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In Spinning, an Age-Old Craft Becomes Quiet Meditation

By Eliza Drummond
For The Register-Guard
Published: Saturday, March 10, 2007 (reprinted here with permission)


Many people who have seen the movie "Gandhi" with actor Ben Kingsley may have noticed a brief scene in which he is bent over a tool usually associated with women's work - a spinning wheel.

Called a charkha in India, it is a hand-driven form of the machine used for centuries to spin fiber into thread. For Gandhi, it became a powerful symbol of liberation and the spirit of the people of India.

Gandhi originally proposed his plan to liberate India from British rule, creating swaraj or self-rule, through the use of the charkha in the 1920s.

He believed that if his fellow citizens would spin their own cotton to make cloth called khadi, instead of buying British-made cloth, they could become self-sufficient. But Gandhi soon grew to recognize that spinning also promoted "the education of becoming and being."

advertisement All throughout his life in India, especially during his leadership of the nonviolent movement toward independence, Gandhi gathered spiritual strength from his spinning. It was his time to replenish his soul.

Through the wheel, which became a manifestation of the myriad-formed Hindu god, Gandhi prayed for guidance.

The charkha became a vehicle for the greatest trait of a divine self, service to others. Spinning combined head and heart, emotion and intellect into a living faith.

Although I may not worship the same many-formed God of Gandhi's Hindu faith, I turn to my wheel or spindle when I need guidance.

As in the computer games that my son plays, in which the hero must find "manna" or "life energy" to complete his mission, I often spin to gain spiritual strength. And I am not alone. Many women and men sit daily at their wheels, spending time, as Gandhi would have wished, in quiet contemplation.

As we spin, and our hands move in the way that hands have moved for thousands of years, we often pray, and as we pray, these prayers are born from the thread that we spin. Although our thread remains on the bobbin, we hope that our prayers find their way to the recipient.

Sometimes there are prayers for ourselves, and sometimes there are prayers for friends in need of comfort.

And sometimes we spin, as I think Gandhi often did, to remind ourselves that we are part of a greater universal desire for connection to one another and our divine source, whose purpose for us, I believe, is peace.

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on his way to evening prayers on Jan. 30, 1948. His legacy of the movement of nonviolence remains, fostered by his descendants and followers. And there is a place for spinners in that movement as well.

We can honor Gandhi by responding to his request to spin every day, and as we spin, to think of peace and freedom from oppression. The simple work of our hands can liberate our hearts.

Eliza Drummond is a member of First Christian Church. She recently earned her master's degree in applied theology, exploring more deeply the idea of hand spinning as meditation. This column is coordinated by Two Rivers Interfaith Ministries, a network of more than 35 religious and spiritual traditions in the Eugene-Springfield area. For more information, call 344-5693 or visit www.interfaitheugene.org.


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