Saturday, February 25, 2006

Knitting & Buddhist Meditation

Venerable Teacher, Phra Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Mahathera (1870-1949)

As you know, I took up knitting partly because it seemed possible to use it for meditation practice. What is meditation? I think it means different things to different individuals. It can be a tool for relaxation, for energy, for supernormal abilities, etc. What about Buddhist meditation? The goal of Buddhist practice is to end Dukkha, which means to end suffering and stress. So the meditation is used for that goal.

There is a famous story of Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Ch'an Buddhist School in China. At one time there were two monks arguing about a flag flapping in the wind. One said, "the flag is moving." The other said, "the wind is moving." Hui Neng told them, "your minds are moving."

Many people would argue that the flag is actually moving, the wind is actually moving. True, these are phenomenon that are real and readily observed. But in regards to meditation, the practice of ending suffering and stress, the focus is on the mind level.

Let's say that a flag is flapping in the next town. Does the thought, "flag is flapping", enter your mind? Even when we walk by one we are sometimes ignorant of it. How about when a stranger falls ill? Do you feel the same level of anxiety as you do if someone close to you falls ill? So I think we can agree that things matter only when they enter our mind.

According to what the Buddha taught, we can put our reactions to what we experience in 3 categories. Like, dislike and neutral. Like results in desire, greed, etc. Dislike results in aversion, anger, etc. Neutral is just neutral. Most obvious stresses happen here. Basically we are stressed when we are separated from what we like, stressed when we are associated with what we dislike. Again, these are just the obvious. There are subtle stresses that we don't see right away.

It is the goal of Buddhist practice to see these mind activities clearly through meditation. We want to observe each and every moment thoroughly and ask ourselves if there's suffering and stress in what occurs in our mind. Through practice and time, we will be able stop the activities that cause Dukkha because we see everything clearly as they are.

Buddhist meditation include two major activities, concentration and contemplation. Concentration practice devlops calm and focus, which helps contemplation. Contemplation develops insights and wisdom, which also increases concentration. They are practiced in tandem. Both very important.

Knitting can be used to do concentration. I think this is quite obvious to see. Focus on each stitch as you knit. Not letting your mind wander off into the future. Not hurrying to finish a project. Not thinking about the what's next. Just concentrate on making each stitch. It is what it is. No agitated mind can make the project go any faster. Stitches will not magically appear. Why not be calm and just be. If you want, you can repeat your favorite knitting mantra in your mind while you go through the motion of making a stitch. You see, not only will you be practicing concentration, calming your mind, you will less likely to make mistakes!

Knitting can be used to contemplate Kamma (Karma in Sanskrit). When you cast-on, you are performing an action that will bring certain effect. Cause and effect. With each stitch you make, you are either ensuring the result that you desire will come, or going a different direction by changing the pattern, or laying down the foundation for disaster by making a mistake. It reflects how life works.

One can probably come up with a few more contemplation themes for knitting. But I think you got the idea. This is how I see knitting can be used for Buddhist practice. If you would like to read more, here's a short article on meditation practice, 'Steps Along the Path'.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Entrelac Tote - before felting

This is knitted with a pattern I got on KnitPicks, Felted Entrelac Tote. I still need to finish two 10-stitch i-cord straps before I can throw them in the washer for felting. It's taking a while to do the i-cords. Maybe it's just a bit boring.
It maybe just me, but the pattern seems to be missing some steps. Maybe it's for the more advanced knitters. I had to figure out how to continue knitting at a few places.

The yarn used is KnitPicks' Wool of the Andes. It feels a little (just a little) scratchy during knitting. But the knitted fabric is quite soft. I am sure it would soften up even more after blocking. Unfortunately I won't know with this project. It's going to be felted.

I can't wait to do the felting. This is a first for me. The bag is now at 15"x16". The finished size should be 9"x11". That's a lot of shrinkage!

Update to come!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Why Knitting?

Many years ago my neighbors gave me a beautiful blanket woven on their giant machine. Ever since then I dreamed about picking up weaving as a hobby. I liked the idea of having something to do with my free time and make useable items at the same time. I also liked that the repetitive motion of weaving, making it possible to use it as a meditation practice. But it was difficult to get it started. First, you need to purchase a machine to weave. Nice equipment is not cheap. Second, it requires room for the equipment. Third, it's not very portable, even though they make portable looms. So, many years gone by without fulfilling the desire.

One day I had the TV on for background noise. I had on the Today Show. Jane Pauley Show came on after that. I wasn't paying that much attention until I heard the topic of the day was "Knitting". I stopped what I was doing when one segment focused on male knitters. Hmmm... this might be nice to have as a hobby. It's very portable, does not require much to start, makes useful items and can be a meditation tool! I was sold!

So, in September, 2005 I started my journey down the Knitting road. Tons of books, lots of yarn and knitting notions and a few classes. I think I love it!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Brioche Hat - Finished

Brioche hat is done! I made a few mistakes on the crown, but the pattern is quite forgiving. They are not noticeable to me. It is quite fun. The body is very easy to knit, but the crown is a challenge. The instructions in the book is a bit difficult to follow. While doing the decreases I had to experiment to find the right ways. In the end it turned out nice I think. Now, I used leftover yarn for this. I can't wait to use the intended yarn and start a new one. But it will have to wait until I finish the heart pillow that I'm making for mom.

I will take a pic of the hat being worn soon. When the fabric streches the pattern looks a bit different. Well actually, my partner will have to take that pic when I wear the hat. Meaning that I will have to wait until he's good and ready!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Brioche Hat, work in progress

This is a pattern in “Weekend Knitting” by Melanie Falick. I had been thinking about making this for a while. I finally got the yarn a week ago. I bought Manos Del Uruguay for this hat. After several attempts to cast on and to establish the setup row, I found that it was a mistake to use this yarn to learn to knit this new stitch. I switched to some leftover Plymouth Encore Worsted and had success!

The cast-on is quite difficult to manage. It’s easy to do, but can look like a twisted mess when doing the setup row. The best thing to do is to keep all the cast-on stitches on the needle part of the circular needle until you are all done. Then slide them to the other end carefully to avoid twisting, then join. It also can look like a tangled mess when doing the setup row. Just be mindful and do it slowly.

This can knit up quickly! I will post the final result when it’s done!

Second pair of socks!

This pair was knitted for my partner to sleep in on cold winter nights. I made a mistake on the pattern on the first sock. You can see it on the one on the top that it pulls in a little at the gusset. I also learned how to close the toes with Kitchener stitch. Great socks except that the yarn pills too much.

LOVE knitting socks!

Pattern: “
Sensational Knitted Socks” by Charlene Schurch
Yarn: Plymouth Encore Worsted