Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

04.28.2019

Easter 2019

 

Leonardo da Vinci described water as “the driving force of all nature”.  The 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to a Hungarian biochemist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.  He is noted for a great many things but I think his definition of water is the best.  “Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium.  There is no life without water.”

 

Water is necessary for all living things, animal or vegetable and sadly it is not as abundant as the world needs.  Water became the answer when on man sought to discover what the world was made of by rational thought.  Known as Thales of Miletus, he is considered to be the first philosopher.  Because water is essential to all living things, Thales reasoned that everything must be derived from it.  Water exists in several forms: solid when cold; a gas when heated; liquid in what most consider its natural state.  From this beginning and the reasoning of Thales of Miletus comes the modern theory that all matter can be reduced to energy.

 

The Tao philosopher Lao Tzu also considered the philosophical properties of water in the sixth century BCE.  “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water.  Yet, when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it.  So the flexible overcome the adamant; the yielding overcome the forceful.  Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.”

 

Thales reasoned that the earth grew out of the water that surrounded the land masses.  Over seventy-one percent of the earth’s mass is water, after all.  His student Anaximander reasoned that the earth must float on air.  If water supported the earth, he asked, what supported the water?  Anaximander believed everything could be reduced to air.  While neither man was correct, their argument/counterargument form of deduction still forms the basis for philosophical thought and discussion today.

 

OF course, though, philosophy encourages questioning and someone did just that after Thales and Anaximander.  Heraclitus proposed a “theory of opposites”.  He believed that rather than everything being derived from a single element, there was an underlying principle of change.  The world to him consisted of opposing tendencies.  His argument to support this theory was the basic fact that the path that went up a mountain was the same path that went down the mountain.  Another analogy was the fact the while a river remains constant, the water within it is constantly moving and flowing.  Heraclitus proposed that the reality we see as constant is really a reality of processes and changes.

 

Later Xenophanes would suggest that the knowledge we claim to know is just a hypothesis.  Our searches for knowledge start from working hypotheses but the actual ultimate knowledge, the “truth of reality” will always be beyond our grasp to understand.  Xenophanes believed in a cosmic composition of life, based upon two extremes – wet and dry.  He combined the Milesian ideas of air and water with Heraclitus’ views of opposites and used fossils to support his theories.  This was the first evidence-based argument recorded.

 

Philosophy would not remain in this mode of thinking for long.  It would evolve into theories based upon something being everything and nothing being impossible to be something.  We’ll save that for another day, though.  What we should focus on today as we start Monday and a new week is whether or not we are one element or living in a state of contrasting opposites.

 

Night falls at different times on the earth as the planet revolves through its orbit around the sun.  Just as the timing of the night is different so does what nighttime looks like.  For the child growing up in a refugee camp, night might be a period of cooler temps but scary flashes of light indicating mortar rounds being fired.  For the child snug in their bed in Paris, the City of Lights, nighttime is a warm blanket and a calming bedtime story.

 

Today I heard a story about a school-aged child whose class went on an over-night field trip to a state camp.  The two-day excursion included nature walks and environmental lessons.  The child’s class was to be the last to experience such a visit as the camp was deemed inefficient with a delinquent revenue stream.  Sitting around the campfire, the children listened to the sounds of the night.  Two weeks later, as he closed down the program and prepared for his next job, the director of the program received an envelope of thank-you notes from that last class.

 

The drawings of the various birds, and other wildlife discussed he had expected but it was the simple handwritten note of a young girl that truly touched him.  “Thank you,” she wrote, “for showing me what creation is really about.  I liked the walking, the trees, the flowers, and learning how to reuse things.  I liked seeing the baby rabbits and although it was scary, even the snake in the grass on the trail.  My favorite, though, was learning that nighttime can be nice.  At my house I cannot see the stars.  I see the restaurant signs.  We don’t have quiet on our block.  We hear cars and sometimes, gunshots.  At camp, I got to see the stars and hear the quiet and then the call of the night animals.  What I saw at camp was creation.  Bobby next door calls it Allah and my grandma calls it God.  I am just going to call it life.  Thank you for showing me what life can be.”

 

We all see life each and every day.  Like the water Lao Tzu spoke of, life can sometimes attack us and we might feel we cannot withstand it.  With knowledge though, and thought, we can learn to be flexible and by being flexible, gain strength.  Knowledge is power when applied properly.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr summed it up:  “Science investigates religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control.”

 

Wallace Stevens remarked that “Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.”  The environment with which we surround ourselves influences us.  Alysha Speer compared life and water:   “You never really know what’s coming. A small wave, or maybe a big one. All you can really do is hope that when it comes, you can surf over it, instead of drown in its monstrosity.”

 

Many cultures use water as a type of rebirth, a cleansing of the old in preparation for the future.  Da Vinci pointed out that “in rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes.” 

 

Man does not live very long without water.  It is more than essential; it is life itself – both in birth and in destruction.  Most of us forget to really use water in our daily living.  Charlotte Eriksson offers us the best way, I believe, to face the morrow and our life.   “Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes.  Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it, another day. And you can make it one more.  You’re doing just fine.”

The Best we Can Offer

Mirror Image

 

We are coming to the end of our series on mindfulness, a series that was written more in social media than at this website.  I hope you followed along on my twitter page.  We now our approaching Lent.  Lent is, after all, a four letter word and often that is felt with the commonly held attitudes about four letter words!

 

Lent is a time of reflection and often, sacrifices.  It is really a journey we undertake.  Perhaps one way to undertake keeping a holy Lent would be to follow the example of Lewis Carrol’s character Alice and fall into our mirror.  What would we really see if we fell into the looking glass of our lives?

 

“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”   Mark Twain spoke gospel words when he said that.  How often do we look in the mirror and think we are not as good as we should be?  What happens when we are too full of ourselves?  When are we being prideful and when are we practicing self-respect?

 

Many would say that pride and self-respect are the same thing while others have written that they are two different sides of the same coin.  I have no worldly wisdom here.  Let me say that before we go any further.   I too am on a quest.  If I was perfect and/or had all the answers, I would no longer being seeking.  I would have arrived.

 

In my humble opinion, pride is fine as long as it does not include a sense of better-ness, of being on a higher plane of existence than anyone else.  I might even go so far as to say there are many times in which pride and self-respect can be synonyms.  However, pride that elevates one’s personal worth to being “better” than another is wrong.

 

Self-respect means seeing the value in one’s existence.  That existence will not be perfect, though, and it will have its challenges.  It will be a journey and like most journeys, it will have its detours and delays.  However, the journey will also have a purpose and value.

 

The Reverend Peter Marshall once said Americans should not look to their Constitution as carte blanche to do whatever they wanted but rather as an opportunity to do right.   When you live with intentions, you live with purpose.  Anyone who lives with a purpose has to have self-respect.  You cannot and should not separate one from the other.

 

The dilemma about self-respect and building it is not a new challenge.  In his “History of the Peloponnesian War”, Thucydides spoke of it.  “Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”

When we look into a mirror, we see a reflection staring back at us.  That reflection is just an outer covering.  What we should respect and inspect is the deeper self of the character within the outer shell.  Joan Didion explains:  “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”

Life is not for the weak or lazy.  It takes courage and it requires an intention to live.  When we accept those two gauntlets that being born shoves on us, then we can live and build our self-respect.  Author Adrienne Rich agrees.  “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”

 

The reward to really being the image we want to see in the mirror is the best prize of all.  We gain self-respect and control over our being.  No one can ever deny us that.  You will never be without yourself when you can respect yourself.  Happiness requires that we have some measure of self-respect.  Be happy and start building your own bed of self-respect.

 

Life is much easier when you look into the mirror and can smile at your own reflection.  Then we are able to smile at others and be sincere.  A smile is the first invitation to others to join us on our journey of faith.  That is the blessing of truly keeping a holy Lent.  The end of Lent is not the end of our journey but rather an important layover.  The story does not end with Easter.  The resurrection is our invitation to fully live into our own self-worth.

 

Religion is not about the end game – a series of rules in which one wins a golden ticket into heaven if they are all followed.  Religion is about the game of here and now, living each day to the best of our abilities.  We achieve true spirituality and make the most of whatever dogmas we hold to be true when we are able to see ourselves in the faces of all we meet.  We are the world and each of us is, in some form or fashion, related to our neighbor.  If we are to have a future, we must first see ourselves in each other.

Laughter

Laughter and Kindness

2019.01.02

Twelve Days of Kindness

 

As we reached the end of 2018, statistics came to light about how divided the United States had become.  Living as a minority or a woman, a handicapped individual or in poverty reached good levels in 2016 but in the past two years have fallen to where life as someone in one of those categories has become very hard.  Thus I decided to spend the twelve days of Christmas discussing twelve ways to be kind.  I think we need to spend a bit more time talking about kindness, not just in the USA but worldwide.  Someone asked me a characteristic of being kind and the first thing I thought of was … laughter.  “Laughter is timeless.  Imagination has no age.  Dreams are forever.”  These words were written by J. M. Barrie in his 1904 play “Peter Pan” and included in the novelization of the play published in 1911, “Peter and Wendy.”

 

It is said that someone who is kind to animals must be kind to people and I confess I have always taken in account how a person treats dogs.  I guess you could say my standard of kindness for a person, their breeding if you will, is exhibited by their response and reaction to dogs.  In other words, one of my standards or ways to determine someone’s kindness quotient is their treatment of canines. 

 

 Generally when a breed is recognized, there are certain standards.  Different breeds of dogs must conform to these standards when competing in dog shows.  An English bulldog, for example, cannot compete if the coloring is piebald.  Piebald, not to be confused with merle, is a spotting pattern of an animal found not only in the hair but often on the skin as well.  The word “piebald” is a combination of the word “pie”, derived from the magpie bird which has a distinguishing black and white plumage, and the word “bald”, referring to a white patch or seemingly hairless spot.

 

Many different animals have the piebald coloring.  In horses it is found in the pinto breed although the coloration is usually brown and white.  The national bird of the United States of America gets its name from its white cap of hair – the American bald eagle.  Many birds have this coloring as do dogs, such as the English bulldog.  While a piebald English bulldog may not be allowed to compete, they are adorable animals. 

 

I will admit I have three rescue animals and all are black and white: two piebald cats known as tuxedo cats and one giant dog whose coloring could be called barely merle or piebald.  I like the coloring of the black and white.  It reminds me of the keys on a piano.  However, I also like the symbolism of how the dark and light come together.  After all, none of us is perfect.  We have a bit of dark and light in ourselves.  We go through our life trying to fix the dark and tinker or improve the light in our souls.

 

A tinker was a person who traveled around fixing things.  J. M. Barrie gave his fairy friend of the main character Peter Pan the name Tinkerbell since she tended to “fix” things for Peter and the fairy folk.  In the original musical stage presentation, the voice of Tinkerbell was performed by a percussionist and resembled a tinkling bell although it was actually played on an instrument known as the celesta.  Originally, though, “Peter Pan” was not a musical and Tinkerbell was a darting light that seemed to dance around the stage.  Her voice was a collar of bells that belonged to Barrie himself.  The program, however, listed a Jane Wren as playing the part of Tinkerbell.  Eventually the Inspector of Taxes filed a legal demand that Jane Wren pay taxes for her salary for the play and the truth finally came out.

 

The tinker folk of the British Isles have been portrayed as thieves but generally they were respected for the handyman abilities and cheerful natures.  They moved about seeking work and seemed very content with their lives.

 

The opening quote of this post is said by Tinkerbell who did indeed gain a voice in later productions.  Though Barrie wrote in the death of Tinkerbell a year after Wendy and her brothers leave Neverland, the fairy remains forever a prominent role for children.  Barrie explained her tempestuous nature as being caused by a personality too small for her body.  Sometimes we feel much the same with life.

 

“Laughter is timeless.  Imagination has no age.  Dreams are forever”.  Dreams are forever and one of mine is that we all practice kindness each and every day.  Dreams are the portals through which we imagine and create goodness, greatness, and kindness but action is what makes those dreams become reality.  Victor Borge, a great entertainer and humanitarian once said, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.”  Share laughter and you will share kindness.   Hopefully we will find laughter in 2019 and grow kindness to new levels.

It Happened This week

It Happened This Week

2018.11.09

Growing Community

 

This week is ending as so many in the United States of America have all too often – with families grieving and communities reeling from yet another incident of multiple victims from one incident of gunfire.  A gunman opened fire on a crowd inside Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif.  On Wednesday, Nov 7th twelve people were killed and another eighteen injured, and the gunman is reportedly dead.  One of the dead was a responding law enforcement official.  The man suspected of killing 12 people in a bar in a Los Angeles suburb was a decorated Marine Corp machine gunner deployed in Afghanistan who had several prior brushes with law enforcement.  He was also the grandson of a thirty-year Navy Commander veteran.

 

Countries need to defend themselves and young men and women often gain maturity and skills when doing so.  Sadly, though, some are taught those skills without being able to cope with such knowledge.  War is often a catalyst for mental anguish and we need to include such screening in the curriculum of all who serve.  We also need to offer more assistance to those returning from war zones.

 

With such carnage it is easy to forget the positive things that also occurred this week.  In lieu of the upcoming holiday season, toy drives and in full swing and many are donating for the less fortunate.  In areas where winter is fast approaching, clothing drives are also being conducted.  It is a great time to donate both your time and energy to help someone else.

 

In Boston this week a conference was held regarding how cancer research can be adapted for maximum clinical impact.  A chemotherapy symposium was also held with new innovative cancer therapies being unveiled.  Various educational conferences were held this week.  Some were for the traditional educator but others offered education in specific careers.  The American Resort Development Association hosted its Fall Conference in Washington, DC.  Ongoing until the end of today, it offers industry professionals educational and networking opportunities each year through its Annual Convention and Exposition with attendees, educational sessions, and expo hall booths.

 

This week is Law Justice and Development Week, a platform to explore the link between rights and protection to economically empower disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals and groups, identify the role multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations and the private sector may play in advancing rights and protection, and examine how upholding rights and protection may affect development outcomes, especially in fragile contexts, and how such approach may contribute to reducing poverty and boosting prosperity with a focus on the impact for refugees.  These are topics which have been around since the beginning of mankind and we definitely need to continue our work in developing and resolving such issues.

 

What all of these things, even the tragedy in California with the mass shooting, have in common is that there are part of what is required in growing a community.  We will never know everything and these conferences, varied as they are, focus on growing a better world for everyone.  Community refers to all of us and when we respect the rights and needs of the individuals within said community, then we are making progress.

 

Elections were also held this week in the USA and the biggest challenge now is to act, to take those votes and turn them into forward momentum that benefits everyone.  It is not about power but progress.  We construct a better tomorrow by living in communion with our neighbors – those across the street and those halfway around the world.  This week had more than its share of grief but there was positive effort displayed.  That is the takeaway from this and every week.  “And when I die, and when I’m dead and gone; there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on.”  We best honor those who died this week by living tomorrow and making it better.

Growing a New Day

Growing a New Day

2018.11.07-8

Growing Community

 

As I often do, before beginning this series I did some research into the word “community”.  The dictionary is the best starting point and yet, in this case, I found it outdated – and I researched ten different dictionaries.  Perhaps that is one reason we are, in the 21st century, having such a difficult time growing community.  We haven’t updated our definition of the word to fit the world in which we now reside.

 

One can debate the pros and cons of social media from sunrise to sunset but only a fool would try to deny its existence.  Someone wanting to know the business hours of a retail, medical, or even religious facility no longer opens the telephone directory or newspaper to locate such.  Today the Internet is the place to find answers and information.  Any business or organization that fails to have on online presence is effectively operating in the dark with no way for its audience to find it.

 

The most common definition I found for the word community was “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often has a common cultural and historical heritage.”  The problem with this outdated definition is that today a community is more likely composed of members with difference cultural and historical heritage and most definitely multiples religious and spiritual beliefs.  In the 21st century, our neighborhoods are not just around the block but also online.  That one fact has expanded each person’s community to include people from other cultures, ethnic heritages, and, most importantly, varied life experiences. 

 

As we seek to grow our community, we have to be open to differing opinions, ways of operating, varied clothing.  We no longer have communities where everyone eats the same thing on Tuesday nights or prepares chicken soup exactly the same way.  As our personal space has decreased with the increase in the human population on this planet, our ability to learn and experience different cultures has increased.  With three quick clicks of a computer mouse or keystroke, one has access to multiple ways of cooking meatloaf or a meatless loaf.

 

There are funerals every day on this planet and yet, the one funeral we all need to attend we haven’t.  We need to bury yesterday and let the “status quo” rest in peace.  Today is a new day and we need to embrace it, not fear it.  Change is inevitable as is evolution.  Despite what certain pundits would have you believe, evolution is not a nasty word.  It means growth – nothing more.  Our sense of community needs to evolve as well.

 

A popular advertisement likes to claim it is not genetically modified and yet, its main ingredient, wheat, has been genetically modified by Mother Nature and mankind throughout the history of agriculture.  The origin of wheat is traced by archaeological evidence to 15,000 BCE from the regions we today call Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, and Iraq – an area better known as the Fertile Crescent.  This area experienced great climate change with various Ice Ages and vegetation normally used for food became scarce.  Those living in the area had to seek the seeds from the plants growing in higher elevation, plants previously considered weeds.  Once gathered, these seeds were cultivated and became a basic food source which later figured prominently in many religious ceremonies and beliefs.  The seeds had to adapt to a different growing environment and mankind learned various uses for them.  From a staple grain cereal to the basis for liquid refreshment, wheat has gone from being a weed to a prominent role in the diet of the human race.

 

The ballots are being tallied and after Tuesday’s vote in the USA, a picture is beginning to form as to what new day will be the face of tomorrow.  Some will lament over what was not accomplished while others will spend their time bragging.  Neither will be productive, though, unless it leads to growth.  Change is how the world and each of us in it prepare for tomorrow.  We grow, we increase our knowledge, skills, and abilities, we provide for the future by our evolution. 

 

Community is perhaps best defined as “relationship”.  When we are in community, we have acknowledged a rapport with each other.  We accept we are in many ways connected and are, at the same time, different.  We are linked by our presence on this planet and perhaps by species but more importantly, we acknowledge and value each other, creating a liaison that will link to a brighter and more productive future. In this affiliation, we will grow not only a new day but also a new world, brighter in its being with hope for peace and better living for all. 

 

 

The Power of Hate and Love

The Power of Hate and Love

2018.11.02

All Soul’s Day

 

The current events of this past week that made international headlines all had one common thread – hate.  Most of us think of hate as the polar opposite of love but it turns out that there are a great many things these two contradictory emotions have in common. 

 

In 2008 a study was conducted in the United Kingdom at the University College London regarding the effect of hate on our bodies, specifically the brain.  Test subjects’ brains were mapped with an MRI scanner while they looked at pictures of people they had identified as hating.  When they viewed these photos, activity was observed in the regions of the putamen and insular cortex – the very same two brain regions that also light up when a person sees a picture of a loved one.  The difference with those they hated, though, was that the frontal cortex remained active as well.  When we view a picture of someone we love, the areas of the frontal cortex associated with judgment and critical thinking typically become less active than normal.

 

The putamen region of the brain is also that section that prepares the body for action.  Its involvement with both emotions of love and hate are interesting.  Are we ready to protect someone we love?  Do we expect to need to defend ourselves or run away from someone we hate?  Does the frontal cortex take a break with someone we love because we feel safe?  Is the frontal cortex one step ahead with someone we hate, preparing an escape plan if necessary?  Apparently hating involves more thinking than loving someone.

 

Love seems to have been a part of our lives from the initial breath but hate is a fairly new emotion in human evolution.  Did it develop as a defense mechanism or to justify doing what was necessary in order to live in harsh circumstances? 

 

This week a mass exodus took place with thousands of people walking in a caravan towards the United States of America.  These people, much like the Hebrews in Biblical stories, are seeking a better life.  For many of them, it is the only way they feel they can have a life.  Such migrations are nothing new in the natural world.  Many animals do it every fall and spring.  IN the skies over the Mid-Atlantic states, geese are seen and heard migrating to warmer climates in the fall and then again back home to their northern homes in the spring.  Butterflies, birds, bison… Nature knows the effects of the harsh weather on itself and seeks survival.  Many in the USA, including those in Congress and the White House, are disclaiming those seeking a new life.  They feel threatened.  Is their hatred simply a defense mechanism in place?

 

What effect does this hateful rhetoric on have those hearing it?  Is it simply one way for politicians to make a name for themselves and garner public attention they feel translates into votes?  It is a tactic that has worked in the past.  People go to the polls and tend to vote on name recognition rather than stated platforms and experience.  Why else would a nation that considers itself more Christian than anything else vote in a leader who has publicly broken at least half of the Ten Commandments?

 

Hate kills, not only in past examples of lynching and this week’s murders motivated by racism and neo-Nazi rhetoric.  Hateful discourse harms everyone who hears it.  It raises our blood pressure.  Negative comments cause our bodies to have elevated cortisol levels which often inhibits weight loss.  It leads to depression which then results in higher suicide rates, consumption of alcohol and greater use of medications, both prescription and by those self-medicating.

 

Hate is mentioned in the Book of Genesis and in Indian Vedic scripture and ancient Greeks gave much thought to its meaning. The 4th century B.C. philosopher Diogenes Laertius defined hate as “a growing or lasting desire or craving that it should go ill with somebody.”  Science now can prove we do indeed go ill with hate.

 

Rutgers University sociologist Martin Oppenheimer, who with his family fled Nazi persecution in the 1930s, argues that hate is sown among a group by identifying and exploiting their frustrations, insecurities, and/or fear of losing out on things they want or need. The trick is convincing people that the explanation for their problems is someone else who is threatening to take away things that ought to be theirs, or is a menace to their safety. Additionally, he says, organized hatred helps give meaning to the lives of those who feel marginalized. “These are the movements of growing numbers of the insecure, who seek islands of safety in a rapidly changing and increasingly insecure world.”

 

The written and spoken word has done much to further the cause of hatred in the world.  What we often forget, though, is that the power of love can be equally as strong.  “Love thy neighbor” is not just a religious saying, one found in almost every religion in the world.  It is also a basic tenet of living with someone else.  We all live with others on this planet so we need to learn how to do that. 

 

The American bishop, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his homily at the wedding of the U.K.’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle earlier this year.  “The late Dr. Martin Luther King once said and I quote: ‘We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this whole world a new world. But love, love is the only way,” Bishop Michael Curry said.  “There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There is power, power in love.”

A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in Time

2018.09.12

 

One of the oldest forms of being creative is often one of the most overlooked and underappreciated – sewing.  Early humankind needed coverings and the art of sewing created them.  Sewing is much more than simply joining two pieces of fabric, though.   It also includes decorative stitches and the art of quilting.  Grammy-winning pop musician Mary J Blige is an avid quilter, explaining that “I like to do interior design; I love to quilt.  I love to see different colors together, and I love to match thing up.”

 

Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. In this way, it has been practiced for decades.  The origin of embroidery can be dated back to Cro-Magnon days or 30,000 BC. During a recent archaeological find, fossilized remains of heavily hand-stitched and decorated clothing, boots and a hat were found.  In Siberia, around 5000 and 6000 B.C. elaborately drilled shells stitched with decorative designs onto animal hides were discovered. Chinese thread embroidery dates back to 3500 B.C. where pictures depict embroidery of clothing with silk thread, precious stones and pearls. Examples of surviving Chinese chain stitch embroidery worked in silk thread have also been found and dated to the Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC).

 

Embroidery and most other fiber and needlework arts are believed to originate in the Orient and Middle East. Primitive humankind quickly found that the stitches used to join animal skins together could also be used for embellishment. Recorded history, sculptures, paintings and vases depicting inhabitants of various ancient civilizations show people wearing thread-embroidered clothing.

 

Thicker filaments were woven into heavy yarn and today, some acrylic yarn is made from recycled water bottles.  Can we do sewing with these and call it being creative?  The answer is a resounding yes and this type of sewing is known as crochet… sometimes.  Ruthie Marks explains:  “You and I call it crochet, and so do the French, Belgians, Italians and Spanish-speaking people. The skill is known as haken in Holland, haekling in Denmark, hekling in Norway and virkning in Sweden. … No one is quite sure when and where crochet got its start. The word comes from croc, or croche, the Middle French word for hook, and the Old Norse word for hook is krokr.

 

American crochet expert Annie Potter, has a different theory: “The modem art of true crochet as we know it today was developed during the 16th century. It became known as ‘crochet lace’ in France and ‘chain lace’ in England.” She also refers to a 1916 visit by Walter Edmund Roth to descendants of the Guiana Indians in which Roth found examples of true crochet.

 

Fiber arts researcher Lis Paludan of Denmark, who limited her search for the origins of crochet to Europe, puts forth three interesting theories. One: Crochet originated in Arabia, spread eastward to Tibet and westward to Spain, from where it followed the Arab trade routes to other Mediterranean countries. Two: Earliest evidence of crochet came from South America, where a primitive tribe was said to have used crochet adornments in rites of puberty. Three: In China, early examples were known of three-dimensional dolls worked in crochet.  But, says Paludan, the bottom line is that there is “no convincing evidence as to how old the art of crochet might be or where it came from. It was impossible to find evidence of crochet in Europe before 1800. A great many sources state that crochet has been known as far back as the 1500s in Italy under the name of ‘nun’s work’ or ‘nun’s lace,’ where it was worked by nuns for church textiles,” she says. Her research turned up examples of lace-making and a kind of lace tape, many of which have been preserved, but “all indications are that crochet was not known in Italy as far back as the 16th century”- under any name.

 

Another form of fiber arts is knitting.  Knitting is the process of using two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment or some other type of fabric. The word is derived from knot, thought to originate from the Dutch verb knutten, which is similar to the Old English cnyttan, to knot. Its origins lie in the basic human need for clothing for protection against the elements. More recently, hand knitting has become less a necessary skill and more a hobby.

 

Knit as a word in English has probably come from Knot meaning to tie. In old English there are references to ‘knit/ knitting’ meaning to draw close, (knitting the brows), which we even use today. More often than not the history of a word, tells us a lot about the craft, e.g. ‘weaving’ as a word exists in many languages, but knitting does not. There is no ancient Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit word for knitting.  The art of combining fibers to make fabric is where weaving got its start but why some languages use the two terms interchangeably is unknown. 

  

Like the other forms of creativity we are discussing this week, the needle arts also have health benefits.  Anna Deen listed them for AllFreeSewing.com:  Sewing is a relaxing alternative to watching TV and scrolling on our computers. Screen time leads to a sensory overload—while watching your favorite TV show may seem relaxing, such an activity is actually tiring and leads to feelings of unrest and unhappiness. However, because sewing is a purposeful, completion-based activity, you actually feel relaxed, focused, and accomplished while sewing!  Sewing is a great social activity with which to meet people and form sewing groups, get advice, and build relationships with others who share similar interests. You can join both online groups as well as attend in-person meet ups to build sewing communities and friendships.  Focusing on one activity helps relieve stress and focus your thoughts after a long day. By focusing on sewing, you become mindful of concentrating on one activity at a time, which helps you feel relaxed.

 

 Additionally, there are mental health benefits as well.  Sewing can help decrease levels of depression? When you do an activity that you enjoy (like sewing!), your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which is a natural antidepressant. By sewing, your brain releases dopamine which makes you feel happy and decreases depression.  Working through a sewing pattern gives you a sense of accomplishment. This feeling of accomplishment improves your levels of self-esteem and confidence. The high confidence levels you get from sewing help you overcome hurdles in other parts of your life.

 

At its most basic, sewing and the other fiber arts require us to focus both physically and mentally on a task. It’s hard to sew if you’re not paying attention – many a pricked finger stands testament to this. So if you’re concentrating on your sewing you can’t be worrying about what to give the kids for supper, or fretting about problems at work.  Monica Baird, pain specialist at the Royal United Hospital Bath states “It changes brain chemistry for the better, possibly by decreasing stress hormones and increasing feel-good serotonin and dopamine.”  It also improves eye-hand coordination and assist the elderly in emotional, social, and cognitive skills.

 

 A stitch in time might just save your sanity and increase your life span, as well as helping clothe someone and decorate one’s abode.  By the way, that famous quote goes like this:   “A stitch in time saves nine” and means an action taken now will prevent problems later.  It was first used by the English astronomer Francis Baily, in his Journal, written in 1797 and published in 1856 by Augustus De Morgan:  After a little while we acquired a method of keeping her [a boat] in the middle of the stream, by watching the moment she began to vary, and thereby verifying the… proverb, ‘”A stitch in time saves nine.”   By being creative with the needle arts, a stitch in time might just increase your life span.