(or: karma can be a friend, Part 1)
We had a mouse in our house. Let me be more specific: we had a mouse named Melvin living in our kitchen. And then, Melvin got into the engine of our fridge and we no longer had a cute mouse hanging out in our kitchen. We had a horrendous smelling cadaver requiring immediate removal and proper burial.
Melvin (may he rest in peace) taught me a lesson about karma. In the Yoga Sutras, karma is defined as ‘any action or activity that produces a result.’ Most of us think karma is inherently bad: an undesirable force of retribution. Thanks to ubiquitous screen printed cutoff t-shirts, we all know the slogan “karma’s a b*tch.” But, um… it can actually be your friend. Because karma is such a loaded Sanskrit and yogic concept, we will examine it over the next few blog posts. This is Part 1.
Every karma (action) has a consequence. This consequence can be the standard, expected, rational outcome of the action. It can be immediate or delayed. It can be personal or communal. It can be intended or unintended. Karmic actions always produce karmic results.
Say, theoretically, I felt lazy one day. I left crumbs on the counter, dog food sitting out in Russell Clive’s breakfast bowl and the back door open while I was hanging out on the back deck. No Big Deal. But the consequence was that a mouse took up residence in my house. And then, much to my chagrin, those seemingly insignificant actions were now a Deal. Now I had a mouse living in my kitchen who had to be evicted… a process that didn’t well for the Melvin.
The unintended karmic consequence of my irresponsible karmic action was that I inflicted harm on another sentient being. I broke the guiding ethical principle of yogic living, ahimsa, or non-harming.
This fiasco could have been avoided if I had cleaned my kitchen.
What Melvin taught me about karma was that I need to be extremely mindful of my all my actions—even if I think they are ‘neutral actions’ which are not taken to directly benefit myself or to harm/benefit others.
My lazy actions were examples of unconscious habits (samskaras). The Yoga Sutras tell us that most of our actions and words are executed unconsciously because they are directed by our past conditioning, insecurities and deeply ingrained habits. Even so, they still have residual consequences. These types of actions may not necessarily be overtly selfish, but they are still driven by the ego concerned with ‘me,’ ‘mine’ and ‘what I want to do.’
Meditation is an opportunity to reflect on past behaviors that caused indirectly harm and re-direct them into a new light of understanding. As we strive for understanding, empathy and forgiveness in our own hearts, we clean up bad habits and heal past wounds so we can act mindfully in the world. This is difficult but rewarding work. And, as Melvin would tell you: cleaning up your own kitchen prevents you from harming anyone or anything else, even inadvertently. That’s why meditation is so powerful: it gives you space to become mindful of your thoughts, words and actions. This mindful clean-up is imperative for your life to move forward with ease– otherwise you’ll make the same mistakes again and again. And of course, cleaning your own mind is the first step to cleaning up the world.