The other day, as I was browsing Facebook and Instagram, I was bombarded by ads that made me feel less than adequate. The ads promised to help me read ten or more books in a week or less; practice a kind of yoga that would make me look fit and ripped in less than a month; and dress like a Hollywood star but at a quarter of the cost. One ad promised to help me travel around the world by posting nothing more than selfies on Instagram, making money in the bargain. How could I say “No”?
But “No” is exactly what I said. Instead, I turned off my computer, set my cell phone to night-time mode, picked up my yarn and needles, and began to knit.
Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I worked in advertising. I was a MadMan for several years. My job as an art director was to make sure people wanted what we were peddling. The images, words, models, and layouts were designed to make anyone who saw them want, crave, and think they needed our goods. How? By preying on people’s insecurities and self-doubts. By tugging at people’s fears and making them think: if I have this, I’ll feel happy and fulfilled. If I buy those things, people will like me and I’ll be popular.
Happiness is something I do, not necessarily something I feel
We made a lot of money for our clients. Peddling their goods was good business for us, and it helped me live in one of the most exciting, and expensive, cities in the world. I loved living in New York, and to a degree, working as a MadMan. People thought it glam, fun, and exciting. I had “made” it in the big city, and I felt important.
The job was not without its detractions. I worked long hours; sometimes I had to work weekends. The stress was relentless; deadlines were near impossible to meet. Clients were never happy. Everyone always wanted more, faster, better, cheaper. It was a never-ending cycle of madness.
When I couldn’t take things any longer, I turned to meditation as a way to manage stress. I was tired, unhappy, and losing friends fast. I had no social life, and the few friends I had left stopped inviting me out because I was undependable. I didn’t know if I would be able to attend a show for fear of having to work another late night.
The point is to knit and let go of any expectation of perfection or getting it right. The endless fabric is a knitted journal of my knitting work.
Meditation helped. I learned to manage stress. I became more proactive in managing my emotions. Meditating even helped with my insomnia. The more I practiced meditation, the freer I felt and the more I began to understand the unhappiness I was causing through the ads and advertising I was creating. I was part of the problem, I decided. I made people feel anxious and bad about themselves. I urged them to buy things they didn’t need. My work was the reason why people turned to meditation – and medication – so they could feel good about themselves!
Over the years, I’ve learned to practice mindfulness: being aware and staying present in the moment. From cooking, sitting, drinking tea, or knitting, mindfulness helps me unwind, relax, and let go of thoughts and feelings that make me feel less than happy. Over time, I’ve come to realize that happiness is something I do, not necessarily something I feel. When we practice an activity that brings us joy, peace, and contentment we find happiness not at the end of the process, but immediately in the moment.
Knitting, and learning how to knit, has become a way of meditating — of practicing mindfulness — and feeling happy. When I knit, I turn off the television, unplug my cell phone, play classical music, and I knit and purl rows. I can do this for several hours. From the beginning, I told myself to never mind the errors, dropped stitches, frayed yarn, flying needles, or botched castings as I learn to knit. I’m a beginner, after all. Mistakes are inevitable.
What’s happened is that whenever I knit a feeling of well-being and calm settles over me. I feel lighter, better, quiet when I knit. I’m happy!
I knit for knitting’s sake without a specific project or goal in mind. I sit and decide that for the next ten rows I’ll do a garter stitch, and the following 30 will be a stockinette stitch. Once I learn how to rib, I’ll throw that into the mix and whatever else I learn to do in the future will be included as well. The point is to knit and let go of any expectation of perfection or getting it right. The goal is to learn from mistakes and, as the endless fabric evolves, keep a record of my work and improvement. The endless fabric is a knitted journal of my knitting work. The goal is to keep on knitting. Knitting for knit’s sake!
In this way, I stay present with my knitting, watch as my thoughts rise and dissolve, take those pesky little thoughts that undermine my confidence, and gently dismiss them as mere thinking. The process is no different than when I sit to meditate. I’m not trying to stop thinking; I’m only becoming aware of my “monkey mind” and returning to the task at hand. Breath by breath; stitch by stitch.
That’s how I quiet my mind. This is how I de-stress. That’s how I feel better and how I undermine the ads on Facebook, Instagram, or wherever else that try to make me feel less than. By knitting, for knit’s sake, I’m learning to stay sane and happy in the moment.