Friday, July 1, 2016

Knitting As Re-Ordering

One thing I’ve learned and am completely convicted about is that trauma is pervasive, and trauma issues are at the root of so many things we consider pathological or “wrong”. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that is pathological is that which cannot be fixed: entitlement. This manifests in people who remain rigid walls, who enjoy causing suffering in others, who have no empathy and therefore no remorse or motivation for change. Those who struggle and identify their struggles and move to change within their struggles are the keepers of hope; are the guardians of relationship.

The biggest thing I’ve taken in is from Serene Jones. In her wonderful, gracefully written book, “Trauma and Grace”, she speaks of trauma in terms of imagination and how trauma of any kind  disorders its sufferer's imagination. I won’t go too far into what constitutes trauma, but as Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk says in “The Body Keeps The Score”,
“Trauma almost invariably involves not being seen, not being mirrored, and not being taken into account. Treatment needs to reactivate the capacity to safely mirror, and be mirrored by, others, but also to resist being hijacked by others’ negative emotions.”
To put the two together, trauma, through not being seen, mirrored, or taken into account, creates a disordered, chaotic state…it creates an imagination where one is constantly a victim long after the threat has ceased, or frozen and immobile in the face of real threats, where one is isolated and powerless, or where one seeks to re-live the state of original trauma. The limited imagination is a stuck feeling, an extended deer-in-the-headlights chosen limbo. It is frightening and vulnerable. The inner chaos can express itself in emotional numbness,
To step into healing is to venture to re-order one’s story. Jones says that healing involves 1. Telling your story in safety and truth 2. Having your story be witnessed by a compassionate person and 3. Forming a new story with the help of your witness. Forming a new story involves developing capacities of imagination that were either put to sleep, or completely disordered by, trauma (which is why I love IFS so much).
I am, of course, a huge advocate of the arts as a way to awaken imagination and re-order one’s story. Knitting is one art that brings not only an aspect of mindfulness and presence, but helps a traumatized person walk into a process and model of healing.  Part of the stuck-ness of trauma is avoiding seeking novel experiences, such as the experiences of being accepted, loved, safe, nurtured, and celebrated.
Knitting, first of all, is a process. Knitting an object of beauty and usefulness has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Following a pattern is being given a map to a certain destination, a destination that is presumably fixed but allows for myriad variations and endless creativity within a guided journey. Following a knitting pattern is not a passive wandering, but is an active opportunity to make decisions, figure things out, and keep the goal in mind of creating something of beauty. This journey is a gift, and is a slow working-toward an end goal.
As an experienced knitter, I have sometimes encountered patterns that bring in a technique that is new-ish to me. Often, when I get the jist of the technique, and THINK I know the basic steps and dive right in with what I already know, I mess up. When I open myself to learning something new, to experiencing the novelty and pushing myself beyond what I think I know, I make myself so much richer and more creative. And inevitably more successful.

In knitting, there is stumbling. There are mistakes and setbacks. I once knitted a whole sweater and hated how it looked on me and couldn’t even GIVE it away. So I unraveled the whole thing and used the yarn for something else. This, too, is transformation: the ability to completely let go and destroy something one has worked so hard to build. In the destruction, there is the ability to place hope in something newer and better. You can’t get too stuck when you paid $20 a skein for yarn and you are motivated to justify that purchase. You are forced to re-invest. Such is the way of inner healing, too.
Sometimes in the process you rely on your own resources, and sometimes those of others.
I remember when I was working at bridal shop, sitting there so quietly and intently at my sewing machine, the manager called me aside to talk to me. She wanted me to ask more questions. She said, “no one should be sitting in the corner, struggling alone.” This stuck with me, how there is always someone who will help you along your journey, be it knitting or healing one's psyche, and at times, for me, those two have been intrexicably linked. I cannot count the kindnesses and veritable "angels" that have been put in my path to show me kindness, generosity, presence, forgiveness, and ever-faithful grace.
Trauma creates a disordered, fractional, unpredictable story that sticks like bad perfume. Knitting is rhythmic, predictable, repetitive, reliable, satisfying and ultimately PLEASURABLE. Those who have experienced immense pain take their time coming back to the goodness and pleasure in life. The slow putting of the stitches together into a whole, the unwinding of mistakes and putting them right, the capacity to make sense of unwieldy directions or disparate pieces….this is healing to an imagination disordered by trauma.


Knitting constantly tells a story of safety and comfort, of color and life, told repeatedly by one’s own hands. It creates an order out of any momentary inner chaos, calms the breathing, and satisfies one’s soul. In every way, it mirrors back the value and beauty of one's own soul. 

 May the light of your soul guide you. May the work that you do be blessed by the secret love and warmth of your heart. May you see in your work the beauty of your own soul. -Unknown

For a cursory overview of Van der Kolk's work: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22429941-200-the-lifelong-cost-of-burying-our-traumatic-experiences/

Ideas and themes for affirmation in the service of addressing trauma (re-ordering one’s imagination) through knitting:
-knit a cocoon (a shawl, cowl, or large scarf for introspection)
-knit a sweater (for warmth, protection, adornment, new color)
-knit anything for anyone else (for a sense of contribution, to develop altruism and therefore happiness, to experience one’s compassion and generosity)
-knit something as a gift (to nurture gratitude and sheer love)
-knit socks or slippers (to challenge one’s self, and to represent moving forward in grace and out of one’s own resources)
-knit a hat (as a colorful halo or crown of celebration!)
-knit baby stuff (because it is cute, nurturing, and celebrates life)

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