I occasionally like to have larger philosophical conversations here, which I put under the header of a discussion. I very much value the comments that I receive on these kinds of posts, and I encourage you to take the time to read the thoughts others share below, or if you are early in reading this post, consider coming back to check in on the comments later as there is often more nuance brought to the topic through others insights.
Over the weekend, as I was doing a daily meditation, the guided meditation talked about some general misconceptions around meditation. From what I recall, they mentioned:
- Meditation is not the absence of thought. Instead, meditation is the act of focusing thought repeatedly.
- Yvonne’s notes: Thoughts inevitably come, and my goal in meditation is to recognize when those thoughts arise and then work toward moving my thoughts back to the focusing idea or thought.
- There are many ways to meditate; you do not have to sit still and only concentrate on your thoughts.
- Guided meditation (like I was engaged with)
- Active meditation
- and many more!
During (!!) and after the guided meditation, I really keyed in on thinking more about active meditation. Active meditation is about connecting to the here and now while engaging in daily activities. Examples include:
- Preparing food
You may have heard of a kind of free motion quilting called flow quilting (if not, my friend Leanne from Devoted Quilter explains it well in her flow quilting blog post). As you may know, I really love using walking foot quilting to quilt my quilts, but free motion quilting is a great tool to have in my toolkit and knowing how to transition from one motif to another in a smooth, flowing way is really powerful. When I’m looking for free motion quilting motif ideas, I look back on previous quilts like the Improv Patchwork mini shown above for ideas. However, in flow quilting instead of lots of stopping, consideration, and starting, you simply quilt a motif for a little bit and then transition to a different motif, aiming to keep the transitions as smooth as possible.
I really like thinking of flow quilting because of the way it ties in with the idea of a state of flow, or that feeling of being completely absorbed in something; complete immersion. Flow experiences can happen when you are doing something you enjoy and at which you are skilled and is often associated with creative work such as painting, drawing, or writing, but it also can occur when you are engaged in a physical activity like dancing or running. To my mind, quilting is the perfect blend of a creative and physical activity; as you well know, quilting can take a lot of physical effort!
Which isn’t to say that you can only achieve a state of flow while doing free motion or flow quilting. I can find myself in that state while I am walking foot quilting, as long as I allow myself to be completely focused on the quilting and in the moment. I can also definitely get into a state of flow when I am hand stitching down binding.
Just like when I am meditating, I can find that my thoughts jump off the rails even after having achieved a state of flow for a period of time. Sometimes I jump straight into spiraling thoughts about some embarrassing past event or memory. Or straight into stress and concern about how the quilting is coming together (is this really the best quilting plan? does this look like garbage? should I rip this all out?) or how the quilt is finishing or what I perceive I *should* be doing.
At those times, when I am far from feeling peaceful and nowhere near a state of flow, I like to stand up, stretch, and take a few deep belly breaths. Then I evaluate: what do I need now? Do I need to put on some music, an audiobook, or a podcast to help ease my mind out of the thought spirals? Do I need to get some water or food and take a break and come back later?
Am I always able to achieve a state of flow or a feeling of active meditation while I am quilting? Definitely not! Over the years, I have found that as my skill has increased, I am more likely to be able to find that feeling, but every project and every day is different. Have you ever slipped into this active meditation kind of state while you were cutting, piecing, quilting, or putting in the final stitches for the binding?
Studies purport that meditation can reduce stress, help in relief of anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms, improve mental health, improve self-awareness, and help with sleep. I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling overloaded, spending a few minutes with fabric in one way or another (pulling fabric to make a color palette, sewing a few things, stitching on a binding) really does help me feel more centered and calm.
So is quilting meditation? I vote that, yes, it certainly can be… as long as it’s not what is causing me stress!
As always, there is a lot more to this topic than I articulated in this post. I’d love to get your thoughts through the comments and I look forward to the conversation we will have.