Healing Through Our Hands


Recently, my indigenous friends on social media have been sharing a beautiful sentiment from their cultures.  As a creative maker, gardener, and tender of the earth, these thoughts resonated with me personally, and I wanted to share them with you.

“Grandma, how do you deal with pain?”

“With your hands, dear.  When you do it with your mind, the pain hardens even more.”

“With your hands, grandma?”

“Yes, yes. Our hands are the antennas of our soul. When you move them by sewing, cooking, painting, touching the earth or sinking it into the earth, they send signals of caring to the deepest part of you and your soul calms down.  This way she doesn’t have to send pain anymore to show it.”

“Are hands really that important?”

“Yes my girl. Thinking of babies: they get to know the world thanks to their touches. When you look at the hands of older people, they tell more about their lives than any other part of the body. Everything that is made by hand, so is said, is made with the heart because it really is like this: hands and heart are connected. Masseuses know this: When they touch another person’s body with their hands, they create a deep connection. Thinking of lovers: When their hands touch, they love each other in the most sublime way.”

“My hands grandma… how long haven’t I used them like that!”

“Move them my girl, start creating with them and everything in you will move. The pain will not pass away. But it will be the best masterpiece. And it won’t hurt anymore. Because you managed to embroider your essence.”   ~ Elena Barnabé

We all face pain during our journey on this earth.  The ongoing pandemic has made that sit much closer to home.  In one of my fiber arts classes via zoom this week, a student shared that a good friend of hers had gone to the hospital for surgery.  The surgery was not successful, so she had to return to the hospital for rehab and more work, and while she was there, she contracted COVID-19 and has now passed away.

Our tiny group offered our deep condolences and held the caring, sacred space for her in her openness of sharing her loss.  I then added, “I think that having fiber projects like the ones we are working on right now—soft, comforting, the gentle process of creating—has been the greatest island of sanity I’ve found in all this chaos and heartbreak.  It is a tremendous honor to offer that to you and to share that in this space together.

Nods, “mmm-hmmms,” and sighs ensued.embroidery heart

When the pandemic first loomed its harrowing figure over our lives two years ago, I found myself often unable to sleep at night.  I was agitated, worried, uncertain about what was going to happen to the people I loved or our ability to survive as a farm and business.  I tossed and turned, tried focusing on calmly breathing, but nothing seemed to be working.

Perhaps channeling the same sentiments about dealing with pain (or fear) as shared above, I decided an action antidote was most necessary—something I could immerse my whole self in until the wave of distress subsided.  Digging through my arsenal of art supplies, I found my stash of embroidery materials.  This is a medium I hadn’t touched since a teenager.  I’d learned embroidery from my mother when we were homeschooling, and over the years I’d worked many projects.  But then I’d set it aside for other, new projects.  The materials had waited patiently for me, and I had not forgotten the skillset from years ago.

Propped up with pillows, I mindfully drew the needle and floss in and out of the fabric, slowly transforming the design into a colorful flower garden of stitches.  My mind could refocus and calm itself, and after a while I could turn off the lights and go back to sleep.

My weaving, crocheting, and felting practices also offer this same grounding, with the healing repetitive motions and the birthing of simple materials into beautiful form.  It’s a process I delight in sharing with others in my Zoom classes, as we safely tune in from our homes across the country and even in Canada.canoe trip in progress

Pain might be an inevitable part of life on earth, but there are many ways in which we can alleviate or channel the suffering incurred from that pain into paths for healing.  Through that journey, we can soften, instead of harden our hearts.  And we can create beauty around us—in objects, in a meal, in a garden—and share that beauty with those we love.

This week, spend some time working with your hands towards healing, or sharing a skill with someone.  Mending something can be as healing (or even more so) as making something new.  Take care out there, everyone, and engage the work of healing with heart and hands.