Contemplation is defined as “a concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion” or “an act of considering with attention” by Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Many forms of contemplative practice encourage mindfulness as a form of devotion or meditation. This simply means paying complete attention to your action at that moment, without judgement or distraction. You focus each second on deliberate movements, on feeling your muscles respond, on completing the task at hand. Should your mind wander to something else, you catch yourself and return, without any feelings of guilt or distress.
You may have come across this concept in yoga or tai chi. But really, any action can be done mindfully, from ironing a blouse to walking a Labyrinth. While meditations are often associated with Buddhism, Zen, and other Eastern philosophies, it isn’t inherently religious. Prayer is a type of mindfulness, done with single purpose and dedication.
For me, it is sewing. That might sound odd, as sewing can be a pretty complex undertaking. But that’s exactly why I love it.
You can’t really multitask. Trust me. Try cutting fabric while watching the news? I’ll show you the scar. Thinking about what you do next? Reset that sleeve twice because it was inside out the first time. And Heaven help you redoing a French seam or lace.
Sewing forces me to take a breath, not get mad (okay, there are some curse words), and concentrate on continuing/fixing/altering my plans. This is true for sewing on the machine and hand embroidery. Many a row of smocking has been ripped out because I didn’t continue the pattern properly. While focusing on the physical task, my brain releases anxiety and worry, takes a break from obsessing about things I can’t do anything about.
Other thoughts creep into the silence. To give thanks for some blessing, to lift up another person, or even to ask patience in my current task. To appreciate the weather and my often-present cat, Maggie. To remember something discussed at church that Sunday. To not get annoyed with this person or that delay in an airport (another reason to always travel with an embroidery project).
Now, I am not diligent about sewing. But the more I remember how good it feels to create and have the mental space, I need to really schedule it into the week. When I am at peace with myself, I am a better person to be around others. And the plus side is, I have the satisfaction of a gorgeous garment for some sweet baby (or for myself)!
In celebration of Independent Presbyterian Church’s 100 year anniversary, members are making new needlepoint paraments (pew markers, kneelers, and the like). I got to meet some of the women committing their time and resources to this project this morning, as well as get a crash course in needlepoint. It’s not too different from smocking, so this should be a really fun endeavor.
St. Augustine said, “He who sings, prays twice.” By offering this devotion to God not just with your mind, but also with your physical talents, you are praising Him twice-over. I think the same whenever I make something for a religious purpose, such as a christening gown. As I begin the needlework for my church’s paraments, I intend to do so mindfully. Not just to ensure it is done correctly, but also to pray with my hands as well as mind.