Picture this for a moment.
You’re on a tightrope, wobbling, balancing. You have a distance to traverse. Beneath you, one of those wacky wave pools that spits out a powerful wave every few minutes.
The pool is empty. If you fall, the waters may be still. If they’re still, you may be able to progress further in the direction of your tightrope walk… for a while. If they aren’t still, however, the wave will carry you backward, and you’ll need to start your tightrope walk all over again.
Your karma is a wave pool.
It’s prominent. It’s dominant. And if you’re not careful, it dictates where you go, and how you get there.
There’s a great deal of mysticism surrounding the term, with many attributing supernatural or metaphysical properties to karma.
Your grandmother stole a hamburger once, so you have cancer… type of thing.
I’m not gonna go there. I have no patience, interest, or space for such speculation, and fortunately, it's not exactly the original application of the term.
Karma refers to your tacit patterns, conditioned thoughts and habits that unconsciously direct your fate (And could include genetic and epigenetic influences on temperament, looks, intelligence, etc).
These patterns can feel fatalistic at times, because one’s luck, good or bad, often exceeds one’s comprehension or awareness of all relevant factors of influence. And frankly, sometimes one is merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or if they won the lottery, the right place at the right time... perhaps.
Karma is a living conversation. What you put out comes back to you.
This can be incredibly rewarding if one is lucky enough to have useful programs, mind-body algorithms that help navigate the world, make money, establish meaningful relationships, and find meaning and purpose.
And if one is not running effective algorithms – aggressive or prone to anger, self-absorbed, compulsive, arrogant, fear driven, or addicted to comfort – then reality holds up a mirror in the form of stagnation and personal suffering.
To make karma exceedingly simple: Of these two kittens, which would you rather pet?
And of these six amorphous blobs, which would you rather have a beer with?
Kittens are not human. And amorphous blobs show us nothing but the vague form of an emotive person. We see no facial expression. We have no verbal exchange, positive or negative.
We see form. We see structure. And it’s that impactful… and we're attracted or repelled.
We know from one’s nutrition if they’re chemically imbalanced or relatively stable (emotionally as well as physically).
We know from one’s structure if they’re trustworthy or lack integrity.
We know from one’s flexibility if they’re open and curious, or stubborn and unyielding.
We know from one’s breath if they’re distressed or at peace.
We know from one’s gaze if they’re distracted or focused.
YOU KNOW THEM.
Tell me you don’t know them. So profound are these symptoms of bright life and deterioration that a mere image, explicit or amorphous, triggers an immediate reorientation in you. That’s because your brain contains something called mirror neurons, which trigger a reflexive psychophysiological response in you.
(I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions or that each individual example is an absolute tell of that character trait. We’re looking here at the weight of evidence averaged across one’s mind-body faculties. Mind-body reading benefits by multiple data points.)
It’s how babies connect when they lack verbal skills. They mirror. It’s unconscious. It’s tacit. But it dictates how they act, and consequently, how the world reacts back.
Imagine a child raised with loving, patient parents. Parents who fed the child smiles and soft touch, even when they were upset, howling or soiled.
Imagine a child raised with negligent parents. Parents who ignored the child when upset and fed him with inconsistent cues that didn’t always match the circumstances. Sometimes a cry gets met with a smile, and sometimes with aggression and frustration.
The first child – nervous system is relaxed. Musculature is relaxed. Spine is straight and elongated, signaling healing. Breath is in the belly, massaging the organs and triggering a parasympathetic response. Digestion is unencumbered. Eyes are open and receptive, curious.
The second child – nervous system is excited, on high alert, ready to fight, flee, or freeze. Muscles are tense. Spine is curved, rounded forward slightly in the shoulders and lower back as the torso caves to unconsciously protect the organs like a weathered cage fighter. Breath is in the chest, distressed. Eyes distracted, looking for threat; or subjugated, diverted, cowering.
This is karma.
How you stand. How you breathe. How you gaze.
The tension and micro-expressions you carry in your face. The fear. The hope. The curiosity. The doubt. And we haven’t even gotten to beliefs, values, intelligence, intonation, eloquence, charisma…
How much goes into every moment of your existence that you’re unaware of? Every exchange and encounter?
You are a brilliant world unto yourself.
But to experience NEW worlds – new hopes, dreams, personal growth, and greater self-expression – you don't have those programs yet.
Some will be easier to come by than others - improving general fitness may just mean more of the same for someone with experience, while improving a close relationship may mean next level skills and uncomfortable change. You’re not running the algorithms needed to navigate said growth with ease. To get them, you’ve got to navigate that tightrope above the waves of your conditioned Self.
And how do you do that, you might ask?
By paying attention.
Choose your favorite term. Doesn’t matter.
You’ve got to see the waves - the impulses - of Self flowing beneath you in the moment, without falling into them. And you've got to concentrate on walking a new, unstable path.
When you can do that, your karma has no more power over you. It's a new life, free from the conditioned thoughts and habits - the constraints - of Self.
Those elements of karma that serve you can streamline your actions.
Those that don’t serve you can inform better, real-time decisions.
Where karma ends, life begins.