As a university student and insomniac in the 1990s, I was involved in several esoteric pursuits. I had crystals, went on a vision quest or two, and spent hours in meditation. I could sit in the lotus position, breathe a few breaths, and my mind would disengage and hover over my waiting body for hours.
Almost two decades later, I’ve conquered insomnia, earned two masters degrees, and trudged through three careers (including a seven-year marathon of teaching high school in the NYC public schools). I can no longer sit in the lotus position and let my mind drift. More to the point, if I sit in the lotus position, my mind drifts all-to-readily… to the dishes, the cat box, work tasks, family responsibilities, cute cat videos on YouTube, and other bits of nonsense.
Last summer I lamented my inability to meditate. I found myself in a pressure cooker of resumes and cover letters, writing, managing sticky family situations, and trying to put my life together after a very hard year. I had taken in a roommate who was taking over my kitchen with layer-upon-layer of olive oil residue. The only respite I had was my time on the subway with noise cancellation headphones and a crochet hook.
As my life slowly started to come back together, I realized that this was my new form of meditation. My mind doesn’t have to be truly empty. I can instead use the repetitive patterns in crochet or the other artistic/crafty endeavors to slow my mind. With a slower mind, I get a reprieve from the anxiety of life.
In the past year, I finished a full-sized afghan, crocheted 4½ shawls, made a baby blanket, folded 1,000 tiny, gold cranes, and created dozens of artistic doodles. I’ve also painted three ceramic pieces. I thought these projects were gifts (although I sometimes started projects before knowing who would receive them), distractions, or a waste of time. Now I see them differently. Without them, the anxiety of a time-sensitive career change with an estate hanging over my head, and family tumult would have proven overwhelming. They were my brief escape to a neutral world in which I could gather my strength for battle after battle in my real life.
When I touch my Pilot V-Ball pen to non-wicking paper, one small part of my mind is busy with the BBC World Service or NPR podcast. The rest is lost in the feel of rolling ball on paper and the pooling of ink into bold, solid figures. While folding cranes, each fold is a ritual that brings the reassurance of order and sequence, producing a tiny, perfect element in a huge pool of gold wings. When I crochet, each stitch is a recited prayer, each row a rosary, and each project a novena. (Yes, I am Jewish. Catholicism just lends itself nicely to metaphor.)
The lucky side effects of my meditation are a series of pretty things that bring others joy, warmth, comfort, or whimsy. In the end, I’m not terribly upset that the lotus position no longer calls to me.