Friday, February 1, 2008

Knowing When to Rip

I teach yoga. Knitting is so like yoga. In casting on, you create the foundation for the garment, just as you create a standing pose starting with the placement of your feet. If the foundation is unstable, the garment or pose will fall apart. As you knit, each stitch is connected to the previous stitch, the next stitch, the next row; and they are dependent on that connectedness. As you build your yoga pose from the foundation up, each body part is connected to and lines up with the next body part.

I love what I do. Nothing is more gratifying for me than when a student comes into class feeling down or in pain and leaves feeling better. This week one of my students told me how inspired she was by my first class of the day, then excitedly told a student coming in for the next class all about it. And she wasn't talking about the poses. She was talking about taking what I had said in class and applying it to her life. Ripples . . .

Someone once asked me how many hours a week I teach. On the surface, it may not seem like much. But for every class I teach, I've spent countless hours in preparation - determining and developing a theme for class with pose sequences, breathing exercises and a guided meditation to support that theme; my personal practice; my independent studies; the numerous workshops and teacher trainings; the continuing education requirements to maintain my current accreditations; the research I do for students. I love all of that. Then there is the part I don't love - the attendance tracking, accounts receivable, accounts payable, database management, scheduling, promotion, etc.

Over the last few weeks, I've found myself in a situation in which I thought I had not had a choice. I took over two classes from another teacher; one I'd be teaching, the other another teacher would sub-contract from me. The original plan had been that one of us would assume the accounting responsibilities - it wasn't supposed to be me. I had not wanted this on my plate but there it landed, so I decided to embrace it. I believed I didn't have a choice; and in my typical way, I jumped in with both feet and took off running.

I cast on, laboring to establish the foundation. I created a logo, forms, policies and procedures, a new database, flyers to promote our classes, had copies made, organized it all in one place and set myself up to manage the bookkeeping. With each task completed, I had knit another row. I was making up the pattern as I went along. I proposed my expectations and asked that my friend do the same. We negotiated and settled on the terms under which we would operate for the first quarter.

Then my friend decided that she was not happy with the terms after all. I had spent the last three weeks focused on little else, neglecting my other work and obligations as well as my personal time, laboring to bring this "baby" into the world, assuming that we had an agreement. I was listening to Cast On in my car after learning of her change of heart. It was Episode 60, "Little Ripples", and I had to stop and listen to it again. I believed I was creating something of value from nothing and was asking to be fairly compensated for my effort.

Then I paused. I took a breath and as I exhaled, I opened to Grace. I saw that I had temporarily stepped out of the flow. In doing it all myself, I was inadvertently stifling my friend's growth. Here was the opportunity for her to learn how to create and manage a business herself. I was already doing that, so it was easy for me to step in, take over, and do it all myself. While she needed to learn how to purl and increase and decrease so she could create her own spectacular pattern, I was forcing her to keep using the knit stitch.

So I made a choice - the choice I could have made in January, if I had paused long enough then to see that I had a choice. I did not want to continue with this project. So, I chose to rip it out . . . to let it go with gratitude for this lesson learned . . . to put this baby up for adoption and cast on for another project. My friend may stumble; she's bound to make mistakes. But eventually she will learn to fly on her own. And how full of Grace is that?

Sunday, January 20, 2008


I love how things just seem to line up. I was feeling a need to work on a charity project, and before sitting down with my sticks and string, I decided to visit some of my favorite artists' blogs. This was everywhere (see sidebar). Update 2/1/08: The contest ended yesterday, so I have removed the button from the sidebar, but please do visit Bernie's blog.

So, if you're an animal lover, check out Bernie Berlin's blog A Place to Bark (and Meow), watch the video, read her story, and maybe help her out by making a $10 donation to the Network for Good.

This past week, I finally cast on for the first charity project of the year. It's a baby sweater, made from Paton's Classic Wool, destined for Afghans for Afghans. The pattern was designed by Beth Epperson and appears in the book, "The Portable Crafter: Knitting". I meant to take more "in progress" pictures, but it is such a quick knit that I am nearly finished!

I love to make baby items. They're small and cute and they make everyone who sees them go, "Aw."

To know that a new life will be wearing something that I made is a precious gift to me. As I work on this little sweater, I know that it will soon be keeping a baby warm. And that makes me feel good. And he will be able to sense the love that went into its creation. Perhaps a hat and some tiny little mits as well . . .

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Beauty and the Muck

One Friday last fall, I got a call from my dad saying that he would be dropping by the next afternoon for a visit – his first visit to us in about 4 years, and the very first for his new wife. As it happened, his call came about ½ an hour before I had scheduled our heating system inspection. It was no surprise to us (my Honey and I) that one of the heating units had to be replaced as well as one of the air conditioning units. Because we were planning to be out of town the following week, we opted to have them replaced the next day and I requested that they be done, if at all possible, an hour before my father and stepmother (you know, I don't like that "label" but can't come up with a better one) were supposed to arrive.

The heating unit was located in the crawl space under our house and had accumulated, in its 11 years of life and function, a great deal of mold and mildew. So as they were removing it, some of the gunk that had accumulated was released into the house. I had spent the two days cleaning and organizing and making our home especially presentable and all day on Saturday found myself coughing and hoarse-throated. Then, once they turned on the new system to test it, additional fumes were released into our home, along with some dust and dirt to make my now-near-perfectly presentable house not-so-presentable.

It wasn’t until later, as I sat in contemplation, that I realized that the old gunk had been infusing our lives for some time and the new gunk, while seeming more toxic, was actually very cleansing, once we cleared it out by opening windows and doors to the outside air (and with the assistance of some well chosen essential oils). The new units are greener, more efficient, and were especially welcome at that time of year in the not-so-deep South, when we might need the air conditioner one day and the heat that same night.

I was reminded through all of this of the beautiful lotus blossom. In order to thrive and grow and produce its loveliest flower, its roots must be firmly established in the gunk – the muddiest, darkest part of the lake or pond. But the stalk must rise out of the muck; the bud must break through the surface of the water, to the clear air, in order to open and display its beauty. And so, when I find myself mired in the muck, the stuff and the mundane of this existence, I remember the humble lotus. And I know why this is such a prevalent image for contemplation and meditation. It is a symbol of enlightenment and remembrance – a shining example of the beauty that can come out of the muck. This life is what we have now; and even in the muckiest of situations, we can choose to remember the beauty that is our True Nature – the light that can be produced from the darkness.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mindful vs Mindless

I hear this term often: “mindless knitting”. So I was thinking … do you know how someone can tell when you have knit something with love? Well, I believe someone can also tell when you have knit something with “mindlessness”. Now, I very often knit in public. And I often knit in public with friends. When I knit in public with friends, they are also knitting (or working at whatever is their chosen craft – crochet, needlepoint, decoupage, whatever). When I spend time with non-knitter friends, I feel that I need to be fully present with them in their non-knitty-ness (I do have other interests). If I were knitting, it would feel like they did not have my attention. And if they had my attention, the project on my needles would not. So someone looses out. Suppose I am working on a baby hat or a square for a community “afghan for Afghans”. These things are easy enough for “mindless knitting”. But what if, as I work, I pour into each stitch all the love and compassion the recipient of such a precious object deserves.

My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was a child. She used the tiniest crochet hooks and the most delicate thread. At first my hands were clumsy and the movements felt awkward to me. But she was patient, and together we made a doily. It was hot pink and I still have it. And I still crochet. I wish I had asked her to teach me how to make biscuits – she made the best biscuits that we would eat hot out of the oven with fresh butter and blackstrap molasses.

I taught myself how to knit when I wanted to make my friends pillows with their names on them. I was in junior high school and would put a girlfriend’s name (done in the technique I now know is stranded knitting) on the front and the name of whatever boy she admired on the back. Mine had “Donny” on the back – it was my “Donny Osmond” phase. Naturally, it was purple. I have no idea where this pillow may be now. At that time, everyone I knew who knit carried the yarn in the right hand. Because I crocheted, it felt more natural to me to carry the yarn in my left hand (I now know this is the Continental, or picking, method). Terpsichore was my muse then. When others would tell me I was doing it backwards, she paused long enough in her dance to whisper in my ear, “There is no Right Way to Knit,” (as Brenda Dayne would put it).

My mother had breast cancer, which did eventually claim her physical life. When I first heard the news, after falling on the floor and weeping uncontrollably, I poured my feelings of helplessness and my love for her into crocheted hats. I had some soft yarn that I thought would not irritate the scalp and pulled out an old pattern for a “Juliette Cap.” She lived with the disease for three years and did not lose her hair until the very end. She actually loaned these hats to a neighbor who did lose her hair during chemotherapy – that was her way. If she had it and you needed it, it was yours. I found these hats among her things after she passed and have been holding on to them ever since. They had been worn and washed and returned wrapped in tissue paper. I now think it is time they went back into service.

I started knitting again when a friend had a need. I had put my knitting needles down, probably 20 years ago. Then a pregnant friend was put on mandatory bed rest. She had been signed up to take a “learn to knit” class at a local yarn store and was lamenting the fact that she would no longer be able to attend. I said, “I can teach you how to knit.” So I brushed up on my skills and went right over. One of the first things I made after such a long absence from the needles was a little poncho for her precious baby boy, who is now three years old. I’ve had at least one project on my needles ever since. My friend is now expecting her second child, a little girl - I see a pink baby sweater in my immediate knitting future.

So I choose to practice “mindful knitting”. I allow the intended recipient to be in my thoughts and in my heart as I work. And I believe it makes a difference. Each stitch is imbued with love … and maybe a little of the spirit of my mother and her mother as well.