A post with a title like this has a lot of potential to talk about how we tie knots in our lives, self-inflicting our existence with many of the problems that we usually consider ourselves to be the ‘victims’ of. But really, this post is just about tying knots. In rope.
You see, as an avid outdoors-person, you’d think I’d be an expert in knots. Nope. In fact, when it comes time to tie a knot, I’ll make a terrible tangle of things, twisting the rope this way and that, usually spending an inordinate amount of time accomplishing little more than making a mess. But the other day I was seized with an unnatural compulsion, and I picked up a piece of rope, looked up YouTube videos on tying knots, and learned how to tie a strangle knot. Soon after I learned the constrictor. The clove hitch, sheep shank, timber hitch, and sheet bend were soon added to my list. It didn’t take long for Rebecca to confront me with the news. I had a problem. A bona fide addiction. I couldn’t stop. And I wasn’t ready to join KA. I was at 14 knots, and was just beginning. Disregarding Rebecca’s warning, I got myself a book on knots, and plunged deeper into the obsession.
Tying knots isn’t a useless skill. It can come in handy, really. But all in all, many knots are rather redundant — just different ways of twisting rope in order to accomplish the same goal. So why learn such a vast array of knots when knowing, say, 6 or 8 well-chosen knots would get you through life just fine? Being a creature prone to self-examination, I soon had no choice but to confront this question. And I think, in the end, it’s because knots are a relationship — it’s just you and the rope, and when you tie a knot well, it’s a beautiful thing to behold (many are designed for asthetics as well as utility). The most beautiful thing about them is that they are imminently emphemeral. My knot-rope has been tied and untied thousands of times now, forming itself into pattern after pattern, a little like Alan Watts’ description of the Vedanta ‘God’ — becoming different ‘thing’ after different ‘thing’, even though the rope never changes. When I tie a beautiful Monkey’s Fist, am I holding a Monkey’s Fist, or a piece of rope? When I tie a Lover’s Knot, am I looking down at a Lover’s Knot or a piece of rope? Watts asked this same thing about our own fist — we make a fist and call it a ‘fist’, but is it our hand or is it a fist? And if we’re sufficiently deep thinkers, we can apply this to any object in our world — both in a rational way (thinking of the relationship between ‘raw material’ and ‘final product’), or in that Vedanta God way — considering that somehow, paradoxically, a knot can be a knot, complete with a name and the power to amaze someone with its existence (people are always amazed to see a Monkey’s Fist), but at the same time it’s only a piece of rope. Neither and Either.
This is the essence of Maya, the secret behind the relation between object and perception — when we see that it’s our own labels that create the world we invoke around us. We are all magicians, weaving knots in the rope of ‘reality’, and the beauty’s all in the dance, whether we realize that we’re tying knots or whether we’re so absorbed that we don’t realize we’re doing it.
As for me, I think I’ll keep tying.
If you want to learn knot tying for yourself, this site is a great one to start on — I’ve learned a lot from it. Also, be sure to visit this week’s Adventure Journal at KentonandRebecca.com! Rebecca wrote it, and it has some great advice for ‘seeing’ the world.