Sunday, February 4, 2018

Accidental Meditation

For some reason, this week I’ve been all super-crafty and complete-ist. I finished backing my owl rug, I finally backed my flagship goldfish rug of yore, which has been tucked away in the hall closet for three-plus years, and I started a new project—a tulip punch rug handbag! Somehow in all of that, I managed to squeeze in a little experiment in cross-stitch. I’ve wanted to learn embroidery for a while, and I impulsively grabbed a cross stitch kit at Giant Corporate Craft Emporium when I was buying some rug-making supplies, figuring cross stitch would be a good way to learn the basics. It turns out I was falsely lulled by the promises of a cute frog pattern and the misleading package descriptor of “Beginner's Level.”

After puzzling through the pattern, reading the directions, and tentatively laying down a few stitches, I got a surge of confidence and started cross-stitching away, certain that I was on track and that the adorable frog on the packaging was going to emerge at any moment in all of its fey cuteness. Apparently I missed two schoolmarmish, yet crucial instructions: PAY ATTENTION, (literally in all caps) and “make sure the back of your cross stitch looks as tidy as the front.” After about a half-hour, the back of my cross stitch looked like a vat of green spaghetti had exploded: Errant threads were knotted and tangled and hanging everywhere, and somehow, despite my best effort to count accurately, I had gotten off course on the grid, and as a result my frog was beginning to look like a deformed sea blob. At this time, Mr. Typist helpfully waggled the directions at me and pointed out that I needed to PAY ATTENTION, and that the back of my cross-stitch was decidedly wanting.

After admonishing him to stop thread-shaming me, I pulled everything out and started over. The second time around, I really did PAY ATTENTION, and a funny thing happened: My world shrank down to a tiny, quiet, 10-inch circle of peaceful focus. My mind wasn’t going in a million directions. I wasn’t anxious or thinking about the future or fixating on the past. I was simply one-hundred percent focused on what was in front of me. I didn’t even notice that I had gone into a meditative state until I looked up at the clock and realized that this was the quietest my mind had been for a long time. It felt refreshing and calm and cleansing.

I went through a long stretch of years during which I made my best effort to meditate daily. It never helped much. All it did was make me feel itchy and restless and ultimately, like a spiritual failure. Sitting still “peacefully” makes me absolutely nuts. I can’t shut anything out and I get twitchy as hell. I finally came to accept that I’m just not a “sit still and breathe” sort of a person. I have way too much nervous energy for that. In order to calm my mind, I have to be physically engaged in some way, preferably in as vigorous a way as possible. Otherwise, my brain can’t calm down. Swimming, dancing, working out, resistance exercises—anything physical that burns up some energy and forces me out of my own head usually does the trick. So I’m excited to discover that cross stitch is physical enough and requires enough focused concentrations that it’s an effective meditation tool for me. Now, if I can just continue to PAY ATTENTION, and get my big fat ham fingers to line up those x’s properly, I may just have a frog I can be proud to hang on our walls one day.

--Kristen McHenry

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