Would you screech, put down your knitting needles, and not knit another stitch? If I knit instead of purled, would you roll your eyes at me? If I miscounted and knit an extra stitch, would you huff under your breath? If I didn’t read the stitch pattern correctly, would you care?
NO, I didn’t think so. Neither do my knitting friends, which is why my Wednesday evening knitting group is the perfect balance for my Wednesday morning ensemble. There is no judgement, no measuring up to how another woman knits. Every new and every ongoing project is oohed-and-ahhed over. Stepping out to try something new – a new technique, or a new pattern – is cheered on. We mutually groan about having to “tink” (knit spelled backwards) and laugh at our mistakes. And the experienced knitters help us newbies figure out whatever new thing we are trying to do, or whatever old thing we have thoroughly screwed up.
The Early Music Consort met yesterday for the first time this semester. It was not an auspicious beginning. My recorder was cold, my fingers were stiff, my ears had not played with another recorder player since the beginning of December, and we were sight-reading new music. So I didn’t blow a high “G” in tune, I played B-flat instead of B-natural, I didn’t count correctly and got ahead of everyone, and my fingers and eyes did not work fast enough to get to a lot of the notes on music I’d not seen before. This was all too much for the normally calm recorder player sitting next to me, who screeched about my tuning, put down her recorder, and stopped playing.
It’s easy for me to become upset and panicked over how badly I am playing when someone is reacting to what I am not doing correctly. But through some measure of grace, I kept calm and carried on. I breathed slowly. My tuning improved and my fingers loosened up. I remembered what my recorder teacher said the previous night about sight-reading: skip the notes you are not going to play and direct your attention to the notes that you are going to play. And the recorder player on my other side pointed out that I could play one of the impossible tunes at the written pitch, so my fingers got all the notes the second time we played it.
This moment of grace, where I could detach both from another’s reaction and from my own too easily triggered panic, crystallized my goal for this semester. I could work on any number of musical skills that need improvement. But what I need most in my playing and in my life is equanimity.
equa·nim·i·ty - noun \ˌē-kwə-ˈni-mə-tē, ˌe-kwə-\1: steadiness of mind especially under stress <nothing could disturb his equanimity> 2: right disposition : balance <physical equanimity> (Miriam-Webster online dictionary)
My knitting friends make equanimity easy to find and practice. Sitting around the table sipping wine and eating chocolate while we knit and laugh, or laugh and knit, it’s easy to feel calm, to be steady, to have both right disposition and balance. Yarn won’t hurt you.
And neither will an out-of-tune note, a misplaced fingering, a miscounted measure, or a disgruntled fellow recorder player.