Thursday, December 16, 2010

Knitting a Yoga Practice

Yoga can seem endlessly repetitious, or perhaps infinitely new, simple and complicated all at the same time. On our own, we fall into patterns, push and pull at them and sometimes get tangled so that we have to put the whole thing down for a while. Or daunted, puzzled, blocked or frightened by what we find, or what we cannot find, we seek a teacher or other resources. Sometimes we just walk away from practice for a while.

I have recently found myself to be knitting. It is many years since I made my last sweater. Since then, I have forgotten even how to start the yarn on the needle (called casting on) or how to read the directions of a pattern or to see from the yarn on the needle what stitch it is. In the beginning I had to scrounge for yarn and make up a project out of my head in order to get going. Then I searched for my stash of yarn from years ago, discovered two projects abandoned mid-stream, and both leftovers of yarn and new batches ready for a project.

Surrounded and encouraged by the help of friends (who are also my neighbors --one of the blessings of a cooperative way of life), I am relearning how to knit. It is as a true beginner I approach each aspect of the task, yet as my hands begin to move there is a deep familiarity. As one of my teachers put it, I already have experienced hands. Even so, each stitch requires real attention of a specific kind, while also keeping in mind a pattern within the row, and a pattern beyond the row to include a part of the project or the whole piece. Yet my hands and eyes must attend to this stitch being formed on the needles and must not wander too far into the realm of patterns and projects else I'll drop a stitch, split the yarn with my needle or do the wrong stitch all together. I have had to tear out and start again several times on the simplest of stitches simply because I could not keep my mind focused enough to count the stitches as required. With some humor and acceptance, even this superficially frustrating task was deeply satisfying. Not giving up, holding to a real standard, knowing that in some way my life is held and unfolding in each impermanent and purposeful stitch.

While making something for someone specific, suddenly I want to give it to several people. Ah, I can observe my way of operating... I would like one too, I would like each of these people to have one, I would like to be the person who can make something for everyone... all of that. Out it comes, quietly while I work on this stitch. My hands get tired, my fingers ache. I change my posture to make myself more comfortable. Just til the end of this row, I think, and then turn and start the next row. Well, I'll just do this last side. Watching myself strive to get more done, while at the same time enjoying the feeling of the yarn in my hand, noticing the ache in that finger, taking deep pleasure at the beauty of the methodically twisted yarn in its emerging form as something else. Knowing that even the end of this row is not the end, nor will the end of this scarf be the end. I feel connected to centuries of hands making warm things from spun fibers.

At this moment I truly can no longer see the difference between knitting and yoga. Staying here precisely with this stitch, profoundly understanding that the stitch is nothing and everything, just yarn yet already a scarf, part of a sheep yet wrapped around my aunt's neck, while really still moving in my fingers between the knitting needles. My yearning to be productive remains held stitch by stitch in reality, just as easily pulled back into a thin line of yarn or an elaborate design. This is like the singularity of the breath totally entwined in every cell of me, the movement and wear of the body with all my intentions and inattention, the tangle and deep peace of the mind and that which eludes the mind's grasp.

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