Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Dao of Knitting: Free your mind and the rest will follow.

Guest Daoshi Wu Wei Lin
When my friend Maxcine asked me to write an article for her blog about knitting, I was flattered, but a little hesitant at first. I know almostnothing about knitting, quite honestly. I know a few people who knit, and another friend raises her own sheep and spins the wool into beautiful organically dyed yarns, but I have never knit myself, and it all seems rather esoteric and mysterious. But then, so (probably) does Daoism to someone unfamiliar with the term. So I put aside my doubts and agreed to write the article.You could ask, and rightfully so, what a priest from an ancient and obscure Chinese religion could possibly contribute to a subject that he admittedly knows next to nothing about. Hopefully, I can help you to see your art (and I do believe that it is an art and you are artists) in a fresh light. Perhaps this will help you to see a problem in a new way, or simply help you to gain a new appreciation of your needlework and yourself.

First, I need to explain a couple of terms so that we are speaking the same language. Dao is the fundamental concept underlying Daoism. Simply put, “Dao” means “theway”, or “the path”. It can also mean “the method”. Everything we experience with our senses is the Dao. The entire universe is a manifestation of the Dao. Yin and Yang, which literally mean the dark and light sides of a mountain, are the female and male, negative and positive aspects of the Dao. This is graphically represented by the Yin/Yang symbol, or “Taiji” – the supreme ultimate. The symbol shows the universal dance of these aspects, constantly changing, constantly moving, each containing the seed of the other. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is the energy inherent in something. Everything has qi energy, either yin or yang, or some combination of both.

How in the world does this relate to knitting or crochet? That’s a very good question. If we understand that Daocan also mean a “way”,
or a “method” then we can certainly say that there is a Dao of needlework. As artists, you have an individual “way” or “method” of working and creating also. For thetime being, I would ask you to spend time focusing on this method, your method, and not the final product. If you celebrate the process, and truly put yourself into it, the end product will naturally be an outgrowth of that. The next time you pick up needles and wool, consider them alittle more closely.

These are your tools and media, the same as a painter has brushes and paint. You create art that is not only beautiful, but practical as well! That is harmonious indeed. If pure beauty alone can be considered passive – or yin, then being able to wear the thing of beauty to stay warm could be considered active – or yang. See? Your art is already balanced and harmonious, without you having to do anything special! Don’t worry about the end result. Consider your needles. Are they wood, metal, plastic? All are valid, and have an energy specific to themselves. Once you start thinking about that, you can decide if that energy is what you want to bring to the piece that you are working on. Wood is considered yang, metal is yin. They would impart their inherent energies into your work. Even plastic, which is a product of the earth, has energy. Earth energy is yin and yang in balance, therefore plastic needles could be considered more or less neutral.

Now to your wool. Is it natural fiber, or synthetic? Animal fibers (wool, silk) are generally considered yang, while those derived from plants (cotton, linen) would be yin. What color is it? Chinese color theory as it relates to qi is a whole school of thought unto itself! Certain colors are considered yin or yang, of course, but they also have an effect on certain organs and therefore our physical and mental health. Briefly, green affects the liver, red the heart, yellow the spleen, white the lungs, and black/dark blue the kidneys.

Don’t be overwhelmed. You don’t even need to know all of this. The next time you start a project, trust your instincts. Don’t try too hard! This is Dao. There is a very important concept in Daoism called “wu wei” which means non-doing, or more appropriately “non-striving”. Pick needles that feel good in your hands. It doesn’t matter if they are finely crafted bamboo or wooden needles, or something inexpensive from a mega-store, as long as they are comfortable in your hands, and appropriate for the project. They will become an extension of your hands and your creativity will flow from your hands into the needles, and into the work. What energy the needles bring on their own is only in addition to what you bring. Pick yarn that you like the look and feel of. Note whether it is natural or synthetic, but that doesn’t matter if it makes you feel good working with it. That is the energy that will go into the project.

Now for the process. Remember “wu wei”? Don’t stress about the project. Try not to worry about stitch counting. Is stress and worry the energy that you want to go into that baby blanket? If you are worrying about the color, stressing about the stitches, obsessing about getting it done on a deadline, I guarantee that is the energy that will flow from you into the work. Instead, trust in your own skills. Give yourself plenty of time and the right resources to finish the project. Then make it a meditation. Soon, you will find yourself in “the zone”. Your hands, confident in their skill, will free your mind from worrying about the details. But don’t let your mind wander aimlessly! Focus on putting the joy that you feel while knitting into the project. When you are in this state you become what Daoists call an “empty vessel”. An empty vessel is open, receptive, able to be filled with the Dao. Your actions will become effortless, you will achieve balance, “wu wei”. Your work will be a manifestation of the Dao; balanced, perfect, and beautiful.


Ginkgo Grove Daoist Center

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