I made a mala this week. It took four hours.
The next day my upper back ached for all the forward bending, a necessity while I concentrated on undoing imperfect knot after imperfect knot. On my very first try, knot gone awry, I declared to my friend, “I suck!” And thank goodness patient Sarah was there, because she gently countered with, “It was your first knot.”
I heard my brain dismiss this, then thought about it again. Wait a second, this was my first mala knot. Ever. Why did I just berate myself? Would I have done that to a child?
Sarah has completed countless knots and hundreds of malas. Her fingers work with dexterous speed that mine were still learning. And yet, with my first knot, I expected to be perfect.
Making this mala brought to light something I’ve been doing my whole life: trying to live up to impossible expectations.
When you tie knots for 108 beads — one after another after another — you need only one thing: perseverance. You don’t need to do it “right.” You just need to do it. You learn the one technique and you practice that one technique over and over until it feels semi-natural, or at least familiar.
You just. keep. going.
And somewhere along the way, your string gets tangled or you blaze through three knots and then spend five minutes picking apart one. The less you think — the more you inhabit your fingers and your breath — the more you find your flow.
There were times when I did the exact same motion, but my knots turned out differently. Times when I would look at all the beads left to go and feel like I wasn’t making progress.
The day I made The 4-Hour Mala, I was feeling particularly vulnerable and weepy. When I finally came to the end of the knots, I don’t remember feeling accomplished. I just remember feeling relieved.
Life keeps going. Knot after knot after knot. And sometimes, when you get to the last knot, it doesn’t feel momentous like you thought it would.
I wear my mala every day. It serves as a talisman for me during a time in my life where change is rampant: upcoming wedding, new house, new business. It is a reminder that there may always be a part of me that tends toward “I suck!” exclamations, but another part that persists beyond the struggle.
The struggle is real, but it doesn’t have to define us.
Let go of the impossible expectation that life should/will/must be Terrific! Happy! Fun! all the time. Never get embarrassed about your struggle, and don’t worry if you have to untie all your knots and start over.
Just keep going.
The next time you meditate, grab your mala or prayer beads and use a simple mantra of “Om” per bead to bring yourself back to the ever present possibility of peace, just as you are.
Posture: Criss-Cross Arms
This is not a traditional yoga pose, but it does look like a knot (I love my metaphors!) and it does bring you new awareness of the tightness in your biceps and shoulders. Especially recommended to decompress from upper body hunching, including after making a mala. If you have any injuries or tears in your shoulders or upper spine, skip this pose.
- Lie on your stomach, placing forearms parallel to the top of your mat, with the right forearm in front of the left.
- Gently ease your elbows closer together, walking your fingers away from the midline. Place the palms down if accessible for the shoulders. When you’ve come to a depth that feels like a stretch without pain, release your weight onto your elbows/forearms, tucking your chin outside the arms.
- Stay for six breaths. Exhale to empty tension, then engage your hands and forearms as you walk your elbows back in toward one another. Rest on your stomach, arms by your sides, before practicing the other side — meaning, left forearm in front.