my mind-body must have remembered the feeling of it and signaled my intuition that it was time to start knitting again. I find knitting to be so comforting and relaxing. I’ve known that it produces a meditative state, but it was just a couple days ago that I fully appreciated its power. When I was thinking about the similarity between meditation and knitting, I realized that you can’t worry and knit at the same time!
When you worry, the mind gets involved in a train of thought — a story about what might happen, what could happen, what might have happened and so on. Worrying engages the emotions in a way that creates anxiety. The use of your hands and the sight of the stitches being formed breaks that pattern. I challenge you to see if you can worry while you knit! To test this out, I knit a few rows actually trying to worry. I couldn’t do it. I could come up with worry thoughts like “what if that pain is a horrible disease” and “what if I can’t pay the bills next month”, but no matter what thought I conjured up, there was no emotional juice that came with it.
So many of the phrases I use while leading guided meditations aim to do this same thing — to disentangle the thoughts from the emotions, to allow the mind to break free of its usual patterns so that one enjoys a simple, open state of awareness. When I say things like “not minding the stories of the mind” or “let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind”, I am encouraging the mind to do what it does while we knit — disengage.
If you decide to knit to meditate, I think you’ll find the effect is the most powerful when you do a simple knit stitch over and over. In knitting, it’s called “garter stitch”. You just knit and knit and knit and don’t try to follow a complex pattern. It’s easy to learn, and you may find you also love handling beautifully colored yarns with various yummy textures. You might even end up with some great scarves in the process!
OK, so you’re behind the curve on the knitting craze. For all I know it’s over. Who cares? Knitting makes a great meditation. And, if you are hesitant because you are of the male gender, please know that, to borrow a book title, “real men knit”. Russell Crowe does it. Brad Pitt does it. The big, talk Ghi McBride character on Pushing Daisies does it. Just do it!
March 6, 2009
Because so many people seem to associate my guided meditations with Mindfulness, many of whom both use our CDs and listen to our podcast, I often find myself wondering exactly what Mindfulness is. I’ve often thought that my meditations have more to do with “mindlessness” than “mindfulness”, and have thought of writing a post about that. It took a really interesting blog post in the New York Times today to get me to begin to tackle that subject. Check it out — peoples’ comments are really interesting to read:
Well, I said “begin to tackle that subject” and I am literally only beginning to try to formulate by thoughts about it and don’t know if I’ll ever get past the beginning on this one. For one thing, having practiced meditation for a long time before ever hearing of Mindfulness Meditation, I’ve never really be able to relate to mindfulness instructions when I come across them, so how can I compare it with what I do?
Also, it seems like Mindfulness isn’t just a technique of meditation, but is often (if not always) associated with an intention to be a certain kind of person or to behave in a certain way — a way that is better than ones current way of being or behaving. My involvement with meditation has had to do with self-awareness and with inner peace, but I’ve never been involved in order to be a better person. If anything, my hope has been to learn to accept myself the way I am. I’m not saying that I don’t want to be a “better” person. Who doesn’t (depending on how each person defines that)? I just never saw meditation as a means to that unless it came as a welcome by-product to greater ease with myself and with life.
As I write, I am beginning to understand some possible distinctions between Mindfulness Meditation and what I do. I say “possible” because as I said I don’t really know Mindfulness Meditation. I also suspect that all Mindfulness Meditation is not alike. Certainly not every Mindfulness teacher understands and teaches it in the same way. Certainly not everyone who practices it understands it in the same way. Also, Mindfulness seems to involve more than a technique of meditation. It seems to involve a way of being in the world — something you apply outside of a period of meditation practice. While I do think meditation “my way” creates changes outside of meditation, there is no specific recommendation to try to consciously make something happen in daily life.
So why do I feel my meditations have to do with Mindlessness rather than Mindfulness? My sense is that in Mindfulness Meditation there is a kind of noting of things. There is the idea that here I am being mindful. So in Mindfulness there is a awareness of “me” sitting here “being mindful”. The difference I’d see is that in my meditations (the ones like “Simply Being” that don’t have a specific focus), there is a letting go of what is noticed. Noticing is not noting. It’s not a taking note of what you experience, or a labeling of it. It’s more of a letting go of what is noticed. We aren’t looking for anything. Noticing happens spontaneously. We are spontaneously aware of what is going on. We don’t need to try to notice something. It just comes into our awareness. Or it doesn’t. Doesn’t matter. It’s just a matter of letting go when we become aware that the mind has gotten involved, or tangled up with, what is being experienced.
As I write, I see the impossibility of conceptualizing what happens in meditation. And perhaps this is my difficulty with understanding Mindfulness Meditation. Perhaps it is the problem that is inherent when we try to put the meditative experience into words. It sounds like we mean something we don’t really mean. I can certainly see that what I was just writing in the paragraph above could sound like something other than what I mean.
So I’ll just stop. I began to try to write about Mindlessness vs Mindfulness, and I found that I can’t really. But I think you might enjoy the New York Times piece I mentioned, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with this subject. So for that reason, I’ll go ahead and publish this post about what I can’t really put in writing. I think this has liberated me from any compulsion to explore how what I do is different than Mindfulness (if it is). It doesn’t really matter in the end. I’m happy with what I’m doing!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and welcome your comments.
September 16, 2008
Meditation is about your own self-discovery. Learning to meditate is about discovering your own natural ability to shift into a way of being that is natural and effortless. It’s about finding what already exists in your own awareness. My goal with my guided meditations is to create a platform from which you can make your own discoveries, so there is no right or wrong way to do them. Meditation is a happening, not something that you do. However it happens for you is just right.
Yesterday I answered an email question making this point, and today I received a reply back which was so beautiful. It’s all about this very point, in this case as it applies to someone experiencing anxiety. I’m sharing part of the email exchange here because I think it might be meaningful for many of you.
“I have always had an interest in meditation and have known for some time that it would help me get over my anxiety and panic attacks but only in the last 3 months have I made it a part of my daily life and the results have been dramatic. Just knowing that the peace that meditation brings is available to me whenever I need it has made a huge difference to my day to day life and your podcasts have been instrumental in this. I really can’t thank you enough for taking the time out of your life to do this for others.
However, the anxiety I feel often manifests itself physically as a tight chest and shallow breathing. During meditations I have found that focusing on my breathing when it is already laboured sometimes makes this worse as I become more conscious of the unpleasant sensation and this feeds the anxiety. My breathing does eventually become effortless but generally only when I take my mind off my breathing.
I imagine that this may be the case for others who suffer from heightened anxiety and would love to hear your views and opinions on the matter.
Thanks again for making the podcast and the website. It really has been a huge help for me to make meditation part of my daily life.”
“Thank you so much for your open sharing of your journey with anxiety. It’s wonderful …that you’ve made meditation part of your life. You are very welcome for the podcast — it’s so inspiring to hear from people with stories like yours!
These meditations are really meant as a springboard for the discovery of your ability to relax and enter a meditative state. Although we do have a Breath Awareness Meditation among the podcasts, and some other meditations refer to breathing, there are many that don’t involve awareness of the breath. Perhaps you’ll find that certain meditations are more useful than others at different times. For example, when you are particularly anxious, the breath meditation may not be the best one for you. You can trust your intuition on this!
And when you are doing a meditation you don’t need to follow the instructions precisely. There’s no right or wrong experience or way to do them. They are there for your own exploration and discovery. You discovered that at certain times taking your mind off your breathing works best. You can trust yourself and do just that!”
As I have realised many times since I started meditating, the relaxation and peace I’m looking for only comes when I stop frantically trying to find it. The first time I ever felt the complete peace that meditation can bring I felt so stupid! I’d been looking everywhere for this feeling during my anxiety and there it was all the time, quietly waiting for me to stop looking. Just that knowledge made all the difference.”
January 10, 2007
Anything can trigger a “meditative state”. That shift in awareness that we call meditation is natural to the mind. The mind will take the opportunity to shift any chance it gets, we just don’t always give it the time and space to do it. But sometimes it happens unexpectedly — the sight of a sunset, a baby’s wide open eyes, even something painful like grief. It happens when something jogs the mind out of its analytical, linear mode and allows the awareness to expand. It happened to me today when I visited Candleday, the blog of Tomas Karkalas who posted the very first comment to my very first post on this (or any) blog.
Candleday, with its beautiful art and straightforward, heartfelt spiritual depth created the heart-opening, body-relaxing, sense-enhancing shift that I needed to take with me into my left-brained adventure into learning how to blog.
What triggers a meditative shift for you? Would love to hear your comments.