One of the tenets of progress on the spiritual path is Not Being Attached to The Fruits of Your Labor. In Sanscrit it’s called Karma Yoga. Saint Francis, for example, never accepted food from the same farmer whose fields he had freely labored during the day. He didn’t want to think that what was given to him came from any other source than God. The minds can play tricks, you know.
Another aspect of Karma Yoga is non-attachment to work itself. You might not think about it much, but I can assure you that almost all of us are desperately trying to figure out what we’re getting out of our work all day. Are we being properly repaid? Are we being appreciated? Are we relaxed about our jobs… or resentful?
This brings me to Marcus and Mariella, two friends of mine who live in the nearby ashram here in Umbria. Both are American and both have lived here in Italy for over 30 years. Marcus is what the Italians call a “monello,” a naughty boy. God bless him, he’s the youngest 60 year-old you’ll ever meet. Mariella is about the same age; she works in the “boutique” where yoga clothes and spiritual books and salt lamps are sold. She works long hours and is quite happy with her job.
From time to time we’d see Marcus walk in and say something to Mariella, then Mariella would get upset and follow Marcus around for an hour, trying to explain something. None of us ever knew what Marcus was saying to her, but more than a few considered his behavior unfair. I was on the fence.
Then one day, as I was preparing a flyer in the mailroom, Marcus popped his head in. “What’ya doing?,” he asked. “I’m just cutting these flyers for the meditation classes,” I said.
“I’m not sure we need those anymore,” he remarked.
“OK,” I said, “let’s go get a coffee.”
“Welllll,” he said, “maybe since you’ve already started it you should finish it. I’ll see you later.”
And he popped out.
I would have completely forgotten about this incident, had I not found myself a few days later in the back of the boutique when Marcus came in. “What are you doing, Mariella?”
“I’m opening these new lamps that just came in,” she replied.
“I’m not sure that needs to be done anymore,” Marcus quipped.
“What!?,” screamed Mariella. “Who told you that!? I’ve been working all morning on this, it’s supposed to be my day off, Giovanni was supposed to do it and I’ve been here all by myself with no one….”
Marcus popped out, Mariella hot on his heels. I heard her from the parking lot, just like old times: pleading, cajoling and justifying.
All Marcus had said was a single phrase. That’s all it took to set her inner dialog free.