As You Sow, Shall You Reap
The subject of Karma is an interesting one to address because there are so many different perspectives on this topic, which is integral to Yogic Philosophy. My interpretation is slightly different from the traditional concept of many practitioners. The Law of Karma can be summarized as “cause and effect.” The traditional interpretation is that each individual will live out the natural effects of their thoughts and actions in this or subsequent lives. According to the Yoga Sutras, our past thoughts and actions leave impressions in our subconscious, called “Samskaras” which manifest in our habits or tendencies. We can change these grooves which are etched in our subconscious mind by creating new habits, and therefore affect our future. So our past Karma is reflected in our current Samskaras. In traditional teachings, our accumulated Karma affects our reincarnation, and can influence what life we are born into and what challenges we face. This is where my personal philosophy diverges.
To me, the belief of “personal karma” can take us down the dangerous road to blame of self and others. How do we reconcile someone struggling with cancer or heartache or devastation? Is this suffering their Karma that they are destined to work through because of thoughts and actions from their past? This type of belief system doesn’t square with my deepest held belief that we live in a benevolent universe. I believe Karma must be taken in context with the rest of Yogic philosophy. The most basic tenet of Yoga is contained in the translation of it’s name. Yoga means “to yoke” or “union.” It embodies the belief in the “oneness” of all things. This is reflected in nature, and the interdependence of all living things in our beautiful, delicate natural world. Looking at Karma through the lense of unity, dispenses with blame and no longer necessitates that one dispute or embrace reincarnation. So to me, Karma exists in the context of humanity as a whole, not for us as individuals.
If I, as an individual, lash out in anger, that sends negative ripples out into the world. It might hurt someone's feelings, and affect their day. They could even pass their frustration out on a co-worker, or their child, and imprint the negativity on them. Conversely, perhaps someone graces us with a few kind words or a helping hand, and that small action helps us to feel supported. We will undoubtedly spread those good feelings to everyone we interact with that day. If we lie or are involved in deception, we carry around this heavy burden, and can leave others feeling gaslighted or confused. It’s clear that there are a myriad of ways that positive energy breeds positivity, and negative energy breeds negativity. Every action has natural consequences for ourselves and others. And if we are truly all connected, which I believe we are, the ripples are felt far and wide in ways we can’t begin to imagine. This is the Law of Karma. Will some of the ripples come back to touch us directly? Almost certainly so! Especially because each negative action or thought is carried inside us. This becomes less and less important though, when we experience a state of Unity. Whether the action affects us or others, we will strive to embody compassion in love, not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of the whole.
It is as simple as that.
There are a few interesting concepts that are outgrowths of Karma. First, is the Law of Attraction. You may have heard of The Secret or other modern, popular applications of this concept, which tout the idea that you can attract what you want by visualizing and embodying it now. This is a very useful concept, with a couple of caveats. First, please don’t use this as a tool to judge yourself or others. If something bad happens, it does not mean that person single-handedly attracted that into their lives. Things just happen! We will all have struggles because that is just the nature of life. There is truth in the underlying belief that “like energy attracts like energy,” or put another way, “our perception of the world colors our experience of it”. If you approach a situation with negativity-- whether that be anger, resentment, hatred, or fear-- you may be closed-off to a broader perspective that sees options that negativity is blind to! It is powerful to undertake practices that release fear and grow open-heartedness, love and curiosity. With this new viewpoint, we will approach situations differently. Then, whether the outcome is different or not, our experience will be one of growth. In this way, the law of attraction really works! As we work on ourselves, get on a path of open-heartedness and follow our bliss, doors really will open to us, and we will find ourselves in the flow. The mistake is believing that we know exactly what that flow should look like and what timetable it should adhere to! It may not be exactly of our own design, but it will be exactly the experience that we need because it is the one that we are having. (Eckhart Tolle, the Power of Now).
Another ancillary concept is “What you resist, persists.” By resisting what “is,” you feed it energy, and turn the present moment into your enemy. Resisting what is is completely pointless! In the next moment we can choose to take actions to make change, but what already is, already is, and there is nothing we can do about that. This adage is about attitude as much as action. Instead of spending our time complaining, and putting our energy into being upset about our current situation, we can shift our focus onto what we would like to create. To avoid overwhelm, perhaps we will begin taking small, manageable steps in the direction of what we want to create. Gratitude goes a long way in making this attitude shift. It’s a magic bullet that we can put into action anytime by concentrating on what we already have, rather than what we lack. It can also be an interesting opportunity to take a look at ourselves and our part. Any time we have a big reaction - are feeling resentful, angry or judgmental about somebody else or something they are doing-- it is likely that the very same thing exists in us, or their actions have triggered a fear or insecurity that exists within us. We can diffuse our resistance, and temper our reactions, by looking inward and finding why something outside of us is having such a big impact inside of us. No one can “make us” feel a certain way. This does not mean that we tolerate bad behavior, nor do we become complacent! It just means that we take back control of our internal state, while initiating change and having good boundaries.
Another kind of manifesting is akin to “jinxing.” Have you ever claimed something to be true out loud and then in short order been given an opportunity by the universe to practice what you preach? It is said to “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!” I experience this all the time when preparing the weekly Bee Free Yoga topic. In fact, now when I embark on preparing material on a topic, I brace myself for whatever related experiences will come my way! But rather than being daunted, this is a form of magic to me. A synchronicity always seems like a secret message from the Universe, even when it involves another “learning experience.”
As we shift our focus to positivity and gratitude-- to finding the “bright side” in any situation -- critics may say this is a “Pollyanna” attitude and not meeting life head on. There is a wonderful Ted Talk by a Benedictine monk called David Steindl-Rast entitled “Want to be happy? Be grateful.” He suggests that in any experience there is contained an opportunity. Often this is an opportunity for growth. Happiness comes from finding things to be grateful for, even if it is just the opportunity to practice the tools we are learning and assimilating. It is not “pollyanna” to approach any situation from a place of love of self and others. This is a lifelong practice that brings peace and sends positive Karma out into the world. If you believe the world to be a wonderful place, full of love and opportunities, people will show up and circumstances will arise to prove those truths to you. If it is true that “what you sow, shall you reap,” choose your seeds carefully and create the most beautiful garden you can.
**(For more information on this topic, check out the following resources, which informed the content of this article-- Karma, by Doe Zantamata, The Power of Now, by Exckart Tolle, You are a Badass by Jen Sincero, David Steindl-Rast Ted Talk.)