Unraveling with Serenity
A few years ago, I started knitting a new sweater. The yarn was pink and yellow cotton, the pattern promised a loose, comfy drape. This would be the perfect effortless throw-on for those slightly cool summer evenings after a day at the beach, on the way to the small-town ice cream shoppe in my knitting fantasies.
The fantasy soon turned into a knitting nightmare. The fit was off, tight and … well, just weird. The sleeves had to be redone, several times, because they didn’t fit the armholes. The seaming had me screaming. Anything that could’ve gone wrong with this “beginner’s level” sweater did.
As that summer faded into the sunset, and the project extended into the winter months, my husband took to calling this my “Endless Summer” sweater because I had to frog it so many times.
Knitters have a nickname for undoing stitches: frogging. I’ve heard the term explained as the muttered chant that accompanies unraveling a lot of stitches, “Rip it, rip it”—similar to the “ribbit, ribbit” of a frog. I think we just needed an amusing story to offset the agony of undoing hours of work.
For knitters, finding a mistake rows and rows ago, or a misread of a pattern that affects the entire project, is the worst thing that can happen in your knitterly life. You work so hard on a sweater or shawl, maybe with intarsia, or cables, or some fancy new design. Then you realize the count is off, the size isn’t right, something is just not happening, and the problem is too big to ignore. You must face the fact of frogging. Rip it. Rip it. This pink and yellow sweater had to be frogged so many times I was turning green.
To save my sanity and restore my serenity, I had to reframe unraveling my work. This happened by accident. One day, while ripping out stitches—again—a thought came to me: If only the mistakes I’ve made in life could be undone and fixed so easily. If only the harsh words spoken could be taken back, or never said. If only the olive branch had been extended. If only I’d called, or left, or returned. If only this or that all-too-human mistake, and the lingering regret, could be unravelled from the fabric of life as easily as I was pulling this sleeve out of this sweater.
In addition to clever comments about my knitting skills, my husband has an excellent philosophy about mistakes. He says, “Everything we’ve done and experienced has brought us to this moment.” His theory is that if one thing in the past were different, he and I might not be together right now. (Marvel movies about the multiverse back him up on this.) We might not be as we are, content with what we have, willing to learn and grow, able to be present for our lives.
When I think about that, I see the mistakes I’ve made, in life and in knitting, as experiences. Some can be revisited and mended, where appropriate. Others can’t, but I can take that experience forward and not repeat it, just like learning the right way to sew in a sleeve. If I learn from my mistakes, and do better next time, then remorse, too, can be unraveled. If I waste time in judgment of myself and others, I may repeat the mistake, or make another. The choice is mine, and ours.
The next time you have to undo some knitting, try this meditation.
Step 1: Sit comfortably, with your spine lengthened to create space for your breathing. Have the project you need to undo in your hands. Let your awareness rest gently on your breathing.
Step 2: If there’s a situation or mistake you’d like to address and release, bring it to your consciousness. No need to relive the details; simply observe, without judgment, the way you would assess a project you’re knitting.
Step 3: See yourself as coming to a place where you can learn what can be learned from this experience, knowing you can use that knowledge, the same way you can use the yarn from the project you’re about to undo. Locate a loose thread and begin frogging. As the stitches unravel, visualize the situation being transformed into a useful, even beneficial experience.
Unravel as much as you need to, winding the yarn as you go along. When you’re done, hold the yarn, and think of the project as an experience, one of many in your life. We are all human, we all make mistakes, and we can all learn from them and do better. Keep the wisdom, and release the experience. Now you can use that material to make something wonderful. Close your meditation with three deep breaths.