5 Stitches to the Inch and Love Every One

beautiful-tropical-sailboatMy 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.

gorgeous-good-color-small1This 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.

Amma 11On 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.”

Rainbow Regatta by Lisa Lorenz

Rainbow Regatta by Lisa Lorenz

The Divine Purpose of Selfishness

me me meOn the spiritual path, selfishness and selflessness are two sides of the same coin and they can sometimes intermingle.

What I mean by that is that often our desire to even be on a spiritual path in the first place is in essence a selfish desire.  We want to end our suffering.  We want to know happiness.  We want our Enlightenment.  We want to live in Bliss.

While these desires might, in a sense, be more noble than desires such as wanting a new car or wanting a bigger house, they are still in essence coming from selfishness.

Once on our path, we might engage in service.  The Bible tells us to do charitable acts.  The Koran tells us to give alms to the poor.  The Gita tells us to do karma yoga, or “selfless action.”  Every yogic, Buddhist, Judeo-Christian or Muslim path has some form of seva or service.  So, you could say that in the beginning we might start out serving others as part of our goal of serving our own happiness, so again, from our own selfish desires.

Of course, this sounds bad, but I don’t think it is.  I think that is how God set it up.

Early on my spiritual path, that is what I wanted.  I was seeking Enlightenment.  I had enough of all this suffering and separation crap and I wanted me some bliss.  It was essentially selfish.  I wanted to know God, I wanted to understand the universe, I wanted to be happy.  Maybe somewhere mixed in there I had concerns about peace, unity, human rights and the environment, but mostly I just wanted God.

shabdaI remember this one retreat I was going on, I prayed “I want sammadhi, I want sammadhi, I want sammadhi” over and over again.  Sammadhi is the experience of Union with the Divine, a state of transcendent bliss that I had read about in many books and I wanted it!  I wrote my prayer on paper, over and over again.  “I want sammadhi, I want sammadhi, I want sammadhi.”  I filled the whole page.

At the time I thought I was being passionate about my spiritual path, that I was pouring my whole heart and soul into my desire for union with the Divine, but looking back at it, I must have looked like a three year old screaming for a toy.  I still yearn for union with the Divine, but hopefully I have grown a bit in the last 15 years and deepened my relationship with God a little bit.  At the time, sammadhi was something I wanted to experience for myself.

Yet, I can also see that the spiritual toddler that I was, screaming for my sammadhi, served a purpose.  It was a part of my spiritual development that helped me grow into a meditative pre-schooler, and then into a contemplative elementary schooler and eventually a mystical high school student.  I won’t presume to guess where I’m at in the whole process, but I at least hope I am continuing to learn.

I have this theory that every human quality has a Divine purpose or a good side.  Every human quality that we can see as a weakness or a detriment, when turned towards God is actually a good thing.  It’s just when these qualities are used to drive us away from God that they are “bad.”  So – I would say that wanting to live in blissy happiness and cozy comfy rose-colored Oneness with God is the Divine purpose of selfishness.

leprosy6And the beauty of the whole set up is that once we start to do our karma yoga or our charitable deeds, it doesn’t really matter if our internal motivation is for our own enlightenment.  As we serve down at the soup kitchen or animal shelter or children’s home, even though in a sense we were “faking it” from our own spiritual selfishness of wanting to be a good person – the very act of faking it begins to make it real.  God tricks us.  In our selfish desire to make sure we get into heaven, we begin to have our heart opened in compassion and understanding.  We open ourselves to witness the suffering and the inherent dignity and beauty of the people we are serving.  We begin to feel empathy and experience the actual Oneness of Heaven that we are hoping to attain later.  And we begin to actually spread the loving kindness of God to others and in doing so, we get to experience it ourselves.

God is pretty smart.

Pretty soon we aren’t even praying for sammadhi anymore, we’re not even selfishly in it for our own Enlightenment.  Pretty soon we just want to experience the heart breakingly exquisite feeling of being God’s instrument.  Pretty soon we just want to witness God’s Love touching other people.  Is that still coming from selfishness?  Is that still part of the selfish prayer to be One with the Love of God?  Sure.  Maybe.  Who cares.

Ironically, it was when I stopped praying for enlightenment and started praying to be an instrument that I actually started experiencing prolonged periods of happiness.  Could it be that Union with God and serving God is actually the same thing?  Again, I don’t presume to know.  But it seems that it is when we get out of the self, even in our desire for enlightenment, that we can be free of the self and actually start expanding towards enlightenment.  Oddly, we need our desire for sammadhi to propel us forward on our path, but as long as we are stuck in the self that craves sammadhi, we can’t actually GET to sammadhi.  It’s one of those ways that God is mischievous and tricky and very very funny.

There is this poem that I kept seeing on and off on my spiritual journey by Rabindranath Tagore – and now I get it:

54612e3a3e0271fd3064720d_seva2I slept and dreamt that life was joy.

I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy.