As of this week I’ve made 36 trips around the sun in this lifetime. Sometime last year a friend said that when you turn 36, you’ve been raising yourself as long as your parents did, so you can’t blame them anymore. Although I had a pretty great childhood, this statement still resonated and has been on my mind in the months leading up to this birthday. Besides parents, karma tends to be the second most popular thing to blame for undesirable circumstances. If I plan to take responsibility for my life, I also need to address my karma and what I can learn from it.
I spent many years looking to external factors to determine my happiness. I looked to other people to validate my worth. I depended on my accomplishments to feel successful. In high school I was valedictorian and voted “most likely to succeed.” I called it the kiss of death and joked that I was sure to end up in a gutter somewhere. Admittedly it boosted my ego to be thought well of by my peers, although secretly I wished I had been voted onto homecoming court instead. And despite not literally ending up in a gutter, there were times when it felt like I had been cursed. Even though I would call my life successful now, in a way I was right about not living up to the expectations of my youth. My life now is nothing like the picture of success I imagined back then. And for that I’m eternally grateful.
According to tradition karma accumulates over the course of many lives. But even considering only what we know for sure within this lifetime, we can still see the workings of karma in our own bodies and minds. Prarabdha karma is what we come into this life with. I could say that my DNA, bone structure, family of origin and country of birth are this type of karma. These can’t really be changed. Sure I could get plastic surgery or move, but the impact those things had on me is still there, and they’re largely fixed. I simply have to accept the reality of the situation. Sanchita karma is what we’ve created from the moment of birth up to the present. All of the choices I’ve made throughout my life have affected how it has turned out. Everything from the way I’ve treated my body, to the people I’ve developed relationships with, to the work I’ve chosen to do have shaped what my life looks like now. I can’t go back and change the past, so in this way it’s similar to prarabdha karma. However since this karma has been shaped by my conscious choices in this life, I can change how it continues to unfold. Which leads to agami karma, which is what we’re creating in this very moment. The choices I am making now are affecting what happens in my future. I can’t control all the people and circumstances around me, but I can control my own words, thoughts, and actions.
Karma isn’t about right and wrong, just choice and consequences. Being my father’s daughter is prarabdha karma. He had been a runner for a long time and I looked up to that as a kid. Every year when we went on vacation with some family friends he and the other dads and their sons would do a 5 mile run to the Florida/Alabama state line and the moms and daughters would drive to pick them up at the finish. Ever the defiant spirit, I decided that I wanted to be the first girl to join them on the run, which kicked off my own love of running that continued through high school and college. When I started my yoga teacher training I was running long distances, intending to train for a marathon. My teacher said that yoga is great for running, but running isn’t great for yoga. He meant that running would tighten up some areas of my body that would make it more challenging to do certain yoga poses. However if running was important to me, yoga would be great for my body while I was training. He didn’t tell me not to run, instead to recognize the impact that running made on me and decide what my priority was. I didn’t have to judge it, just acknowledge that every decision has a different result. Cause and effect, action and reaction, choice and consequences. In the process of training I injured my foot, a combination of not replacing my shoes soon enough and building up mileage too quickly. The injury has sidelined me from running for a couple years, but it has also helped me to deepen my yoga and meditation practice. I realized that running had been a form of meditation for me and I needed something to replace it. Eventually I developed my own daily seated practice. Just recently I have been getting the urge to run again, and I’ve been looking into doctors and options. All of those decisions, from the one to begin running, to joining the high school cross country team, to deciding not to get new shoes quite yet, to seeking out a doctor who can help me heal, those have all brought me to this point. They represent my sanchita karma. Although I would rather not have been hurt, instead of wallowing in “why me,” I can see the ways in which karma has weaved its lessons throughout this experience and learn from it. I don’t think “everything happens for a reason,” so much as I can make meaning out of everything that happens. That’s agami karma, what I choose to do with the current reality that is presenting itself in this moment.
Karma may be a bitch sometimes, but she sure has a good sense of humor, albeit sometimes a dark one. Laughing along with her can help take the edge off of otherwise depressing situations. When I got married for the first time, I remember being so excited to go to my ten year high school reunion. I had everything right on paper: a husband, mortgage, dog, cat, and a “real” job. Things are not always as they appear however, and despite looking successful from the outside, I was miserable inside. My first divorce happened in the midst of my mental breakdown and subsequent recovery after my mom’s death. I had moved to a healing farm in North Carolina for intense therapy and my husband was left alone in the condo we had bought together. When it became clear that our marriage was over, we decided to sell it. He wanted to get it over with, which I understand, but because I wasn’t ready to come home yet he was stuck with the task of packing up all our stuff. Mine went into storage and he took the essentials and started a new life in New York. Fast forward about a decade and once again I’m in the process of ending a marriage. This time my wife was the one struggling with mental health issues. Upon realizing that our marriage was over, she decided to move to Oregon. She packed what she could fit in her car and left the majority of her furniture and household items in the apartment that we had moved into together. I didn’t miss the bitter irony of this fact as I took on the task of packing all her stuff so it could be shipped to her in her new residence. Instead of getting bitter myself though, I chose to be grateful for the opportunity to absolve my own past karma and to cultivate more compassion for my first spouse and what he went through. The icing on the karmic cake is that I’ve been drawn to minimalism for a while, and with my ex’s stuff gone I’m well on my way to a tiny house someday. File that under be careful what you wish for, cross referenced with the universe works in mysterious ways.
Looking at karma as a useful teacher and guide helps me to change my perspective when faced with challenges and suffering. It encourages me to get clear on what I want, to be the change I wish to see in the world, to keep my side of the street clean, and take responsibility for myself. It empowers me to create what I want in my life, not by controlling other people or events around me, but by fully owning the energy I bring. My parents raised me for 18 years, my ego for 18. Let’s see what happens when I let my soul take the reins.