Single tasking

Here’s part of the after dinner routine. I plonk myself down in a corner of the couch, next to the lamp, with my knitting project bag in hand and summon one of the older two children to my side. “Can you please come read to me?”

They read. I knit and listen. It’s lovely.

And then comes the moment when they finish reading and they go off to watching a TV show or to get ready for bed (depending upon what time it is). Some of the time, I am still sitting there, my knitting in my hands. What do I do now?

Because while they were reading and I was listening and knitting, my hands and my head felt busy but now I’m just knitting and it feels, for a moment, that that is not enough. Is sitting and knitting doing enough? Am I really being productive enough? And there it is, that word, enough, three times.

And so I’d pick up my phone and hop on social media, maybe even post something, but mostly just scroll and see what other people are up to here, there, and everywhere around the world. And my one thumb and my head are filled just enough so that I don’t wonder at whether I am doing enough or being productive. Until it’s time for bed.

So the other night, my daughters finished reading and I held on to my knitting. I just kept going. Initially, I had to actively resist my hand reaching for my phone. But once I shouldered through that, it was natural and easy to just keep on knitting.

A “stereoisomer sock” (pattern by High Contrast Knits) in yarn from Neighborhood Fiber Company. My older daughter has been reading The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse to me and my younger daughter has finished Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin.

At the time, I was participating in my first knit-along (where knitters on IG knit the same pattern together at the same time). I was a long ways behind completing the pair of socks in the timeframe, but it still felt fruitful. I was learning some new techniques and using some that I was less familiar with, like knitting socks toe-up. It was an easy to follow pattern and I was using beautiful spring-colored, hand dyed yarn from a local (I’ll count Baltimore as local) yarn store. What I was doing with my hands, in other words, was hitting all my marks. It was sensorially and mentally stimulating. (The pattern is written as part of a four-part STEM series of patterns.)

In spite of this, there’s part of my inner monologue during moments like these that is saying, “you aren’t doing enough” or “it’s not enough just to be knitting.” And thus the lure of the phone. This, let’s face it, makes to sense, because scrolling through my phone is doing even less.

But as I settle into something like knitting, something that I can do with my hands, something that is mostly muscle memory but occasionally requiring some thought, something that paradoxically allows me to be simultaneously mindless and mindful, I know that I am doing much more with both my mind and hands than scrolling allows.

I think of a verse I read recently, Matthew 6:26: Look at the birds isn’t he sky, they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?

With scrolling, the same neural pathways are stimulated over and over, like a bicycle tire slipping into well worn ruts. No, or few, new connections are made. Even the news or what is supposed to be the newest information entering my brain whilst scrolling starts to feel old. Is the truth that we live in a sort of groundhogs day with the same events doomed to repeat themselves over and over or is the truth that, taking in the information in the same fashion at the same time every day stimulates the same over-utilized surface neural pathways? Is it time to stimulate some different neurons, some found (perhaps with some difficulty) lying deep inside the folds of our brains? Does this perhaps require, from time to time, doing nothing or, at least, very little?

I argue yes.

And I would argue that those deep, hard to access neurons are where something from which we would all gain from reaching: wisdom.

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