My brother in-law’s mother, Nanny Annie, is over from England for Christmas. In my one sister’s kitchen she is cutting my other sister’s hair and talking about how her husband is excellent at sewing (contrary to general gender stereotypes). He used to sew sails for sailboats for a living. When he was an apprentice, the master sail-maker used to say to all the young lads, “5 stitches to the inch and love every one.”
The old master sail-maker was tuned into the same thing that Mother Teresa was when she said “It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in that action.” This same inner wisdom has been taught by bakers, chefs, artists, carpenters, landscapers, pediatricians, veterinarians and milliners. Masters of all trades have taught their apprentices to put love into their craft for hundreds of years.
Love is the magic ingredient that makes whatever we are doing a part of a better world. If we put love into every stitch, that love is anchored in that sail and that love moves that sailboat and that love travels out across the world on the wind. And, it gives the young apprentice sail-maker a meditation of love to focus on inside his own mind and heart as he sews for hours every day. It transforms the young sail-maker into a more loving human being, a kinder husband and father, a better neighbor and a more compassionate citizen of the world.
This is how putting love into sewing sails, baking cakes, building houses, planting trees and making hats is transforming the world.
In the East this is taught as Karma Yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, Karma Yoga is described as the path of Action – the path of putting your love for God into everything you do. Whether you are sewing sails or cooking dinner, typing up a report at work, mailing a package to a friend for Christmas or cleaning your bathroom – putting love into it is a way to make it a meditation, a Yoga, a method of gaining Union with the Divine.
This can be consciously done as Karma Yoga by focusing on our love for God and offering all our actions to the Divine. Or it can be done simply by putting Love into what we do, sewing a sail as a meditation on Love, and God is Love, so it’s still a meditation on God. See how God pulled another tricky move there.
Not only does putting love into everything we do make the world a better place, but it also makes us happier. The love we feel in our hearts becomes the reward of our labor and the stuff of our life. We begin to live here a little more as our souls – as the love we are focusing upon. And if we don’t win the cake bake-off or the hat best-in-show, we don’t take it so hard because we still won the love in our hearts – and that we get to keep forever.
On the one day I spent at Amma’s ashram in San Ramon, one of her students read a satsang he had written about karma yoga. He talked about how doing everything with love for God transforms us and offering everything to God frees us from our ego attachments. He said, if we offer everything to God, then our success is God’s Grace and our failure is God’s Will. So we don’t let our successes inflate our ego identification and separate us from the love of unity, and we don’t let our failures deflate our ego self-worth and separate us from the love of unity.
I quoted that satsang once in a Christian Bible study class at a fairly conservative church, not giving credit to Amma or the Bhagavad Gita. Everyone thought my stealth Karma Yoga reference was beautiful and inspiring and everyone agreed. It is the universal truth that transcends not only religions but trades and crafts and professions.
So whether you’re a Christian or a Hindu, a musician or janitor, an engineer or a sail-maker – to increase your happiness, reduce your ego suffering and make the world a better place, just remember what Ammachi, Mother Teresa and the old master sail-maker said to his apprentice: “5 stitches to the inch, and love every one.”