Tuesday, May 21, 2013


It's almost inevitable that a center-pull ball of yarn is eventually going to vomit up a big tangle. There you are, knitting along smoothly, when there's more tension than there ought to be in the yarn. Begrudgingly, you interrupt your flow, pick up the ball, give it a good tug, and it yaks up a multicolored hairball that looks like an impenetrable knot.

This happened this morning to my citrusy kidsilk just as I was listening to a recording of a meditation class I attended about a year ago. If you've ever heard yourself talking from within the time-machine of an event you'd almost forgotten about, you may have learned the meaning of cringeworthy. When I recognized my voice on the recording, I tightened up into a self-protective knot. "Don't say something stupid. Don't say something stupid."

It wasn't so bad, actually; I was talking about an anxiety meltdown from the year before. I mentioned how hard it was at the time to simply sit down to meditate at all. I was so filled with anxiety that the thought of sitting in The Big Stillness with all that fear for company was too much to bear. As I listened to myself describe this, I remembered spending several months watching a lot of TV and eating a lot of hoagies and completely neglecting my meditation practice. It seemed like a good plan for self-protection at the time.

So while I'm listening to this little monologue from my past, the kidsilk horks up a tangle of mohair and silk that looks like it's going to have to be cut out before it ever submits to being untangled. And the whole experience — of remembering that time of intense anxiety and staring at the yarn tangle in the present — seemed of a piece. The sensations of the old anxiety and the yarn knot in front of me kind of merged.

I started working on the tangle. The best way to do that is to relax your mind and your fingers, believe in the best possible outcome, and keep it all loose. Don't pull tight, don't panic, and keep going. Do that, and you're probably not going to have to cut this yarn; it's probably not beyond salvaging.

And I remembered that it turned out the same was true back when I was so anxious that I thought I couldn't even sit still to look at my fears. The prospect of meditating seemed like closing my eyes to find a tangled monster of worthlessness lurking just behind my eyelids. Who wants to face that? But when I started that class and actually did find the courage to sit — to stay loose, refuse to panic and just keep going into it — staring at that monster made it dissolve rather than rise up and attack me. The image of it reminds me of the soothing Biblical passage about a promise to turn the darkness into light and make the rough places smooth.

Since that time, I've had more faith that whatever I'm feeling, no matter how unbearable and powerful it seems, it will eventually cave to the simple power of being still and not turning away from it. My practice these days is far from perfect — that faith might not always translate into action. But my knowing is different now. I know from experience that consciousness and awareness are the careful hands that we turn to the task of untangling the impossible, of making rough places smooth.

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