The Zen of the Everyday Pastime

At the beginning of the month, I embarked on a creative adventure: to learn how to sew. I set off to make a nightgown for each of my daughters, because I’ve found that specific goals (make two nightgowns) have a much greater chance of being accomplished than vague ones (learn to sew).

It was a challenge in every sense of the word – difficult, frustrating and patience trying, but also incredibly gratifying. I’ve grown to enjoy it immensely and I’m sewing now not to reach a goal, but for the pleasure of it.

So far, I’ve made two shirts for my girls…

Homemade Shirts

And one for myself!

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Three flannel scarves…

DIY flannel scarf

Two baby blankets…

DIY baby blanket

And last but not least, I finished these sweet little nightgowns for these sweet little girls.

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Cute aren’t they?

Don’t look too close because you’ll find a host of errors and sloppy stitching, but I’m proud of what I made and am already working on more.

The Presence of Learning

When you live completely in each moment, without expecting anything, you have no idea of time. ~Shunryu Suzuki

There’s one thing that caught me by surprise about this challenge, and it’s how calming and meditative of an activity sewing has been for me. When I sit at the machine, trace a pattern, or cut a piece of fabric, I’m 100% focused on what I’m doing.

Which means I’m not sitting there thinking about obligations, worries, problems, and other unhelpful thoughts that typically occupy my mind. There’s no room for anything other than total concentration.

Turns out, these “mellow” pastimes (think sewing, cooking, reading, playing sports etc.) do have health benefits for this exact reason, as psychologist Matthew Zawadzki saw when he hooked up 115 men and women to little electrodes and measured their heart rates and states over the course of several days. He found that “virtually all the participants reported reduced stress and had a lower heart rate during leisure activities, as compared to parts of the day when they weren’t involved in leisure.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a prominent psychologists who for decades has studied happiness and creativity, argues that the happiest people are the ones who spend the most time in this focused state of mind (which he calls flow) because they’re engaged in something that’s enjoyable, challenging and intrinsically motivating, where they’re so deeply immersed in what they’re doing that they forget about the world around them.

It comes down to this: when you work on a mentally engaging project, you’re less likely to become bored or ruminate over all of the things going wrong in your life, which, as we all know, only leads to more stress, anxiety, and the potential to engaging in unhealthy behaviors. It’s replaced with more enjoyment, more calm, more learning, and a greater sense of accomplishment.

And that’s what sewing has been for me – a wonderful new way to bring mindfulness and presence (and some new clothes) into my day.

So if you’re looking for yet another reason to go learn that thing you’ve always wanted to learn – cello, gardening, cooking, photoshop, salsa, knife skills – well, now you have one.

It just might bring you that much needed slice of zen.

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