I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book The Light We Carry and was interested to see the lead photo was of her sitting on her foot on a wing back chair…knitting. She bought needles and wool and learned to knit as a way to get through isolation during the pandemic. She soon found out that knitting is more than one stitch after the other. It is a gentle, quiet, therapeutic practice that helped her manage her pandemic anxiety. But she found out that it’s also not more than one stitch after the other. It is a simple motion, a beautiful rhythm—yarn around, pull through, push off, repeat, repeat, repeat. Simply motion.
“Everything was big. Everything was consequential. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed.” Michelle was talking about how she felt during the pandemic. “Nothing felt even remotely like enough. There were just too many gaps to fill.”
Now that stage of the pandemic is over many of us are left with the “nothing is enough” feeling about everything.
The rise of fanaticism and narcissism (perhaps two expressions of the same condition) leave us bewildered and beleaguered. The right to maintain the personal freedom to travel, to express oneself in any way we choose, to make up our own facts, to purchase at will and to preserve our western privilege have become our causes while the voices of the historically oppressed, the people who for generations/centuries have had their rights trampled, have been sidelined. At the same time the real threat to all of us bickering humans—climate change—marches along.
Insanity rules at the highest level of our society. The U.S. nomination of the speaker of house is a case in point. The recent sideshow was a disturbing display of dysfunction. Each player, clearly a bundle of anxiety, driven by their own priorities and imperatives looked more like circus performers than elected leaders. There was just too much wrong with the situation to get it right.
Watching the Canadian parliament or BC legislature isn’t much better. We all know there’s a systemic problem. The structure of our democracies needs to be rethought, rejigged, refreshed…those are thoughts for another day. But for now, for me, that project is too big, too consequential, too overwhelming because I don’t think we can get there. As long as we continue on the path we are taking madly chasing big ideas while our inner selves are in chaos we won’t get it right.
Being someone who is convinced that our real challenge is climate not personal freedom I am thinking we don’t have a lot of time to do “inner” work. But we have no choice.
Wonder if each one of us took time to get mentally and physically healthy. Wonder if we stopped with the “busy, busy, busy” and be still. Wonder if we took a break from the “important, important, important” and focused on the simple and the light.
Wonder if we got out of our heads and how significant our ideas are. Wonder if we stopped letting our feelings, our triggers, our grudges inform our every action. Wonder if we got into our bodies, its simple functions.
Not golf, where we take our business to the course. Not exercising, where we beat ourselves up to achieve ulterior goals…better bodies, better looks, better opportunities… Not counting laps at the pool or steps as we go about our daily tasks.
Sigh. We are so damned goal orientated. We are so damned impressed by the busy, the important and the loud.
Michelle recommends “going small”. Rather than letting her head stay in charge she reversed the flow by picking up knitting needles and letting her hands lead. As she says “I buckled my churning brain into the back seat and allowed my hands to drive the car.” Once she got the hang of the yarn overs and unders she said, “Something in the tiny and precise motion on repeat, the gentle rhythm of those clicking needles, moved my brain in a new direction.”
I’m thinking each one of us has our own sort of knitting that will help us reset our anxious brains and let go of our troubled feelings. Something that will help us find a new inner rhythm. Not counting steps, just putting one foot in front of the other. Not swimming laps, just taking the breaths and kicking the feet. Not networking on the golf course, just swinging the club and following the ball. Not getting the gardening done, just turning the soil.
I’m with Michelle. I hope 2023 is the year people decide to go small. And if we take it slow, relax, get quiet and enjoy simple movements on repeat for no other reason than to enjoy simple movements on repeat I think we can find a new groove. That’s it. Just a new groove. But if you need a big and significant reason for letting go of the big and significant I’m pretty sure your new groove will benefit the consequential things as well.
3 thoughts on “Going small”
I’m following a daily meditation practice on Ten Percent Happier that features the Dalai Lama’s teachings. After 80 years of practice, he has concluded that Big Changes can ONLY come about through being compassionately attentive to what and who is right in front of us, right now.
There are so many ways of “going small”. I find being compassionately attentive to making beds, cleaning rooms and preparing breakfast at the small lodge we run is the the same sort of meditative practice.
Oh Sylvia you are so spot on, I love all your posts, have followed you with great interest for a long time, and this post resonated so much I had to write. What you describe about knitting was what i feel when writing and editing my own writing at a leisurely pace. It is calming and steady…like painting when one can get lost in the doing of it. I might take up knitting again to reach that state in another way. Although it never flowed for me…Thank you…I needed these words of yours about our society in this present day. Keep bringing us these gems…and i love your hats and knitting ..I have one of your books.