|Public domain photograph from Wikipedia|
Today is a significant day: my sister's birthday, her daughter's and Mohandas Gandhi's birthday anniversary. Gandhi personified what I've instinctively known-that spinning is a healing art, soothing body and spirit. Following the long path of the spinners who preceded him, Gandhi saw the making of thread and cloth as vital to his nation and as a lifeline for personal well-being. I spoke about this in a blog post earlier this year, We Are One: Spinning to Calm the Roaring Spirit. On this anniversary, I'd like to give you some quotes which demonstrate the significant place spinning held in Gandhi's political thoughts and personal yoga practice.
By the time of Gandhi's social action in India, the country had lost its ties to the charkha and spinning in the home. Mills supplied the yarns for the fabric industry; the Indian people were pressured to buy imported goods from the British citizens who ruled India. Although Gandhi's wife's family traded in textiles, Gandhi did not see a spinning wheel until after 1915. When he decided to promote spinning cotton and weaving khadi as a means to unite his country, he had some difficulty finding an indigenous charkha wheel. One was eventually located by a devoted female patron.
During a time of ill health, Gandhi hired two spinners to teach one of his widowed followers to spin:
The wheel began merrily to hum in my room and I may say without exaggeration that its hum had no small share in restoring me to health. I am prepared to admit that its effect was more psychological than physical. But then it only shows how powerfully the physical in man reacts to the psychological. (Gandhi, M.K. An autobiography, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1927, pp. 507-508.)Every spinner who has shared a class or a social group knows that spinning can unify. Gandhi believed this on a larger scale:
. . .spinning means more. It has purpose and it means added production. The purpose is that it serves as a bond with the masses. (Quoted in Mohit Chakrabarti's The Gandhian Philosophy of the Spinning-Wheel, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 2000, pp. 17-18.)As he deepened his practice, Gandhi came to realize that, for him,
The spinning wheel is not only the very symbol of passive resistance. . .it is also means of meditation. Spinning, therefore, is the greatest prayer. (Gandhi, M.K. Young India, September 24, 1925. www.mkgandhi.org)
I feel that the spinning wheel has all the virtues needed to make one's life truthful, pure and peaceful and fill it with the spirit of service. In a plea familiar to modern spinning teachers and students, Gandhi had this to say about practice: I, therefore, beg of you all to give half an hour's labour daily in the form of spinning. (Speech to students, Dinajpur, on May 5, 1925.)The Mahatma was no ideal being. Stubborn, often bad-tempered, harsh in his personal relationships, especially with his wife, Kasturba, and his children, Gandhi's 1927 autobiography tells how he came to his beliefs through experimentation and error. Though he regretted the harm his missteps had caused, he believed that the best opportunities for truth lay in discovering that truth for himself, not through the actions of others.
Gandhi's yoga and spinning practice are reminders to me to cherish my mistakes, to be gentle with others and with myself. Cultivating the spirit of ahimsa does not mean that I will never do harm, only that I will do my best to practice non-harming. Cultivating my spinning practice does not mean that I will achieve perfect yarn, only that I will learn to recognize the value of my errors and all that I do not know.
(Happy Birthday, Sister and Niece DD! I hope your lives are filled with wonder and joy.)