When was the last time you got to enjoy your latest hobby? The word “hobby” seems to have taken on a strange quality these days as if its shape and weight and texture feel awkward and unwieldy in our mouths.
Sure, we can still do this thing we call a hobby — binge-watching our favorite shows on streaming is a hobby. Grinding and farming on video games are hobbies. Scrolling through/ wholesome posting/ commenting/ stalking your crush on social media is a hobby (sort of).
Our more tactile hobbies, though, are a whole different sort of nostalgia. There was a time when working with your hands for fun was a cool thing to do. We know this is a thing because the market for materials and supplies is bountiful and immensely varied. What type of yarn, what worsted weight, what gauge and size of the needle? Do you want your watercolors in a set, or would you rather assemble your own palette? Which icing tip for what flower or calligraphy, and do we do fondant, or buttercream? Which glue, which tweezers, and how the heck do you sand such delicate pieces without breaking them?
While an online life may hawk many pleasures that seduce us into being digital lotus-eaters, there are some good, old-fashioned, humble virtues that tactile hobbies can still offer.
In my humble experience as a knitter, I ended up poring over countless knitting patterns, dreaming up this scarf or this hat or these mittens, imagining the thrill of surmounting the challenge of finally mastering a particularly complex stitch series.
The shop Dreams in Glorietta 5 was a tiny pocket of paradise for me, feasting my eyes on the colors and dye jobs of each ball of yarn, and relishing their textures with my hands, smooth or springy or stout or knobbly. My senses were conduits of learning, and an apt pupil was I willing to be.
Materials are the backbone of most tactile hobbies. Opening yourself up to these will encourage a sense of fascination and wonder. It could give way to a quietly gleeful desire to learn more, and quite literally, get your hands on more of these materials.
As you work with your hands, you may find that in time, patterns in your movements emerge. Single, single double, double. Purl, purl, knit, knit, purl knit purl. Dig, mix, mix, water, mix. The mind is allowed to go quiet, and the body learns, the body moves, the body thinks. Your nose registers when the dough smells like just enough sugar and cinnamon, when the yeast has had its literal time in the sun, what a perfect golden-brown baked bun smells like. Your hands know what good moist earth should feel like, if there are enough stones, if the loam feels right.
This knowing of the body can silence what the Buddhists call the monkey mind: the constant chatter, blather, and prate that fills our thoughts, and the restless zooming from one idea to the next. Tactile hobbies give the monkey mind the task of paying attention to patterns, to movement, to rhythm — and the calm and stillness it brings is mental rest. This brings us to our last virtue.
Getting into the flow state, or the Zen state, and silencing the monkey mind go hand-in-hand. Flow is a state of mind where you are completely immersed in an activity. According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (get the pronunciation right over here), the flow state is
“… being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Wrap up all three virtues together and you get Being.
Something that our hurly-burly world denies us. Something that we need. Something that takes us back to ourselves — our authentic selves — so that we can get to know ourselves again.
There is truth and calm in skin and sinew, and it’s all right there. Who knew that we could do this by simply working with our hands?