Everything in Moderation, Even Moderation

c71154b62e816f03e6f0a6ccfebe0326Given that it is the beginning of the New Year and the store aisles are featuring weights and scales and exercise videos and the collective consciousness is rife with excessive resolutions about moderation, I thought it would be a good time to contemplate both sides of the spectrum, and the middle of the spectrum, as it were.

The West has the adage “Everything in moderation.”  Buddhists have the Middle Path.  Islam has the path of Enlightened moderation.  In Hinduism there is the balance between Advaita and Dvaita, seeing the world as illusion AND as real, being at once detached and engaged.

It seems that moderation is also the rule of nature.  Temperatures are not too high or too low (Global Warming notwithstanding), animal populations have a balance of death and new life and lions only kill one gazelle at a time.  Inside our bodies this middle path is called homeostasis – even in our bones we have a balance between bone production and bone destruction.

And I do believe that moderation is a good thing – a little bit of potassium is necessary to live, too much can kill you.  It is clear that the excesses of Western Civilization have had devastating effects (killing a lot more than one gazelle at a time) and can lead to catastrophic effects (aforementioned Global Warming).  And physically, one glass of wine in the evening may have health benefits, but 5 or 6 is detrimental not only to the liver but to the quality of one’s life on many levels.

In Religion, moderation is a key to compassion and respect of all human beings and cultures.  Moderation is what keeps us from going to extremes of self-righteousness which leads to fanaticism and the most hideous of extremes – hate in the name of love.

Spiritually, moderation is a very important quality.  Without moderation we can get lost in our relationships, our emotions, our attachments, our attainments, even our suffering.  I have learned the painful lesson that without moderation we can lose our connection to that still small voice and listen to the sometimes louder voice of outer extremes.  A spiritual path without moderation can even be dangerous.

Yet, in contradicting myself again, I also believe it’s not good to practice moderation to the extreme.  We don’t want to be so moderate that we are passion-less.  We don’t want to be so middle of the road that we don’t stand for anything.  We don’t want to be so detached that we don’t care.  We don’t want to be so moderate that we hold back our full self and live a half-hearted life.

There are a few things that should be done fully, completely, 110%, no holds barred, do or die, no limits, go for it like there ain’t no mountain high enough!

Loving God is something I recommend doing to the extreme.  That one I am sure about – don’t hold back for any reason.  I guess some would say you should love God in moderation because you need to also feed your family and pay your bills – but I say Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might – and do so WHILE feeding your family and paying your bills.   God wants your children to eat.  God loves your children absolutely, so I would even venture to say that loving God in excess will help you feed your family.  If you are doing something in the name of loving God that somehow interferes with your children eating, then it’s not really loving God.  There is absolutely no reason you can’t take care of daily life while loving God with absolute abandon.

thakur_hriday2I guess sometimes you can love God so much that you go into a state of ecstatic rapture and are not able to write checks, but even so, I say go for it.  It only takes a minute to write a check, so then you have hours to reside in ecstatic bliss.  And if you plan on doing this frequently, like Ramakrishna, make sure that you have someone around you to write those checks for you and to put your loin cloth back on if it falls off while you are in a blissful state of oneness with the Lord.

Most of us don’t need to be concerned about not knowing when our loin cloth falls off because we are so busy loving God to the extreme, like Ramakrishna, and if that is a concern, I’d consider that good fortune and not a reason to love God any less.

Loving our neighbors as our Selves is also something I recommend doing whole-heartedly.  I believe as a soul incarnated here, I am to love my neighbor as I love God – unconditionally, completely and without limits.  And just as there are those who say love God in moderation, there are also those who say love others in moderation – you need to also take care of your self.  And yes, this is true.  We do need to not only eat and sleep but also replenish ourselves emotionally and spiritually – and if we don’t, we will not be able to continue giving.  Yet – this moderation does not mean that we need to LOVE any less.

Indeed, this need for moderation in sleep and food is often confused for an excuse to limit loving – but again, loving your neighbor as your Self does not mean that you do not eat or sleep – it simply means you LOVE your fellow human beings with your whole heart and strive to love them as God loves them.  There is absolutely no reason you can’t eat and sleep while loving your neighbor as your Self.

And it is very important to distinguish between this energy of pure love and its distant dysfunctional cousin, co-dependency.  Giving away your Self to a man or a woman or a parent or any other ego identification is NOT love.  And this same co-dependence can even be acted out in a cause – giving your whole self to feeding the hungry, but from a place of guilt or anger or escaping what you don’t want to face in your own life.  So – in the case of co-dependence, moderation IS good.

MotherTeresaHowever, this is not LOVE.  What I am talking about is LOVING thy neighbor as thy Self in the extreme, no limits – like you are loving God.  When feeding the hungry comes from that place, it is far from dysfunctional, it is saintly and Divine.  Co-dependence in human relationships is the opposite of loving your neighbor, just as fanaticism in religion is the opposite of loving God.  Mother Teresa was not a religious fanatic or a co-dependent do-gooder.  Her mind was balanced and her heart was open and flexible, and she loved humanity to the extreme.  She loved humanity as she loved God.  We should all be a little more like her.

Moderation and extremism is a complicated issue.  It is full of paradoxes and contradiction, open-ended questions and infinite possibilities on both ends of the spectrum and in the extreme point in the Middle.  However, if I were to conclude something , it would be this:

Live life to the fullest, but don’t get addicted to dare-devil sports that will kill you cave-diving when you’re 21.  Love God with all your might, love thy neighbor as thy Self  – to the extreme, and do so with a very high level of discernment and balance of mind.  Extreme love also requires extreme consciousness or it can turn into the opposite of love.  Everything in moderation, even moderation.

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Painting by Jim Thompson at www.art-mind-soul.com

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