Practice of the Week

Category: Might Be Your Thing. The practices here are not for everyone -- but one of them may be just the thing for you! Any of these might also be, for you, in the "Occasional" category, but are listed here because they are good candidates for regular, central practices.

from L. Annie Foerster, "Meditation by Hand," in Everyday Spiritual Practice, adapted, abridged.

Needlepointing, the drawing of pictures in wool on a canvass ground, has been, for me, a spiritual practice not unlike meditation. The cadence of the needle entering and exiting the canvas is a soothing heartbeat, releasing me from my own body. The wool yarn is a tactile reflection, rough and strong, tying me to the physical world. The sensuous colors are as healing as a rainbow, weaving in and out of the mesh, evoking the spiritual dimension. The varied patterns and pictures that emerge are silent witnesses to the act of co-creation. The discipline of needlepointing, like the practice of staring at a candle or counting breaths, focuses the mind, making it more preceptive, less scattered.

I have discovered that working a segment of needlepoint at meetings helps me be more attentive, les likely to interrupt another speaker, more thoughtful in my own responses. The steady rhythm of the work kept my mind steady as well, kept me from jumpint to conclusions or misunderstanding another point of view.

Through needlepoint meditation, my life was emerging day by day as smooth and rhythmical as the needlepointing itself. Then I was tripped by a temporary crisis. Just when I might have needed their comfort most, my needle and yarns were difficult to take up, no longer soothed me, didn’t focus my thoughts or give me pleasure.

I put my needlepointing away. At meetings, my restless fingers tapped on the table. My empty hands massaged each other, attempting to console one another, to no avail. My restless and fidgety body reflected the feverish activity of my brain, which was seeking a solution to my problems, turning over impossible resolutions, never at rest.

My silent meditation practice, twice a day, continued, helping me have courage to plough through the storms of crisis and mudslides of everyday life. But I missed the additional spiritual grounding the needlework had given me.

One day, with a block of free time, I felt an unfamiliar urge to begin a quilt. I began cutting and arranging pieces of cloth. The fragments reflected my disjointed thinking; the mess I made flinging cottons about the sewing table matched the messiness of my life.

The project became an obsession. Every free moment I could find was spent in the sewing room, cutting and piecing, laying out designs and fitting them together. Twenty-seven different fabrics and hundred of tiny pieces were sewn into an emerging pattern. My frenzy of fabric and threads allowed no negative thoughts, no despair, no doubts, no judgments.

On the day I held up the completed garment, I felt a familiar sense of peace. I was as calm as I had been when was needlepointing, as whole as when my life was not burdened by conflict. I understood bodily that I can make order out of chaos – in my life as well as in my sewing.

In the three years of disruptive predicaments, I made eight pieced jackets. Always as I stitched, I had an intuitive feeling that, though chaos exists, it need not define my life. Outside the sewing room, the twitching and fretting subsided.

Any creative activity, practiced with intentionality and without concern for outcome or gain, evokes the spirit. Whether it be poetry, handcrafts, or music-making, there is a creative activity that speaks to every soul and has the power to heal and strengthen.

Needlepointing had been a social meditation, one I could do in company, one that would help me listen attentively, but not get in the way of my participation. During my crisis, I needed solitude. Cutting and sewing requires a dedicated space and more room than a lap, so it forced me to be alone and allowed me to turn inward.

Some recommendations:

Try not to be concerned with how much you have accomplished or how much there is to be done. Stay in the moment of creation – let it fill you and feed. You. Let yourself feel the colors, hear the sounds, discover the meanings of your medium. Allow your creation to be part of yourself and yourself to be part of your creation.

Be as good as you can be, but do not judge the outcome. This is not easy: we tend to equate our own worth with false comparisons or become disgusted with our mistakes. Let the ripping out of inaccuracies – the erasing of words or the remolding of clay – be as creative as the rest of the process. There is joy in this re-creating if you let go of impatience.

When your medium is not right for a particular moment, allow yourself to choose a new one – or let a new medium choose you. Be willing to put away an unfinished project to start a new one. One day it will be right to return to it.

Your creation will let you know when it is finished if you listen with your heart. When completion occurs, celebrate it: display it, share it, give it away. Celebration is part of the spiritual practice – a way to honor your creative spirit without arrogance or judgment.

Creativity requires imagination, and the faith that what can be imagined can be made. In creativity we are most alive.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

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