Thursday, September 18, 2008

Classes, Collaboration, Contemplation

it's all about connection

Circles really began before the shop opened in 2003. I was already co-hosting a Sunday circle and offering knitting therapy to private clients. For me, Circles has always been about recognizing knitting as a tool for different ways to bring creativity and generative thought into our lives.

We know inherently that there is something relaxing about knitting. Clearly, we appreciate that this activity can be social - hence the explosion of knitting gatherings around the country. Knitting sparks something within us that we don't necessarily find elsewhere. What's that about?

I see the key to knitting in two parts - it's slowness and it's tactile representation of transformation. What both of these qualities support is our ability to make connections. To knit is to persist through thousands of stitches to reach completion. To have faith that even though each stitch doesn't seem like much, it will eventually accumulate into a fully realized end product. The action of a knit stitch, though it requires some attention, is not all-consuming. While we slowly compile stitches, our mind can also focus on other things such as conversation or introspection. Yet, with some amount of our attention, that which is about immediate action, being required to stay with the knitting, the way we participate in conversation and contemplation shifts down to a lower gear than otherwise. This shift allows us to let things sink into our minds for a bit more consideration before responding. When we let things sink in more, we consider them more deeply, allowing those considerations to include other data stored in our body more readily. As our thoughts encompass more than the just the immediate, we are more likely to integrate things and see things with a slightly broader perspective.  We make more connections.

Those connections can range from connecting to the sense of how much time a person must commit when they make things to how one's own thought processes work. Some connections just happen inherently, but when we recognize this intrinsic quality to knitting we can proactively use it as a tool to spark any kinds of connections we choose to work on. This is the thread that binds our workshops, design collaboration and contemplative knitting practices at Circles.

Workshops allow you to gain a deeper connection and appreciation of the craft itself. But, also, by gaining more mastery of the craft it releases your attention from that level of concentration and allows other thoughts, connections and creativity to emerge. Knitting together and designing together encourages connections to one another, but also to one's own creativity and how you activate that creativity. Contemplative knitting lets you zone in on more of your internal processes, connecting your experiences, thoughts and emotional landscape with the external expression of yourself, the way you relate to others and your perspective on life. Simply by taking the time to look and make connections in a gentle environment whilst transforming string into sweaters or socks, you activate some level of transformation within in your inner landscape. Slowly, because that's the way with knitting. As we allow one stitch at a time to gradually create a sweater, we allow one realization at a time to graduate create a new inner landscape.

Slowing down, it turns out, is key. Our physical health is improved by slowing down our activity level, reducing stress through patience and having less anxiety about everything needing to happen now.  Our mental health is improved by slowing our mind and giving it time to put together the seemingly endless stream of stimulus and data entering our brains throughout our lives. Spiritual guides and even doctors have been telling us this for ever, but we find it hard to put into practice. Some people find prayer, other find meditation or yoga. Others find art forms such as painting or pottery. For me, it was knitting. As I went through 3 years of training to be a therapist, I couldn't picture myself in a practice sitting across a room talking with people, until I put knitting in the picture. Then it all made sense. Everything seemed connected.

It was my vision when I expanded Circles into a full retail environment to continue the work I had started. While I held that vision internally, it wasn't externally expressed. This created a conflicting environment. Was Circles meant to be a "cool yarn store" or a "community center for healing"? Could it be both? Forces outside of myself were pushing for the "cool yarn store" vision. But I've never aspired to be "cool" and that mission didn't suit me. As I became ill and had to limit what I could do with Circles, I could no longer try to have both and it gradually became clear which was more meaningful to me. It also became clear that there were people for whom this purpose was profound and it would be a much larger loss to them for me to walk away from that work than it would be for someone to find another yarn store to buy cool yarns. We'll always carry artisan yarns. Doing so is part of our mission to connect to the sources of our materials and appreciate the work of the artisan. We will, likely, expand back out a fuller, though different, retail environment as we rebuild a Circles that is more in line with my original vision of a community space for fiber arts creativity and healing. Appropriately, though, this will happen slowly. Organically. With each workshop, each pattern published, each gathering and each private session acting mortar that holds the building blocks together.

So whether you're simply knitting for pleasure, taking a class so you feel more comfortable with the craft, designing because you can't help yourself or using knitting as a contemplative practice you're making connections. You are are a part of the vision. You're taking in a bit of the slow life and allowing your mind to sit back and get a little perspective. You've likely come to appreciate where yarn comes from, the ingenuity of knitting designers and the joys of making something by hand. Those are connections. Connections that enrich your life. At Circles, the mission is to keep building on those connections and to be a part of enriching the lives of all the knitters whom we encounter.

You can join us in that pursuit. We have a weekly social circle on Sundays from noon until 3pm, our Design Collaborative meets every other Saturday, I hope to start another Greek Goddess knitting circle next month (construction may complete by then, making space more manageable!) and you can schedule private appointments by emailing me any time.

Next week, I'll write more about the Pattern Collaborative, what it is and how you can support us.

Knit along now, Allison