Being in the yoga world for some time now, I often come across talks, article, and memes about one of my least favourite topics – feel good notions of Karma from a New Age Western perspective. Often these messages are accompanied by pretty lotus pictures. A recent Karma-claiming site started with “The Great Law” – whatever we put out into the universe will come back to us. So here is my wish-list for karma:
Dear Karma, Universe, Quantum Physics, or Whatever (it is I don’t understand),
I’d like to be a 7-foot tall basketball player. And please remove any chance I might get cancer from any environmental causes (think Asbestos, not “manifested thoughts”). I’ll stop the list here because what I’d like to put out to the universe is both too private and too common, something along the lines of good health, sex, food, shelter (yeah, not in that order).
Respecting other people’s right to beliefs that I might find magical thinking is a wonderful opportunity for me to practise non-judgement. Of course we are all entitled to our own spiritual beliefs. But to be more honest and responsible, I often worry about the subtle and obvious extensions of this karma business: If, whatever we put out into the universe will come back to us is a universal law, then it follows, or can certainly be interpreted that when terrible things happen to us they are our fault too. At times, when I’ve tried to discuss this with others, I’ve been told that I’m simplifying this karma stuff. If that’s the case, then for me enlightenment is perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be.
I believe this karma stuff encourages excessive narcissism at best and destructive guilt and shame at worst, especially among more vulnerable seekers who are often the ones searching out different philosophies and lifestyles. Is it really about Karma or rather a grand illusion of entitlement and control? A quick flick through any news source can remind us of the suffering all around. In workplaces, the media, families and so on, some rule and others struggle, unless the status quo is successfully challenged. Is it the less powerfuls’ karma for being lazy, dumb, reckless or whatever karma caused such bad luck? Empowering oneself is easier when born with a few tools along the way – such as fresh air, clean water, good health, and opportunities for education. In reverse, when good things happen to us we can feel quite proud of how our seemingly direct efforts or energies have translated into that nice pay packet, great outfit, beneficial relationship. Again, isn’t this a further enactment of entitlement?
Of course we can influence and change many things in our lives through setting up the right thoughts and mindset. Yes, we need to take conscious action about the things we don’t like. It doesn’t take much imagination or life experience to see connections between self-destructive behaviours and potential results. But it stops there. We can’t influence many of the circumstances in the tiny part of the universe we inhabit, or assume things about others’ good or bad luck (yes, as a form of logic we are doing that when we play with the karma gods). We might not think we are judging others’ circumstances but fluffy karma theories can directly diminish or distract us from the capacity to hold intense compassion for others and ourselves. If any absolute laws of karma operate, then for me they remain mysterious. In the meantime, opening to compassion keeps us afloat.
Rather than discussing karma, perhaps there is a real human desire to express gratitude, internally and externally. Certainly, when we sit in meditation or move about the world with a focus of gratitude we notice more; expanding the capacity for even more gratitude. And sometimes when things happen, no amount of lotus flowers will bring certain pieces back together. At those times we can hold each other in our hearts with fierce compassion (yes, compassion is not fluffy either). And we can also remember in our hearts those who were unable to rise from the mud, lotus-like, when the hard knocks became all too much.
Rewards are a direct result of the energy and effort we put into it – was the last karmic declaration on this particular facebook list. Tell that to the intensive care unit nurse who lost her job due to adjusted patient: nurse ratios and a new CEO pay rise. To all the folks who are out there fighting the good fight, I don’t know about karma. I wish I did. Karma’s gone mad. Suzanne Frydman ©