The Zen of Basket Weaving

The Art of Defocusing

Happiness is the longing for repetition.  – Milan Kundera

I wake up every morning at 4:30, make myself a cup of tea, then sit quietly to do my Morning Pages, never knowing what I will write until the words spill onto the pages. This is my routine. Fill three blank pages with whatever thoughts are in my head. The books, now filled, line my shelves. I never open them. I never read. No one will ever read. It’s just this trivial, mundane practice that means nothing – but I love it. It begins my day fresh. I start my practice feeling empty and open.

It’s midday, and the pups sit in either side of my chair. They know. The sting of my eyes tells me they’re right on time. I get my coat and boots and we head out into the back field where they will chase the deer down the gully as I sit and watch from under my tree until they realize the deer are too fast, and they come back. Eventually, we meander on back and I will go back to writing.

After dinner,  I set up by the fire with balls of brightly colored yarn and thick rope. Slowly, carefully, wrapping threads of yarn around circles of thick rope, over and over again. Lulled by the winding repetition, my mind does exactly the opposite. Time transcends and I am absorbed.

A Meeting of the Minds

I need solitude. I need space. I need air. I need the empty fields around me.– Virginia Wolf

Mindfulness is made up of two different parts. There is focus, which most of us are familiar with. A strong, healthy ability to concentrate gives us staying power and helps us be efficient, organized, and productive.

But there’s another side. A softer, more subtle side. A big open field, the blur of the background. Within this space of our mind resides our ability to notice and be available to whatever is, as it is happening. This is our awareness

You can easily spot the person who spends too much time in the field, so to speak. We’d call them a bit spacey, sometimes even lazy. It’s hard to hold a conversation without them floating away. And you certainly wouldn’t turn to them if there was anything of importance that needed to be done.

The field of awareness: A softer side to mindfulness

But how about the person who doesn’t spend enough time in that big open space? You know, the person who keeps their ‘eye on the ball’ and is always working hard to get shit done.

Let’s just admit right now, that’s the person we are all trying to be that person. Except the harder we try, the further away we become. Especially in today’s world.

With so many things being thrown at us every day, it’s impossible for our brains to process. Plus, trying to do too much at once only leaves us feeling as if we’ve done nothing at all.

Brain Fatigue

It’s an ironic habit humans have of running faster when they’re lost. – Rollo May

Being too focused can backfire. First, it can actually freeze us out of the moment, taking us away from being present and into some distant, far-off land of reward and achievement. Hyper-focus creates such a narrow state of mind that it is no longer open and available to ideas, information, and even the people we care about.

But also, being overly focused can also make us more distracted.

Being distracted is a sign of fatigue. And why the brain actually needs periods to defocus, unwind, and relax. So you can either consciously schedule these breaks in or the mind will take one without asking.

We need time consciously spent in the field and a bit, out of focus. We need the space and the freedom to relax, feel refreshed, and replenish our thinking energy. It’s called pottering. And while it may seem like a waste of energy, it’s exactly what will give us back the energy we’ve lost.


pot∙ter /pädǝr/  To occupy oneself in an aimless but pleasant way.

Pottering are those routine, solitary activities we like to do, and are familiar doing, that come with no real reward or recognition. Absorbing tasks that are predictable, rhythmic, and relatively effortless but that we like doing.

So rather than scrolling through IG or FB, indiscriminately imprinting our brain with even more chatter – we want to look for positive and enjoyable ways to relax and refresh the brain instead.

My husband will tuck himself away to tie flies while Meghan and I weave our baskets. He could buy his own flies and we certainly don’t need any more misshapen baskets around the house – but it’s the activity itself that replenish and uplift. Our time in the field.

Pottering includes …

  • Taking a walk
  • Doodling
  • Knitting
  • Showering
  • Gardening
  • Journaling
  • Playing music

And in these small, repetitive practices we do each day, we create gaps where the mind can be unoccupied and unavailable. With no goals to distract or pressure to perform – here we find the space and quiet to be ourselves.

Yoga: A Meeting of the Minds

Our yoga practice is perfectly designed as a place where the two rivers of the mind meet and flow together. Only we turn counting into climbing and boredom into a problem to solve.

If only I could find the same freedom and presence of mind within my yoga practice as I do in weaving baskets, I remark to my meditation teacher.

“Well, if only yoga were taught like basket weaving,” he says.