I used to be a patient person. If I was on a long line, I would just read the book I’d tucked in my bag. I could sit through commercials on TV, let the other driver or pedestrian go ahead of me, and generally not feel too much stress about waiting for a result.
The digital age has eroded my patience. If I have to wait more than five seconds for a website page to load, my reaction is ridiculous. (Apparently I’ve forgotten what the dial-up days were like.) If someone doesn’t answer my text immediately, I think there’s something wrong. The digital world has trained us to expect everything right now—and the price has been our ability to be patient. Unfortunately, this expectation of immediate results means I get short-tempered with everyone from restaurant servers to my cat, and I feel more stress than I used to.
In addition to looking for meditative practices like knitting that strengthen my focus and internal balance, I’ve been thinking about practices that will strengthen my patience. Knitting had an answer for that too: winding yarn.
Yarn comes in balls and skeins that are ready to knit with, but it also comes in hanks that look like bread twists. Undone, these hanks are wide loops of yarn that must be wound to be used (or you’ll have a tangled mess on your hands—and your floor, and your cat). You can get hanks wound on a cool old-fashioned apparatus where you buy the yarn, but I wind my own. “Are you sure?” the staff always asks, knowing how much time it takes, and how potentially frustrating it can be to undo a tangled mess.
I’m always sure, even though I always end up with a tangled mess. Winding yarn is a practice in patience. Only thicker yarn goes easily, and then the challenge is winding it into a neat ball. The other night I was winding thin yarn, and then very thin yarn. It took my husband and me an hour to undo the tangles.
And we sat on the couch together and worked it through, fully focused on following the yarn trail through the knots and loops. Tugging did nothing but make it worse. We had to patiently follow, gently pull, and feel satisfaction at the release.
I find myself more patient lately, willing to invest the time and attention to undo the knots that have formed in my yarn. If only the knots in my life were so easy to undo—but, with patience, maybe they will be.