Mindful knitting is a concept that has evolved organically as both Buddhism and the return of handcrafts have flourished in the United States.
Our society has become so consumptive and increasingly disconnected from how things are produced, disconnected from the interdependence of things. Creating things by hand is a way that we can reverse that, and cultivate a greater understanding of how our things came to be and increase our mindfulness about our relationship to physical things, generally. When things are made by us or for us directly, they are imbued with a sacredness that both highlights that interdependence and supports our mindfulness. And it generates windhorse, our sense of unconditional well-being at an experiential level, beyond the theory of meditation or of Buddhism.
It might be a bit difficult for a non-Buddhist practitioner to see how any of this is connected to Buddhism. However, mindful knitting is a very non-threatening way that people can approach mindfulness as practice, who might not have considered it before. In Buddhist terms, we need a path. We can understand conceptually what enlightenment is, but a conceptual understanding is not enough. We need to do something. It takes a lot of work for most of us, and it is a long journey. So if we have a practice that we enjoy, which leads us there, our path will be quite easy. If we have a practice that can be shared easily with each other, creating a community of practice, then it is even more supportive. And if it connects us then in producing a physical connection, in an item that is very intimate, very personal, then that is yet even more supportive. So mindful knitting is one of the ways we can make the world better, as a community of practice and connection.
One of the first to recognize the contemplative qualities of needlework, Sylvia Boorstein offered a class in Contemplative Needlework at Spirit Rock for several years. (note: checking facts) Practitioners would would work in silence for the first part of the class, then share thoughts and experiences for the remainder of the class.
Another seminal event was the publication of The Knitting Sutra: Craft as a Spiritual Practice. Written largely from a Zen perspective, The Knitting Sutra is Lydon's tale of breaking her collarbone and taking up knitting to regain fine motor skills. However, her practice led her on to deeper contemplations, and a connection to fiber arts as part of a deeper type of healing.
At the forefront of the current movement for mindful knitting is Tara Jon Manning. Manning was raised in the Shambhala tradition in Colorado, and has introduced the public at large to the combination of knitting and contemplation. Her publications include Mindful Knitting and Compassionate Knitting.
Charitable knitting is a large part of the act of mindful knitting, and any act of knitting that is executed in order to be given away would probably fall within this category. Charitable knitting is an excellent way to practice engaged Buddhism. A partial list of resources for giving is listed below:
- Adopt-A-Native-Elder - Provides clothes, and food for Native American Elders. (Accepts handcrafted items.)
- Children in Common - Orphanages and Cheyenne River Reservation a group of knitters that knit for orphanages in Russia (Eastern Europe), started by parents adopting from these orphanages - vests, sweaters, socks. There is a free sock pattern here.
- Christmas at Sea is affiliated with the Seaman's Church Institute, and provides packages for deep-sea and river mariners.(Several patterns on site.)
- Hannah's Socks - Socks and other warm items for the homeless.
- Hats and Scarves Project - Living Earth members, friends, and needle-workers in general knit and crochet (or sew) warm hats and scarves that will be given to children and families throughout our area to keep away the winter cold.
- Project Linus - Security blankets for children in crisis.
- The Red Scarf Project - Scarves go into Valentine's Day packages sent out to Orphan Foundation of America students, who are enrolled in college or trade school.
- Scarves from the Heart - This charity gives scarves to those who are undergoing treatment for cancer.
- Prayer Shawl Ministry - Ecumenical practice which provides hand knit or crocheted shawls for people in crisis, who are in need of comfort.
- Knit A Square Your contribution of squares to this crochet and knitting project adds to the many thousands of 8"/20cm squares from around the world, which are joined into blankets and distributed to children in South Africa who have AIDS, and who live in poverty.
- Mother Bear Project The Mother Bear Project is dedicated to providing comfort and hope to children affected by HIV/AIDS in emerging nations, by giving them a gift of love in the form of a hand-knit or crocheted bear. The simple gift of a hand-knit bear with a tag signed by the knitter has touched children with the message that they are unconditionally loved.
- Wool Aid Wool-Aid is a community of knitters and crocheters who create warm woolen garments for children who live in the coldest climates and have the least access to resources. Our mission is to provide the very neediest children with wool socks, sweaters, vests, mittens, hats, and blankets.
- Mittens for Akkol (Ravelry). This group was originally formed to knit mittens for children in the orphanage in Akkol, Kazakhstan. We have now broadened our scope to include any warm woolen items as warm items are not available in the local market. The snow starts flying in August and finally melts in April. Temps reach down to 40 BELOW ZERO in mid winter. The children at the orphanage are 3 to 16 years old. The greatest need is for the older children, sizes 8 to adult.
- Bundles of Joy (Ravelry). Welcome to Bundles of Joy a group originally created to support the babies in the Pine Ridge Hospital OB Ward. Poverty on the Reservation is extensive and many of the moms do not have any clothing or other items waiting at home for their new babies. There are around 420 babies born each year. The OB ward needs hats, socks, mittens, warm blankets, sweaters, receiving blankets, snug sacks, bibs, little outfits every month.
Mindful Knitting Retreats and Workshops
1. The Mindful Knitter Retreat - Brunswick Shambhala Center, Brunswick, Maine - June 1-4, 2012'
Led by Elaine Yuen and Rebekah Younger
About the Workshop
In the speed of our daily lives, how do we find respite and renewal? Place the needle, wrap the yarn, pull the stitch through, repeat; the timeless rhythm of knitting provides a natural object of meditation to settle the mind. Treat yourself to three days of knitting and contemplative practice in beautiful mid-coast Maine with meditation teacher, Elaine Yuen and master knitter, Rebekah Younger. Elaine and Rebekah will guide you through exercises to synchronize mind and body, heighten awareness and enhance your experience of knitting and the world. Explore how you can bring this awareness into your selection of fiber, color and garment shape; drawing on inspiration from the world around you, whether you are a beginner or advanced knitter. Develop a stronger relationship with your inner world through journaling about the practice. Bring an unfinished project and/or create something new as we investigate the meditative mind in the work of the hand. Trips to the beach and Ha! lcyon Yarn, along with social time with fellow knitters will balance out the retreat. Return to your life with a renewed spirit, techniques to reduce stress and greater understanding of your knitting practice and mind.
Elaine Yuen, PhD, is a senior meditation teacher at the Philadelphia Shambhala Meditation Center. She is also an interfaith chaplain and Professor of Public Health at Thomas Jefferson University, and was a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer writing about the lifestyles of 20th century Buddhist practitioners. An avid knitter, Elaine has taught workshops on meditation and contemplative art, end of life issues, and cultural diversity in local and national settings. She is enjoys discovering synergies between contemplative practice, creativity, and social engagement; and hosts a “Knitting to Sitting” group at her local Shambhala Meditation Center. Residing in Philadelphia since 1980, she continues her exploration of contemporary life through many activities as a parent, artist, and researcher.
Rebekah Younger has been designing fine art knitwear as Younger Knits for over 20 years. Sold nationally in fine craft galleries, her garments have been featured in two museum retrospectives on the Art to Wear movement and in cover articles for Ornament and The Crafts Report magazines. Rebekah designs not only knitwear, but interiors as inSite Contemplative Design and is an accomplished photographer and painter. She teaches art & meditation, creating and contemplative photography classes in addition to knitting. She is active as a meditation instructor and Shambhala Art teacher within the mid-coast Maine Shambhala Buddhist community.
Rebekah’s knit designs: www.youngerknits.com
Rebekah’s art, design and classes: www.rebekahyounger.com
- Friday - June 1 - 6:30-9 pm - Orientation
- Saturday - Monday - June 2 - 4, 9 am - 6 pm (optional knitting circle for socializing Saturday night)
- Cost: $175. Scholarships available - includes Saturday brown bag lunch
- Registration Deadline - May 1
- For more information contact: Rebekah Younger - 207-443-8649 firstname.lastname@example.org
Optional Knit Design Workshop with Rebekah Younger - June 5 & 6 - 10 - 5 pm in her studio in Woolwich, ME $100. - Take your inspiration from the Mindfulness weekend and expand it into a knit design. Learn the logistics of knit pattern writing and finishing from a master designer.