10 July 2007

Knitting and Contemplation

Definition from Webster.com:

Main Entry: con·tem·pla·tion Pronunciation: "kän-t&m-'plA-sh&n, -"tem-Function: noun
1 a : concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion
b : a state of mystical awareness of God's being
2 : an act of considering with attention : STUDY
3 : the act of regarding steadily

It has been six months since I have had the energy to post here in Pull of the Tides, but sometimes the work of a creative mind requires silences and spaces before expression results. Mainly the pause in self-expression on this blog has come from two major sources: from feelings of utter burn-out from work and from my need to ponder what I really want to be spending my waking hours doing. So I have been inside my cocoon for six months, while my mind turned inward in contemplation.

I work for a very small non-profit that is suffering from lack of leadership and a decreasing budget. Organizations like the one I work for often have a high turn-over in staff due to burn-out. There are just enough staff members to keep us running, but not enough to pull off the high rate of activity for too very long before the situation begins to crumble. There were too many 12-hour days this past spring. Many of the things I wanted to do in my personal life suffered from the time I gave to my job.

Like Penelope of Greek myth waiting for her husband Ulysses to return from his voyages, I have carefully unwound my thoughts of anxiety, frustration and uncertainty each night and started afresh with the goal of finding a way to improve my circumstances at work. For a while I experienced great frustration, and felt powerless to change my circumstances or to speak up. In recent weeks things have begun to shift again. There are more "a-ha" moments when I've managed to make a difference. I can now say that I think I have laid the groundwork for a less stressful fall at my job, at least that's what I hope.

I think what has preserved my sanity is that while I was focusing so much attention to work, I was remaining loyal to my desires to be more creative in my daily life. To make things gives me the sense of accomplishment that I often don't feel in my job. Working too hard or too much can create feelings of loneliness. The people around me have helped me to remain grounded to values I hold dear and have freed me to do the creative work I need to do.

So I focused my creative energies these past six months on knitting: knitting alone, knitting with different groups of friends, and making new friends through knitting.

I think this is something akin to what Betsy Greer has labeled "craftivism." I have building community through crafting. It has made a big difference to me that I have had friends with whom I can knit. I have a pair of friends who are voracious textile-makers and they are truly an inspiration to me. They have taught me that I need one big project and one small project (at minimum) so that I can keep the crafting going on at home and on the move. They literally knit anywhere they go. We went on a field trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and learned that an afternoon is nice, but you won't be able to look at all of the yarn unless you go both days! Knitting can also be a form of reaching out to new friends. I also gave knitting lessons to a woman I met in yoga class to knit last December, and she is becoming a friend. In the cold months of late winter and into the spring thaw I organized knitting circles with three or four friends at a local tea shop or cafe.

Then, out of the blue just a few weeks ago, I had a long talk with a former co-worker. Somehow the conversation turned to knitting and I was astonished to learn that she loves to knit. It had never come up in the past. Immediately we launched into a conversation on our various projects. She introduced me to a knitting store I hadn't heard about that is about 40-minutes from where I live. It's worth the drive, especially on Wednesday nights when they open up the shop for "Sip 'N Knit" gatherings (wine, snacks and good company). So now my former co-worker and her roommate have introduced me to yet another community of boisterous and happy crafters.

It has taken me a while to realize that these crafty friends have been guiding me through and out of my quiet time of reflection, and have helped me to take action. Knitting a garment takes a lot of time, a lot of courage, in fact. Each stitch is small and laid so closely together with others, that I sometimes find myself surprised at how much fabric I have made during one sitting. Focusing deeply on this work is a form of contemplation. For me, it has almost spiritual, maybe "Zen" properties. Combining that with my love of spending time in good company and of enjoying good conversation has been my way of seeing through the rough patches of my life. As one online friend said, "Knitting is a wonderfully constructive way of using up negative energy."

Those rough patches at my job aren't over, but I have made a lot of progress on my blue cotton cardigan. I'm looking forward to tomorrow evening's Sip 'N Knit with the gals.

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