[Buddha Knitting, from FunkyQuail on Etsy]
I was sitting here in the light from the west window, knitting along and thinking about the ways knitting (and many other relaxing activities) are not equivalent to zazen, the specific Zen method of meditation . . . when I realized I had just knit several stitches on the new row when I should have purled. Ah, I thought. Attention. Karma. That's how Buddhism is; it sticks out a foot and trips you up now and then.
Hardly any teaching is more fundamental to Buddhism than the idea of karma, or cause and effect. While it is sometimes the job of psychotherapy to examine the weighty karma of our past, Zen teachers tend to wish you'd drop it; our job in spiritual work is different. Our job in our lives is to build good future karma, for ourselves and the world we are firmly knit into. Whether or not we think about it, we do build our futures with every action. Nowhere is this more obvious than in knitting. Drop one stitch, and down the line you're going to know it.
I am new at this, and have already had the experience of ruining everything by trying to go back and repair a mistake; my teacher can do it, but I don't understand the stitches deeply enough. I tore out the last project twice, and then decided to buy a more forgiving yarn, a smooth, multicolored blend, and not to tear anything out, but to forge bravely ahead. The intended recipient will not be critical, but astonished that I could knit at all.
But to carry even this modest intention forward requires attention, a quality emphasized in Zen. Mine lapsed only a few seconds (Too conceptual, my teacher used to say) but that was enough. It's like walking blithely along and slipping on a patch of ice. Pow. Your knee will never be the same.
Knitting might not be zazen, but it makes good work practice, which is called samu in the Zen tradition. We (are supposed to) do our work with the same wholeheartedness we (are supposed to) bring to meditation. So it's more of learning to focus, to be all the way with whatever you're dong.
Knitting will surely cultivate attentiveness in me, though I am told you eventually get to where you can knit and watch TV. I doubt that I will. Not Boston Legal.