Knitting Sutra: Craft as a Spiritual Practice

Overview

"The purpose of meditation is to quiet the mind so that it can sink down into contemplation of its true nature. You cannot stop your mind by an act of will any more than you can stop the beating of your own heart. Some cultures describe mind as a drunken monkey, reeling from place to place with no rhyme or reason. Like meditation/ knitting calms the monkey down....I believe that in the quiet/ repetitive, hypnotic rhythms of creating craft, the inner being may emerge in all its quiet beauty. The very rhythm, of the knitting needles can become as

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Overview

"The purpose of meditation is to quiet the mind so that it can sink down into contemplation of its true nature. You cannot stop your mind by an act of will any more than you can stop the beating of your own heart. Some cultures describe mind as a drunken monkey, reeling from place to place with no rhyme or reason. Like meditation/ knitting calms the monkey down....I believe that in the quiet/ repetitive, hypnotic rhythms of creating craft, the inner being may emerge in all its quiet beauty. The very rhythm, of the knitting needles can become as incantatory as a drumbeat or a Gregorian chant."

— from The knitting Sutra

Knitting as prayer? Craft as spiritual path? In this wonderfully allusive story of the quest to master a craft, Susan Gordon Lydon's love of knitting and her search for spiritual insight become powerfully and lyrically intertwined.

Lydon's journey begins when she knits a turquoise chenille sweater to help a broken bone in her arm "knit." In pursuit of a perfect silver button for her sweater — and a medicine man for her arm — she ends up on a Navajo reservation where a community of women live by the proceeds of their craft in a unified cycle of livelihood, art, and spirituality. They remind Lydon of the women on the Shetland Islands who developed classic knitting patterns and of the women who gather at her local yarn shop. From old-fashioned quilting bees to the hundreds of knitters who communicate on the Internet, she recognizes in craftspeople the confluence of self, community, creativity, ritual, and the urge to beautify the everyday.

Each new knitting project she begins and every new skill she masters bring her closer to serenity and insight that have sometimes eluded her through years of spiritual explorations. In one passage, her arm healed and her passion for knitting rekindled, Lydon finds herself selling old books and clothes to buy a particularly extravagant yarn. The red sweater it becomes represents the lessons in daring and self-trust she learns while crafting it. Even a bout with cancer ("I particularly didn't want to die because I wanted to finish my Alice Starmore sweater") and the hiatus from knitting a tendinitis diagnosis demands guide her to take the lessons she has learned from knitting — sitting still, focusing the mind, asking for help — and apply them to the rest of her life.

Dedicated to "all the women who knit too much," Lydon's rich insights will delight and inspire all who seek the extraordinary in the everyday.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062512024
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/1997
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.37 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan G. Lydon is the author of Take the Long Way Home and a seasoned knitter.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Broken Wing

I Used To Laugh when my daughter described me as "my mother, with both feet firmly planted in midair." But that was before I actually landed there, stepping backward off a deck literally into thin air.

I was visiting some friends in the Napa Valley who've built two houses on a mountainside there. The late summer day was hot and lazy, and I sat on the upper deck watching hummingbirds come to a feeder. I wanted to study the birds in more detail, so I began to back away from them, trying to fix them in focus in my binoculars.

There's nothing more shocking, in my experience than bringing your foot down, expecting solid ground and finding, after it's too late and you've already lost your balance, that you're stepping into empty space. I tumbled off the deck, arms flung back, binoculars flying, before I even knew what had happened.

I don't recall touching down; I must have blacked out as I landed. When I again became conscious, I was rolling and bumping down a flight of wooden stairs. Time had slowed, the way it does when your life is threatened. I felt as though I had been and would continue to be falling down those stairs forever, like Alice down the rabbit hole. "Everything will be different now," I thought to myself Somewhere in the far reaches of my mind loomed a clear understanding of how, in a single second, one tiny misstep could suddenly change a person's life.

I finally came to rest at the foot of the garden, stairs, legs splayed out in a strawberry patch, upper body flung across the bottom step. My rightarm hurt, with a burning sensation, somewhere between my shoulder and elbow.

As it would later turn out, a doctor friend we called from the house diagnosed my problem without even seeing me. "It sounds like a broken humerus," he said. "They won't be able to put it in a cast, because if they did you'd never be able to move your shoulder again. They'll probably give you a sling."

Soon a fire truck, ambulance, and what seemed at the time like a car full of local politicians appeared on the scene, sirens blaring. I thought the paramedics would give me something for the pain, which by now was intense and throbbing, but they had to see if I'd suffered a head injury first, so they put me on a stretcher and began the long trek to the hospital. The dirt road down the mountain was rutted and bumpy; each time the ambulance jolted and jostled my arm, I sobbed with pain. I asked the paramedic what he thought had happened, if I had torn a muscle or a tendon. I worried that my injury wouldn't be severe enough to justify this degree of drama, more fearful of embarrassment than I was of being disabled. I felt guilty about having ruined everyone's weekend.

My hostess sat with me at Queen of the Valley Hospital; it took hours before anyone in the emergency room got around to seeing me.

Finally, after a painful series of X rays, a nurse appeared at my bedside with a syringe in her hand. "You've got a really nasty break there," she said. "No wonder you're in so much pain."

I'd been in recovery from opiate addiction for almost five' years, without so much as a pain pill in that time, and the shot of Demerol the nurse gave me felt so strong I thought I would leave my body. It occurred to me that I should ask for something nonnarcotic, but I was just in too much pain to refuse the relief, so long in coming, that now crept over my ravaged body.

It seems a truism, but until it happens to you it's almost impossible to understand how helpless you can be with one of your hands or arms out of commission. The simplest tasks presented a complex engineering challenge to me; I couldn't drive, write, or cook, and it sometimes took me all day just to accomplish the barest minimum of life-sustaining activities. My friends did my grocery shopping and drove me to my various medical appointments: orthopedic specialist, chiropractor, Chinese herbalist. I liked to call the crowded orthopedist's office the "Boulevard of Broken Bones."

Others made jokes as well. "Bird-watching. Not for the faint of heart," said one of my daughter's friends when I told him what had happened. "Next time why don't you try bungee jumping instead?" My friend Peter Mitchell claimed I had fallen because "not being from California, you don't have 'deck sense! If it had been a fire escape you would have been fine."

Of course the truth was far more mysterious and, as usual, remained inscrutable. Looking back it seems as though the hummingbird I'd been watching led me off the deck and into an unknown world so I could learn something that wouldn't have been accessible to me unless I shed everything familiar and approached my life from a different perspective.

I've always been the kind of person who worked with my hands. I sewed, knitted, beaded, did needlepoint and embroidery, crocheted, and drew. I've worked out many problems in my mind while my sewing machine needle flew across the fabric or my hands performed some rhythmic repetitive task. None of these things did I take all that seriously. If anyone had asked me, I would have described them as hobbies, though frequently I earned money from them. But the thought of losing the ability to do them was almost beyond my power to comprehend and forced me to view them in a whole new light.

The Knitting Sutra. Copyright © by Susan G. Lydon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The View from the Factory 1
1 A Broken Wing 13
2 Knitting the Bone 19
3 Transfiguration of the Blues 27
4 A Life Made by Hand 41
5 Spider Woman's Daughters 53
6 Winged Hearts 67
7 Desperately Seeking 77
8 Earth Walk 89
9 God and Nature, Nature and Cloth 95
10 Dreaming of Dragons 111
11 A Secret Weapon 123
12 The Knitting Sutra 135
13 The Zen of Nonattachment 145
Epilogue: Taking Flight 155
Acknowledgments 159
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