Saturday, August 11, 2012

Spirit of a Dove Prayer Shawl and Mindfulness Instructions

Mindful knitting, someone asked me, isn't that redundant?  Isn't it impossible to lack mindfulness while knitting?  All I had to say was: frogging.  Knitters, you know what I mean.  Not only did I want to appreciate my time spent knitting but I wanted it to do more.  I mean, sometimes a sweater takes me two years.  An afgan, forget counting the months.  I wanted the hours to deepen my experience of knitting, my experience of myself, my experience of others.  I wanted knitting to become a spiritual practice; so I researched, and designed projects, and now I'm ready to share.  

Click on the orange link to obtain a PDF of the shawl pattern:

This summer I led a prayerful and mindful knitting workshop taught at Silver Bay YMCA of the Adirondack's craft shop in 2012.  It was inspired by three books: Tara Jon Manning's Mindful Knitting: Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft, Chogyam Trungpa's True Perception, and Peggy Rosenthal's Knit One, Purl a Prayer: A Spirituality of Knitting.  

When I mentioned I was doing this workshop, non-knitters joked, "isn't knitting necessarily mindful?"  Knitters, though, know that knitting can be done in front of the T.V. or to an audio book without much attention being paid to the actual knitting at all, once some proficiency is gained.  Even prior to proficiency, while a knitter learns how to do something, half of the attention is on worries about whether or not the knitter can do it and what that means about the knitter.  Knitting can be harrowing, as only knitters know!       

While Trungpa offers a general understanding of how meditation and art relate, Tara Jon Manning's Mindful Knitting, Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft discusses mindful knitting practices.  Trungpa encourages us to leave behind the neurotic side of creation with the help of meditation and mindfulness and Manning gives a handbook to knitters on how to do this.  Peggy Rosenthal explains that contemplation can be added to knitting as well.  For, example, knitting can provide the occasion for someone to contemplate a specific prayer, koan, or mantra.  As Peggy Rosenthal discusses in Knit One, Purl a Prayer, A Spirituality of Knitting, knitting affords us the opportunity to knit passages of spiritual texts in our hearts and allows us the opportunity to contemplate on them as well.  The contemplation could also be on the person receiving the shawl; simply return again and again to thoughts of gratitude and good wishes concerning the receiver.     

          Chogyam Trungpa asks, "{h}ow are we going to organize our life so that we can afford to produce beautiful things, not at the expense or the suffering of others? " (p. 5).  His book True Perception answers that meditation is the first and most fundamental step in developing such an artistic life.  Tara Jon Manning's Mindful Knitting explains that "{b}y simply creating a quiet state of being, you can begin to notice--notice your thoughts, notice your feelings, and notice the workings of your mind and experience.  Through this process of noticing we can begin to develop a kindness--toward ourselves and our world" (p. 3).  Meditation is the practice whereby we can uncover this quiet state of mind.  To uncover it is to open the doors to discovering one's own basic elegance and to developing delight in others.  For Trungpa, awareness of one's own elegance and delight in others, in turn, bring about a "sense of richness and goodness" that highlights the "dignity" of any situation you are in.  Bringing forth the dignity of any situation you find yourself in is "the main purpose of art" (p. 5-8).  Manning suggests that knitting can encourage a mindful and meditative state of mind.  
          Peggy Rosenthal's Knit One, Purl a Prayer adds that "the divine message--or eternal wisdom--also communicates through sacred texts.  Issuing from our inner silence, words from these texts can bubble up if they have become integral to our being" (20).  This would happen if you have prayers or scriptures memorized; sacred phrases or images may pop up and become a mantra for you while knitting.  You can, however, also cultivate the contemplative power of knitting by reading scriptures while knitting.  Read a line from a book, then knit a bit while you let the words "reverberate and eventually settle into the core of {your} being" (21).  Then you can knit to another line.  In this way you can "knit the words of wisdom in {your} heart" (21).  Since some scriptural passages are rhythmic, the rhythmic activity of knitting can encourage this activity (21).  Knitting also invites you to contemplate.  You can read one line and then knit one row.  This practice will slow down your reading and increase your comprehension of a text.  It keeps you from rushing on to the next line, allowing you to let the meaning sink in (27).

           One of the projects I offered was a prayer shawl I designed to facilitate meditation and contemplation.  The contemplation could be of the yarn itself, offering an opportunity for mindful knitting.  It was designed to be knit with the fair trade yarn Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend.  Using a variegated color enables you to be mindful of the yarn itself because on size 9 needles, each stitch is typically a different color.  This design and the chart was made as simple as possible so that the knitter's attention can be placed on the contemplation of choice.  The pattern itself is repetitive and most knitters will not need to follow the pattern after the first 20 rows; note that the pattern changes structure in rows 87 and 88, but it is again easily repeated thereafter until the border and binding off rows.        

Spirit of a Dove Prayer Shawl
Mindfulness Instruction

          Before knitting begins, simply cup the ball of yarn in both of your hands.  Take in its various colors, perhaps naming them to yourself as you appreciate their bold and subtle transitions.  Each skein is hand dyed by a specific artist; you can find her name on the skein label as well as where the artist lives.  In your heart, while holding the ball of yarn in your hands, send a thank you to the artist who designed this specific skein.  Take a moment to open your heart in thankfulness to the sheep who provided the merino and the worms that provided the silk.  Let this heart of thankfulness expand to include the vegetation that sustained these beings as well as the earth and rain that provided for their sustenance.  Thank all of the people who were involved in the making of this yarn in a sustainable way and thank all of the people involved in the distribution of this particular skein of yarn.  Finally, thank the people involved in passing on the legacy of knitting to you.   

          In this attitude of thankfulness, cast on the correct number of stitches.  Once you begin knitting and purling, continue to be mindful of each color as it passes from the left needle to the right.  Remember that each color and its transitions were crafted by a particular artist for you.  Your mind will wander off, when it does and you notice that it has, return it gently again and again to the colors of the yarn.  To regain focus, you may even want to name the colors out loud for several stitches.  Pay attention to the feel of this particular blend of silk and merino as it slips through your fingers.  Take time to appreciate the dexterity of your hands and the precision of your eyesight. 

          Once you become familiar with this mindful rhythm and have settled into an attitude of thankfulness, you may want to begin a contemplation on spiritual matters.  One simple contemplation is to will with your whole heart the below aspiration.  As you begin each new row, return to this aspiration.         

May all sentient (feeling) beings find happiness and the root of happiness.

May all sentient beings be free of suffering and the root of suffering.

Resources on Ravelry

You can join Ravelry for free; just create a username and password.  You can then join groups that discuss mindful meditaiton.  You can also friend me: spiritofadove.


Manasa.Hull said...
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Manasa.Hull said...

Hi there! I'm making your Spirit of a Dove prayer shawl and had a question about blocking. I'm using Lion Brand Wool Ease yarn (80% acrylic, 20% wool)... what would you recommend for a blocking method? I'm a moderately experienced knitter, but pretty new to blocking. Thanks for your thoughts!

Spirit of a Dove said...

Yeah! Aren't prayer shawls a wonderful practice? Because the yarn that I used was expensive, I tried to make the most of it. When blocking, it expanded noticeably. I am not sure if the acrylic will do the same thing, but here is my recommendation: after you have soaked it for a couple minutes and squeezed it out, lay it flat on a towel, and then spread it out by stretching gently pulling it in the direction you would like to stretch its shape. Typically you would not do this with a knitted garment because you would like to preserve the shape. For this garment, however, I designed it to be stretched out during the blocking process. Once it is spread out the way you would like (length-wise or width-wise) let it dry. It should hold the shape that you stretched it into until you wash it again. Then simply go through the same process.

Spirit of a Dove said...

I hope that your prayer shawl is going well. I am not familiar with that brand. I am not sure if the acrylic will have as much give as the wool silk blend. That being said, I don't really have a special blocking method. I just soak it and than lay it flat--but with this I actually stretch it once it is laid out. If you think you need a longer shawl, then stretch it up and down and if you need a wider shawl, stretch it left and right. I would start in the center of the garment and slowly expand the garment out in the directions you would like it to expand.

Unknown said...

I am using your pattern to knit the Spirit of A Dove shawl. I am down to row 84, but in looking ahead it appears that one would go from 212 stitches to 80 stitches on the next row. What am I missing??Is the bottom of the shawl not just a seed stitch finish?Tell me where to go after completing the 17 inches recommended.

Spirit of a Dove said...

You are right; the last 5 rows are seed stitch all the way across. :)