Friday, November 9, 2012

Crafts as a spiritual practice

My current project

Despite the historical inaccuracies, I love Marrion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon. Every time I pick it up (and I do so every couple of years, inevitably), I find some new insight, some niggling thing that applies Right Now to my spirituality or my practices. Today, it's the using of crafts (knitting, spinning, weaving, cross stitch and embroidery, sewing, and more) as a method of finding the trance-like state that calms the mind and soul. Sometimes, that trance brings visions, and other times "just" healing and serenity, but it doesn't matter which, to me.

There's a bit near the end of the first third of the book where Morgaine is spinning wool into thread for sewing and such. She has an internal monologue talking about how she hates spinning because, ". . . twisting, turning the thread in her fingers, willing her body to stillness with only her fingers twisting as the reel turned and turned, sinking to the floor . . . down and then up, twist and twist between her hands . . . all too easy it was to sink into trance." (Bradley, Marion Zimmer. The Mists Of Avalon. New York: Del Rey, 1983. Print.)

For me, that ability to be still except for my fingers is what makes doing crafts (especially cross stitch or Zentangles) so enjoyable. During the summer, I find my quiet moments in the garden, among the growing plants and the dirt and weeds. In the autumn, there's canning and dehydrating and cooking and preserving to occupy my mind. Winter is my craft time, though, the time when I immerse myself in making gifts and taking the time to look at my inner lights.

Last night, I played music on my Android phone and picked up my latest cross stitch project. I've been working on it for a couple of weeks now, in between herding children, dealing with possible storm issues, cooking, cleaning, and editing the work over at Troglodite's blog. It was nice to sit for an hour, sip tea, and stitch.

As I slide the needle up and down through the Aida cloth, I find my mind wanders silently. There's less chatter and my "thinking brain" starts to shut down. My body stops needing to shift incessantly. I narrow down to the pattern and the needle and thread, up and down, all one direction, then back again in the other direction.

I'm not prone to visions, as Morgaine was in the book, but I can definitely see how certain types of crafts could bring about visions in someone who has talent in that sphere. As a meditative skill it's invaluable, in my opinion. Just sitting and concentrating on your navel works for some people, but never really has for me. I prefer things like tai chi and yoga, meditative walking, ecstatic dance, and crafts. They keep my body and "thinking brain" entertained while the rest of me gets on with the business of meditating and calming down.

I don't think it matters what your craft is, to be honest. If you like to sew, then sew. I get the same benefit out of hand-piecing a quilt top as I do out of cross stitch (though using the sewing machine is a completely different thing). You might get it from knitting or crocheting.

When you indulge in a craft, you are not only allowing your creative juices to flow, you are allowing your mind and body to become more serene and relaxed. The health benefits, both mental and physical, are wonderful. Never thing that you're only "wasting" some time doing "nothing productive" because you couldn't get any farther from the truth.

What's your favorite craft? What do you indulge in? What's the "chocolate" of crafts for you? Why do you like it, and what does it do for you on all the various levels?

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