Tuesday, November 11, 2008


At the Green Festival, I attended a workshop with with Max Simon about meditation. I really liked his style: quiet and focussed, yet not too "spiritual" in his discussion.

I am obsessed with trying to figure myself out, trying to make ethical sense of my daily life, and trying to come to terms with the role of Judaism in my life. But I immediately feel excluded as soon as someone starts using the rhetoric of spirituality. Sometimes I can recognize religious people's talk of a "still, small voice" as pretty much the same thing I mean when I talk about an inner dialectic.

Dialectic basically just means thinking about ideas by having deep conversations with other people, with other intellects. Moments of tension and contradiction arise--but respectful open conversation allows both people to arrive at a place of higher thinking, of better thought, than they could have achieved alone. Great minds do not think alike; they create harmonies which make complex music.

Inner dialectic is just my shorthand way of referring to interior thoughts brought to the logical mind. Sitting down to examine one's emotional reactions, one's assumptions, or one's feelings can so easily stir up one's fierce judgmental side. I'm often quite ashamed of what I find rattling around my subconscious, and I often try to deny it or block it out entirely. But that negative chastising is not the goal here at all. Coming to those thoughts with acceptance and then playing them off against one's ethical commitments, one's goals, and one's sense of logic can allow us to understand more fully how and why we act. Playing these two kinds of ideas off each other can allow us to polish our logical functioning and see more fully into our ethics beliefs, allowing us to grow profoundly.

That inner dialectic happens for me when I sit down with the express intent of examining my life, my self. It happens quite often when I sit down to write--which is why writing is both my career and a big part of my personal daily practice aside from my work. I've kept a diary since I was about four years old--sometimes listing nothing more than what I ate for lunch (which seemed to matter a lot during first grade and has again now that I've started gardening, "eating local," and following food blogs). Sometimes I wrote about what got said in Quaker meeting, or about relationships with friends and lovers. Sometimes I wrote about politics or even knitting. Hey--you pretty much know what I write about if you follow this blog regularly.

* * *

Well, I certainly used this personal dialectic to veer away completely from what Max Simon was talking about...

Although meditation has some of the same goals as what I am calling "the inner dialectic," I suppose, it really confronts that idea of accepting one's interior thoughts without judgment. Ideas come and go as one sits quietly. Even without the deliberate analysis that the inner dialectic requires, Simon and other meditation experts argue that the quiet self-focus happens and one learns to pay attention in a much deeper way.

I was moved by what he said in his opening and I looked forward to the coming hour. Then he announced that we would walk into the center of the busy festival, all plop down and close our ideas, and do a "public display of meditation."

My first thought was about to think about how important the idea of knitting in public (or KIP'ing) is for many knitters. I've knit in public since I was a little girl and had grandmothers and great aunts who knit and crocheted and quilted in public, so it has always seemed quite normal and natural to me.

The idea of meditating in public, though--well that seemed not only embarrassing but impossible. "Isn't meditation pretty much defined by silence?" I thought to myself.

My second thought, even less charitable, was that this was a huge gimmick that Simon was using to advertise his wares.

But--I decided to go ahead and do it anyway. I followed the other participants out of the room into the public arena, feeling incredibly uneasy as we walked deliberately and silently in a long single-file line. Walking in that line, I felt like I was part of a spectacle.

On cue, we sat down on the floor and in a few seconds closed our eyes.

And I was instantly calm and unaware of specific noise. (Being hard of hearing helps me at these times, I assume. Closing my eyes always makes a lot of sound go away.) My breath was slow and my mind much quieter than I could have predicted. Let me make it clear that I mean my mind was quieter than I expected just for the limited amount of time I meditated--even if I had been in a quiet spot.

What fascinated me most was how intimately familiar it all felt.

I already know this quiet, focussed feeling.

It is the way I feel when I knit in silence. In fact, when I first closed my eyes, the first thought that popped across my awareness was knitting in my hands, rows of garter, knit stitch after slow knit stitch.

And now, as I feel intellectually that I should wrap up this post with some great word of wisdom, my yarn is calling to me, asking that I come to it instead--and breathe deeply, with acceptance, awareness, and calm.


Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

This was a beautiful post! I grew up in a far too rationally oriented home that didn't give much weight or guidance when it came to ideas such as "knowing oneself" and "inner reflection" and things of that nature. In fact, due to how I grew up, I've tended to look at these things critically, as if they are "silly" and "new agey" and that bothers me. As I have been making some lifestyle changes, I have become more aware of spirituality, meditation, inner reflection, voluntary simplicity, and so on, and I am fighting the "me" how I grew up to give it a chance - to see the value in it.

This post really helped, you apprehension about meditating in public - I could truly relate to that, and though I am sadly creatively inclined (and thus do not knit or anything of that nature) but I do read in public, and I know the inner peace and slow decrease in awareness about what is going on around me that occurs when I get in "my zone".

Thank you for this wonderful post.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

(I meant I am not creatively inclined.)

Madeline said...

I loved reading this, being a new kniter and long time wanna be meditator. I too came to the realization that quietly knitting gives me the same benefits as formal meditation.


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