A Big Ball of Yarn

When we start a new project, we usually expect to dive in and start making rapid progress. We often fail to recognize the many steps needed in preparation. Then when we begin, we become frustrated because we aren't getting much done. Sometimes the hurdles and roadblocks are so daunting that we put the project aside or abandon it altogether.

In situations like this, we've created a tangled mind by trying to achieve rapid progress while ignoring the complexity of the work at hand. Those tangles keep us from moving forward and getting to the enjoyable part of our projects. If you are starting to work on a project at home or work, I suggest first sitting down, getting your mind in the right place, and beginning to detangle each of those little knots inside your head. If you work at each one, just the one in front of you, you might find the rest of your project comes together very quickly.

In the spring of last year, I decided to learn how to crochet. You might think it's an odd hobby for a guy who's almost 40, but taking up a complex hobby can be a great way to keep the mind nimble. After thinking about it for quite some time, I found myself near a craft store and decided to go for it. I bought my first ball of yarn and a beginner's crochet set.

I have crocheted nearly every day since that sunny spring afternoon, and I find the repetitive nature of the task very meditative and calming. I have had successes and failures. I've made a few blankets, hats, and scarves and don't mind spending hours to learn a new stitch, and I even go to a knitter and crochet group twice a month. I think it is incredible how much I like this new hobby and how much I love the process of crafting new things. Mostly the items I make remain in our house, but I give them away to friends and family as well.

When I travel, I always have a small crochet project to work on because it makes the trip go so much faster, and I love being able to retreat into my own little world. With a long flight ahead of me as part of a trip the family was taking, I selected a project and looked forward to diving right in. With two long flights, I knew I could arrive home with a project that was almost done, if not fully completed.

I settled into my seat on the plane and started a poncho for my wife. There was one minor issue; the yarn I was working with became tangled. At first, just a little tangle and nothing to worry about until in my hurry, I made it worse. The more I worked with it, the worse it got until I had a 312-yard knot on my lap that spilled onto the airplane floor. I was frustrated and decided that this project wasn't going to get done, and all of the enjoyment that I would get from working on it during the trip was lost. At that point, when I was ready to put everything away and give up, my wife turned to me and said, "It looks like you have a meditative project there."

I thought some less-than-nice things in my head about her comment and then...I decided that she was right. I could look at this tangle (well, actually thousands of tiny tangles) and see the end of my project, or I could look differently and see an opportunity. Instead of giving up, I began the process of picking apart each knot and winding the freed end into a beautiful ball. Occasionally, I would admire the new, growing ball of yarn I was creating, but mostly I focused on the next section to be untangled. Tackling each tiny problem made the entire process easier and, amazingly, made that long flight quite enjoyable.

When we touched down, nearly 3 hours later, I had only a small section left to unsnarl. By the time our vacation was over and we were headed toward home, I was able to get started on my project, and I moved through it reasonably quickly.

Beginning the process of disentangling the yarn wasn't the first step. Getting my mind in a place that would allow me to prepare for the project was. Before I changed my mindset, I would tug and pull, hoping that somehow that would free enough yard for me to work. When I settled into the task at hand, taking each little bit at a time, I began releasing longer and longer lengths of yarn at a time.

P.S. - there was a small tangle of yarn I wasn't able to get unraveled no matter how long I worked at it. I did take out a tiny bit of my frustration by cutting it out and throwing it away. I didn't want it in my project anyway, or at least that's what I'm going to keep telling myself.