One day, a young woman goes
to her priest with some questions.
asks, "may I pray while I knit?"
"Of course, my child!"
the priest responds. He is delighted that
this young woman seems to understand the necessity
of constant prayer, the instruction to pray
The young woman, too, is pleased with the
conversation thus far, and so she decides
"So Father," she
adds, "may I knit while I pray?"
the priest exclaims.
I first discovered this
"wonderful place" and the power
of knitting as a companion to contemplation
on a rainy afternoon. I find that one of the
best ways to put myself in a meditative mood
is to take a walk outside. However, there
are certain days when it's just not very pleasant
to be outside. I needed an alternative practice
for those days.
One day, it occurred to
me to try knitting. It worked! The repetitive
motions of my hands were the perfect substitute
for the repetitive motions of my body while
walking. The knitting kept me busy and centered
but freed my mind and heart to dance around
whatever issues or problems were currently
bothering me. I say "dance around,"
and not "think about," because while
the needles were in my hands, I found that
they provided a certain distance between me
and the problems of my daily life-even those
problems that had seemed so huge, so all-encompassing
just hours or minutes before.
I soon learned that this
distance gave me more than just a blessed
reprieve from worry. As I sat quietly and
knit, my mind would slowly calm. Soon, ideas
and worries would start to bubble up to the
surface one by one, slowly, instead of all
together in a furious boil. I found that if
I simply acknowledged them and then let them
simmer, rather than try to actively concentrate
on them, amazing things would happen. Vague
hints of solutions would begin to appear in
my subconscious. By refusing to think too
hard, I could open my mind to all sorts of
answers that I would never have considered
Most importantly, I would
gradually come to a feeling of peace, of hope
or anticipation or contentment. My mood after
a knitting session is virtually always drastically
improved over how I was feeling before I picked
up the needles that day. Even when the problems
that worried me were essentially out of my
control-war, for example-or insoluble, such
as grief for the loss of a loved one, after
knitting for a while, they would seem less
horrible, less terrifying. Quite simply, knitting
made me feel better.
Never one to leave well
enough alone, I decided I needed to know why
this was. The fact can seem so obvious that
we don't even consider the reason behind it;
why should knitting make us feel better? On the most basic
level, knitting is doing
something, and we almost always feel better
when we are accomplishing something, anything.
Knitting can also provide an escape. By losing
ourselves in a particularly challenging pattern
or stitch, we can shut out our worries for
This sort of escapism can
be found in many other activities as well,
like cooking or reading. But while concocting
an elaborate meal or curling up with a novel
usually makes me feel better for a little
while, neither seem to have the lasting effects
that knitting has. The peace they bring is
more superficial, more fleeting. Why, then,
is knitting so particularly suited to soothing
away problems and bringing peace?
The answer to this lies
at the very heart of the craft, and is so
obvious that we all too often overlook it
entirely. Think for a moment about what is
happening in the actual, physical process
of knitting. The knitter takes a strand of
yarn and manipulates it, as if by magic, into
a piece of cloth with shape and texture. From
what is basically a piece of string, using
only a few sticks, comes an object, a real thing of warmth and beauty.
Knitting isn't really magic,
though. And this is the most important part.
This amazing transformation of some raw materials
into a useful, beautiful, and unique knitted
object is done with the knitter's own hands. When your project is done, you can show it to
the people around you and tell them "I
made this." That alone is extremely
But it's not just about
a sense of accomplishment, either. When we
knit a ball of yarn into a sweater, we are
constructing a whole, bit by bit, stitch by
stitch. We can go as slowly as we like, but
each stitch is progress. When we make mistakes,
we can go back and fix them-or we can decide
that we actually like them perfectly well
as they are, thank you very much. Both approaches
involve a great deal of courage-the courage
to admit our mistakes and take the time to
fix them, or the courage to accept our imperfections
and blaze our own trails.
Knitting teaches us self-confidence,
and establishes us firmly as co-creators of
our worlds. We soon find that what we can
do with yarn, we can do also with our lives.
Knitting prepares us to take the plunge into
living fully and actively participating in
our lives. If we can take some yarn and sticks
and make a beautiful warm sweater, we can
certainly construct our own happiness.
The self-actualization that
knitting brings is most fully realized when
we knit for ourselves. In her delightful book
Zen and the Art of Knitting,
Bernadette Murphy writes:
So what are you waiting
for? Knitter, heal thyself. Knit a sweater
or shawl that will be both a literal and a
metaphorical token of the warmth, beauty,
and peace that you have the power to create
for yourself. Pick a pattern that you find
truly beautiful, or even create your own.
Choose soft, luxurious yarn in beautiful colors.
Make sure that both the process and the product
bring you joy. Don't work on this particular
project when you are in a bad mood or going
through a difficult time, or you will always
associate that negativity with your knitting.
Instead, turn your negative energy into something
positive for the world by using some charity
knitting to get through the anger or sadness.
Work on your healing project
when you are feeling positive and hopeful.
Put on some comforting music or a favorite
old movie, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee,
put your feet up, and knit yourself an enduring
symbol of your ability to knit yourself together.
Melville, Sally. The
Knitting Experience, Book 1: The Knit Stitch.
XRX Books, 2002.
Murphy, Bernadette. Zen
and the Art of Knitting. Adams Media