Woolgathering and Meditation
I recently discovered a new word that encapsulates my early twenties fairly well. It is an old word that has been around since domesticated sheep: Woolgathering.
Sheep naturally shed their wool when they rub up against things. And this word, woolgathering, chronicles the wanderers who would pick up lost clumps of wool off the fences of provincial towns and the bushes and trees of sprawling farmlands. Those that would gather wool, did this in the hopes of picking up enough to create something of value. Perhaps to make clothing for themselves or for the sake of trade. These woolgatherers were seen as aimless wanderers and idle daydreamers; over time the meaning of the word shifted to just that. They are the ones who engage in purposeless mind-wandering, daydreaming, and indulge their meandering fancies.
I look at my post-collegiate life thus far; and I have definitely been ambling and meandering through adulthood. I have been transient, off-the-grid, and largely care free. Making enough to get by and cover bills, but not really focusing in on one specific aim or goal. In each little chapter of this journey, I have been gathering little bits of wool (figuratively and literally) from each experience with the hope that one day, I may have enough clumps to make something good out of it.
I rather like this idea of woolgathering as a model by which to live one’s life. It is a life that is slow paced and free of worry. It is a mindful life, spent searching in all directions for those little intangibles that we decide to carry with us as we go. It is a receptive life, a meditative one; where one seizes the opportunities that appear before them, without the worry of an end result or bottom line.
People often ask me how to meditate. Because thinking of nothing is difficult, I like to think of meditation as a ride down a calm river with no paddle. And as you sit in your little boat in the sunshine, you will have thoughts and images that pass through your consciousness. Allow yourself to experience them as they flow through your mind. Say hello to your 2nd grade teacher as she waves to you from the riverbank, and when you arrive at that thing you wish you’d said to that person that time, allow it too to pass by as you move down the river. If a thought or image lingers and wants more attention, let it! And when that thought begins to change to a cherished memory or a plan to be made, let it! Allow the mind to become the woolgatherer, drifting in and out of meaning with no focused direction, picking up warm little tufts along the way. I have found that this new peace pairs well with the occasional aimless walk. Perhaps you may casually surrender to the meditative meanderings of a good park bench with a view, and do a bit of woolgathering yourself.