it’s like a mirror looking back at you. (or: karma can be a friend. part 3)

It’s like a mirror looking back at you. (or: karma can be a friend. Part 3)

So far in this 3-part series we’ve discussed two aspects of karma: the unintended karmic results from careless actions and the positive rewards of compassionate actions. But what about the typical understanding of undesirable consequences ‘that’ll come back around to get you’ bad-type-of- karma? I mean, it could be true… But acting from a place of fear of retribution isn’t exactly what we are hoping for. In fact, living from a place of fear is exactly the opposite of a whole, integrated, authentic yoga-inspired life.

My theory is that I don’t need to fear retribution, I just need to more conscious of the possible (probable) undesirable outcomes of my actions. For example, if I eat cookies for breakfast every day, I will probably not be among the thin and healthy. If I park in the ‘No Parking’ zone on Central Street, I will probably get a parking ticket. If I sit on the couch and watch The Office all day, I will probably lose my job. If I spitefully turn away the student who shows up to my yoga class 20 minutes late, I will probably lose her as a client. If I am inflexible, defensive, antagonistic and disrespectful, I will probably ruin someone’s day and inspire a whole catastrophic chain of events ending the likely culmination of Armageddon.

So… where are we going with this?  How in the world can karma be a friend with consequences like these? Karma is a mirror: it reflects back to us our actions and the possible outcome of these actions for both ourselves and our community.  It’s like a mirror looking back at you. (Cue, Justin Timberlake song.)

It’s not really a threat—it’s more of a promise.  If you continue to act in a certain way, you will be rewarded with that same energy. If you continue to act with kindness, your community will be more kind. If you continue to act with spite and judgement, your community will more spiteful and more judgmental. If you continue to practice your yoga, your community will benefit from your presence and wholeness. It may not be apparent immediately, but it will be apparent in your lifetime.

So… what do we do about this?  My advice is two things:

  1. Practice your yoga every day, even if you kinda don’t feel like it. (Remember, the obstacles you thought were there do not even exist and there are ways to practice gently).
  2. Act with integrity at all times, not because you will be rewarded or punished, but because it’s worth it.

 “Working toward the goal of making out actions positive and helpful, all the time, will make us and those around us happier and healthier, and move us closer to experiencing the Divine light of inner awareness.” – Nicolai Bachman

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Still interested in karma?  Check out these great audio resources:

Alan Watts Podcast

Stuff You Should Know Podcast

Let this simmer for a while (and maybe think it over while dancing to Justin Timberlake) and let me know what you think about the yogic understanding of karma.

Happy Looking in the Mirror,

-lisa

universal piggy bank. (karma part 2)

(or: karma can be a friend. Part 2)

Remember Melvin the mouse? The one we forcefully and woefully evicted? (Refresh yourself on what Melvin taught me about karma in the previous blog post published last week.)

Today, as promised, we are going to look at another aspect of karma: the idea of a universal piggy bank.

Melvin’s story was an example of our typical understanding of ‘bad karma.’ But the full understanding of karma in the yoga philosophy is more nuanced than that. According to the Yoga Sutras actions can be good, bad or neutral. Each type of action creates a karmic residue that sticks in your memory and your heart-mind (citta is explained in this post).

Each time you take a karma action that is selfless, compassionate, kind or forgiving the residue of that action stays with you. You create, in effect, a repository of kindness. Yoga scholar Nicolai Bachman calls it a ‘karmic bank account.’  He explains, “Each time you perform a positive action is like depositing money into your karmic bank account.  Each time you do something hurtful or negative, it is like writing a check from that back account.”

And here’s the thing: we all share a bank account. All however-billion-humans are on this little planet share this account.  When I married my Ironman last fall, we talked endlessly about the pros and cons of having a shared bank account. When it comes to karma, I think a shared bank account is absolutely wonderfully amazingly uplifting.  It means that every single time I do something kind, I’m depositing more kindness into the world. And it’s not selfish—I’m not giving you my preferred parking spot at the Plaza Library because I myself want to benefit. I’m actively adding kindness currency into the universal piggy bank and anyone can access it!  It’s like I’m giving you a debit card (not a chip card—those things are more trouble than they’re worth) so that when your funds of compassion are low, you can bank with me.

This is true because like attracts like.  Kindness attracts kindness.

Every time I consciously choose to be generous with a friend, I end up on the receiving end of generosity the next day. Even when I feel like being stingy with my money, I try ardently to avoid the pitfall of ego (and the delusion of scarcity) because I know my generosity will multiply. And it doesn’t have to be money: simply offering five minutes of listening or giving someone a ride home on a snowy day turns out to be a huge deposit in our shared karmic bank account. 

Compassionate actions are said to be motivated by selflessness. Your job as a yogi is to understand how every thought, word, action and deed can positively impact the world around you and hold yourself to the highest standard of ethical and compassionate behavior. Real-talk: even if you are in a terrible mood, don’t take it out on the first person you see. It truly doesn’t matter how much you hate your job or are annoyed by your manager, choosing kindness (no matter what) makes a deposit of kindness into the universal piggy bank. You don’t have to pretend to be happy—pretending doesn’t get you anywhere—but you put a deposit in your karmic piggy bank by choosing kind thoughts, words and actions so that all of us can benefit.

While this requires constant vigilance and mindfulness, it is absolutely worth the effort. Positive attracts positive, clean kitchens stay mouse-free, and communities are uplifted when individuals consciously choose kindness for all other living beings. With this in mind, karma can be a pretty good friend.

Happy Depositing,

-lisa

we had a mouse in our house. (karma part 1)

(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.

Happy Cleaning,

-lisa