Reirin Gumbel is a Zen priest who happens to also be an expert knitter and spinner of yarn—but these are parts of herself she weaves together quite naturally. Before she lived at Green Gulch, she owned a fiber arts business in Santa Cruz called The Golden Fleece.
As she said in a previous article about spinning, many fiber arts “can be a contemplative practice in that you tend to go inward, and this state feels comfortable and familiar to most people. … For me, the simplicity of the finely crafted tools and the beauty of the raw fiber and the finished yarn is equal to that of other Zen arts.”
On Sunday, August 11, Reirin teams with Emila Heller to present Don’t Just Sit: Knit! Knitting as Spiritual Practice, part of a series of workshops at Green Gulch Farm focusing on sustainable crafts. For many years, Reirin has had opportunity to share her expertise at Tassajara and Green Gulch Farm whenever there was an interest in fiber arts.
Lately, in fact, some Green Gulch students have been meeting regularly at her residence for informal knitting sessions and camaraderie. The accompanying photos show students at work during one such session.
Reirin learned to knit in grade school in Germany and from her mother more than 50 years ago. She became aware of a knitting revival in the 1990s, when she owned The Golden Fleece. She started teaching children and soon gave instruction to people of all ages.
“I found that knitting can be a refuge when life seems overwhelming. There are many reasons for its popularity: repetitive motions calm the mind; textures and colors enliven the senses. One experiences deep joy and pleasure by creating three-dimensional objects from thread and by making things for oneself and others with a portable kit which is relatively low in cost.”
At the monastery, knitting can be a useful addition to sitting meditation. Some teachers allow students to knit at breaks during sesshin, when there is no other diversion.
The series of crafts workshops includes bread baking, cultivating lavender, and beekeeping in addition to knitting. Green Gulch teacher Furyu Schroeder remarked: “This makes a lot of sense at Green Gulch, where we have the ideal conditions for craft classes.”
On August 11, in Don’t Just Sit: Knit! Knitting as Spiritual Practice, Reirin and Emila can help you discover for yourself a familiar feeling of contemplative practice in this craft. Attendees will have time to explore the grounds of the farm and take in the tranquility and nourishment of the natural setting; overnight stays are also possible.