Apr 12, 2021Soulcraft: the value of working with our hands

Soulcraft: the value of working with our hands

Kim Snodgrass Two-minute read.   Resources

Do you find the simplicity of washing dishes, doing puzzles, or working in the yard relaxing? These acts of soulcraft occupy our hands, and as it turns out, some researchers think that may be key to making our brains very happy.

I feel a deep sense of satisfaction when jars of fresh green beans are lined up on the shelf after canning or finishing a puzzle. Others find this sense of peace and relaxation knitting or woodworking. When we move and engage in activities, we change the neurochemistry of our brain in ways that a drug can change the neurochemistry of our brain,” says Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond. She goes on to add that in the 19th century doctors used to prescribe knitting to women who were overwrought with anxiety, “because they sensed that it calmed them down some. This may sound simplistic, but repetitive movement increases certain neurochemicals. Then, if you produce something such as a hat or a scarf, there is also a reward.” Win-Win.

Precisely because working with our hands nourishes our soul it can become a meditative, spiritual practice. When we paint, cook, garden, or put something together we use both hands in a creative way, it engages us, body, mind, and spirit. Especially now, as fewer of us do work with our hands, this can be something we actually crave.

Thich Nhat Hanh uses washing the dishes as an example.

  • Wash the dishes relaxingly, as though each is an object of contemplation.
  • Consider each dish as sacred. Follow your breath to prevent your mind from straying.
  • Do not try to hurry to get the job over with, but instead, consider washing the dishes the most important thing in life.

Another example can be found in Contemplative Knitting by Julia Cicora. In it she takes the peaceful craft of knitting one step further to become a meditative and spiritual practice. This book provides a fascinating tour through the history of the craft alongside steps for setting up and sustaining a knitting prayer practice. Contemplative Knitting is full of both practical advice and inspiration, along with chapter-by-chapter reflections and questions that can be used individually or in groups. Check out your local library for a copy, or it is also easily available for purchase online.

Mindful soulcraft is not only a source of inspiration, enjoyment, and more often than not, transformation.

Kim Snodgrass is Assistant to the Bishop for Christian Formation.

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