12 April 2008

A Stitch in Time

My friend Cynthia's mother stopped by yesterday to show us her newest project: a queen-size, knitted coverlet using crochet thread on little, tiny knitting needles. I don't think I can properly express just how immense a project this is. It's 14 knitted panels with a dense diamond motif of 72 rows, repeated many times. I believe it will take 33 balls of crochet thread at 600 yards per ball. It's not a project for the squeamish or faint of heart.

And yet, there is something very appealing about working on a massive project like that.

I used to always long for the new. New projects, new experiences, new tastes. I wanted novelty. I wanted excitement. I wanted something different. I'd be working on one project while dreaming of the next. Heck, I'd even start thinking about dinner while I was still eating lunch. I was afraid that by focusing on one thing, I'd be missing out on all the other possibilities out there in the world.

What I didn't realize is that by focusing on the possibilities, I was missing out on the present moment. I was missing out on my very life.

Since I've begun practicing mindfulness, I rarely get bored. Not because I'm always doing new and exciting things, but because I try to pay attention what I am doing. When I pay attention, I discover that each moment is indeed new, even if I'm cleaning the bathroom for the 100th time or eating lentils and rice for the 4th time that week.

Last night, I started hand quilting a piece from seven years ago. I haven't hand quilted in over 6 years because it was slow and unproductive, compared to the efficiency of machine quilting. But this hand-pieced, hand-appliqued quilt was screaming at me that it needed to be hand quilted.

Quickly I rediscovered my rhythm and after an hour or so, my stitches regained their consistency. But more importantly, what I rediscovered was the simple pleasure, the mindful meditation of hand quilting.

In each moment of hand quilting, there is a little something to requires attention. The positioning of the needle for the first stitch. The sensation of the needle just beginning to prick your under finger. Shifting the thimble position and the quilt hump to bring the needle back to the top. Slightly pushing on the thimble to take another stitch. And another. And another. Concentrating while you pull the needle through. And then beginning again. And again. And beginning yet again.

My project is not that large, just a 54" square wallhanging, but there is something appealing in knowing that it is there. That every night or two, I can spend twenty minutes or an hour in quiet contemplation with my needle and thread, my thimble, and my quilt.

That's why I find Cynthia's mum's project appealing, rather than scary. It's there. It's constant. It's a ongoing reminder that you don't have to start something new each moment, but that instead, if you take the time to pay attention, each moment is, in and of itself, new.

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