Knitting and mindfulness: kavannah for the anxious


I was raised Catholic. Whole kit and caboodle. Every sacrament I can get short of marriage, joining an order, or last rites – I’ve got’em under my belt.

Now that I’m a Jew, I notice at times that there are pieces of my faith of origin that I miss. Lately, I’ve noticed the lack of – for lack of a better expression – a fidget. I wasn’t ever really big on reciting the rosary, but holding it as I worked through complicated thoughts, consciously passing it through my fingers as I tried to come up with solutions – it was a ritual that gave my busy mind some peace. There was something in the process of working my worries out of my head through my fingers that really worked for me.

I’ve experienced similar feelings of letting go as I fidget with the tzitzit on my tallit (for those who are even less Hebrew literate than I am, the tzitzit are the knotted cords that hang from the four corners of the prayer shawl {tallit}). What I’ve noticed, though, is that I’ve been experiencing the same sort of calm and peace from an activity not generally associated with religious practice: knitting.

What knitting does for me, in spite of its practical secular nature, is very spiritual in practice. I knit not because I need to create (though there is a lot of that in the planning), but because it is a repetitive physical act that requires me to be mindful. Each time I loop the yarn around the needle, I do so with conscious thought. Every stitch brings with it intention. Knitting is my attempt to live with kavannah. Every step of my process is a deliberate choice. If I’m not focused on my task, I will screw up my count, and the whole pattern goes to shit. This generally reflects ongoing tensions in my life where my inattention lets things slip.

Every stitch I complete reflects my state of mind in that moment. More relaxed? My gauge will be looser. Stressed? Watch me snap a needle, it’s so tight. Distracted? My colourwork will be messed up in several places, leading me to tear it out and be more patient, more connected to my task to not repeat the same mistakes.

I’m uncomfortable with keeping most of what I knit: if I haven’t picked a recipient from the beginning, I almost always have someone in mind by the time I’ve finished. Sometimes I’ll pick the person before I pick the project, particularly if there’s a complicated situation I need time to work through connected with that person. Sometimes, a project will go completely off the rails, and will end up being for someone completely different than I’d intended. And that’s okay.

Do I pray into my needles? No. Do I use the time and action of knitting to help quiet my brain enough to work through worries, anxieties, and internal conflict? Do I knit to remind myself to slow down and remember my part of the bigger picture? Do I engage in this repetitive creative task to maintain my connection to the world? Yes, yes, yes. Do I think it’s blasphemous to write about living my life intentionally, about using my needles to keep me on that track, and relating this back to my practice of Judaism? Not in the least.

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4 Comments

  1. redfraggle said,

    November 5, 2010 at 8:59 am

    I find that knitting calms me too – lets me fidget with something tangible so that I can rest and pay attention. It forces me into the moment and that mindfulness stops my thoughts from spiraling.

    I have no idea why this would be blasphemous.

  2. Melissa said,

    November 5, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I get this. Recently I’ve come back to spinning, making a yarn with which I’m going to knit a hat for my best friend’s first baby — due in December. I’d forgotten how soothing it is feeling the fibres slip through my fingers, watching them twist from something fragile into something strong, and — as hokey as it might sound — envision mybest wishes and hopes for her and her unborn baby becoming caught up in the yarn as I wind it onto my spindle. It brings me a focus that I’ve been lacking lately.

  3. Andrea said,

    November 10, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Great post. Beautiful. You should submit it somewhere, though I can’t think of where. (If Jewcy or Jewlicious took guest posts if would work there.)

    I’m going to share it on Makom’s Facebook group page & via Makom’s Twitter account.

  4. Hazel Cohen said,

    December 4, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    I knit when I am depressed but still checked in enough to realise that I need self care, and I also knit when I am going through breakups. I used to speed read novels through breakups, but knitting is better for me because it involves mindfulness and not escapeism (getting absorbed into the world of the novel.)

    I purposely choose simple projects such as stockinette hats or garter stitch scarves because i can knit them without needing to get too cerebral. Getting into that soft spot on the edge of thought is what is therapeutic for me when times are tough.


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