Meditation in Knitting

Soft bulky yarn in my favorite colors. Bamboo circular needles, size 10. A mug of tea (Darjeeling). Rays from a mellow winter sun. Cat purring nearby. A need to calm the incessant chattering of my monkey mind. These are ingredients for an impromptu meditation.

I’ve learned enough along this road to grab the moment when I can. Used to be, I’d need to do this thing right: all the proper accessories like candles and incense, timers and chimes, guided imagery, another retreat, more classes in meditation, rules.

It had to be perfect.

But then a phone would ring, or the cat jumped into the middle of my solar plexus, knocking the spiritual wind out of me. The candle kept guttering and my Tibetan singing bowl CD skipped.

I’d set up a regular meditation schedule and immediately begin making excuses for not following it. Days turned into weeks, and the guilt built up into too many layers to take off.

Inside my head, there was a constant stream of demanding desires, home movies made from worry, a nagging attention deficit with an urge to be somewhere else. I was taught to acknowledge these visitors and let them go. There were so many, though.

And the hands. Always fidgeting, or hanging on for dear life. Chant beads let my fingers count the ways to serenity. Crystals grounded me or sent me off into outer space. All valid and worthy, but more like special-occasion, exotic fare than daily comfort food for the soul.

Enter my grandmother. During a lazy Sunday afternoon when I was little, she taught me to crochet my first starting chain. One of the rare women of her day who “worked outside the home,” her domestic side took the form of sewing, needlework and crocheted afghans for the family.

I still have mine, even though the wool makes me itch and it’s that 1970s shade of gold (to match my bedroom’s shag carpeting).

Years later as a SAHM in the ’90s, I revisited the yarn arts and taught myself how to work the old half double, leading to years of gifting afghans to anyone who stood still long enough. And yes, there was one for my daughter, which she still uses.

Besides keeping me occupied during year-round TV sports weekends and late afternoons waiting for grownup conversation to come home from the office, I found tranquility in the rhythm of a crochet hook and the slow unwinding of a yarn ball.

My mind grew quiet from the constant review of my choice to stay home and forgo a “real” job like my grandmother. My busy hands worked out the knotty anxieties over first-time motherhood, and smoothed away insidious fears of coming up short as a parent. For a couple of rows, at least.

Recently, I have started to knit. It doesn’t come as naturally as crochet, but I’m intrigued by the idea of wearing what I make, rather than just sleeping with it.

No longer a hands-on mama, my restless fingers are reacquainting themselves with that calming rhythm, searching for peace without regrets after the job is done.

Hopefully, the mistakes I made as a young mother can be left woven in those afghans from years ago.

From now on, the dropped stitches and crooked rows will be solely my own.

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Migration of the Collegian

Letting Go #14

Every fall, the young of our fair species stuff various modes of transportation with unnecessary materials that are deemed essential by teenage standards and begin the long trek to the halls of higher education, social advancement, community living and cafeteria food. There, said youth unpack what was carefully packed and strew their belongings on the front lawns of the chosen dorms, awaiting their turns to haul cartloads of the same unnecessary materials up many floors, only to repeat the process of cramming the stuff into a very small dorm room the size of most suburban bathrooms.

For years, we’ve watched this ritual performed by friends and neighbors from afar, and thanked our lucky stars it wasn’t us.

Well, this year . . . it was us.

It’s not like I didn’t try to prepare myself. As part of my “Nine” year of Letting Go, this was the BIG ONE in the overall forecast. But somehow, it just didn’t seem real until I was standing in my daughter’s non-air-conditioned dorm room with sweat streaming down my back after performing the migration ritual of pushing her entire world into about six cubic feet of space. At that point, I was struggling with my emotions. Part of me was proud that she hadn’t brought her entire bedroom for the year–she is not a very materialistic person and she takes care of her belongings. Part of me was excited for her–I couldn’t wait to plunge into the college social scene after living an isolated life on the farm during my high school years. And part of me just didn’t want to let go of the little girl.

I won’t know whether it gets easier as each child leaves home, because I don’t have that luxury of experience. This is our only one, and my husband and I get one shot at each milestone. There are no do-overs, in a sense. Now, I know that each child is different, and that if we’d had more children, the circumstances would vary as much as every cloud in the sky. Maybe the pain of letting go is just as bad during the next launch from the nest, but at least you know what that pain feels like from the last time. You know how you will behave. You will become familiar with it, like the attack of an unpleasant in-law or second cousin you have to endure occasionally at family reunions. It’s a necessary evil.

What I do know is this: after I helped carry armloads of her worldly possessions, set up the all-important bed, fan and TV, hauled back a box of her new textbooks from the bookstore, ate one final meal with her at an off-campus restaurant and stood in front of her dorm building to say goodbye, I did not sob and clutch her to my chest, or harass her with a string of warnings and dire predictions, or even insist on going back up to her room until she threw me out. In other words, to my great relief, I did not embarrass her (I think) or create a scene.

I gave her a kiss and told her to have fun. She has earned it. And then my husband and I took that long walk back to our car and drove home to an empty nest, because as parents of the collegian, we have earned it–whether we like it or not.