Karma is as karma does (aka An ode to the guy who hit my car)

My poor car

Yesterday, someone hit my car in the parking garage and drove off without a note. We’re not talking love tap here. This person hit my car so hard that it ripped a hole in my back bumper, then he (or she) drove off without a word.

I was so mad that I ran out of expletives. I yelled, “I hope karma gets that bastard!”

But then I thought, what if this was MY karma coming back to me? Then my mind turned to my day wondering what I could have done to deserve this… I’m pretty sure I wasn’t a jerk wad to anyone today but maybe I wasn’t as nice as I could have been… And so on and so forth in a downward spiral. My mind stuck on this idea that I deserved to get my bumper hit and forced to pay the painful deductible. And, honestly, I felt crappy about it. I felt crappy about myself.

This is why I struggle with karma.

According to Merriem-Webster, karma is “the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.” Some simply define it as “you reap what you sow.” But karma isn’t that simple. Your life is affected not just by the things you think or do in this lifetime – it could be from a past life! Additionally, karma isn’t restricted to actions. Good behavior motivated by less than perfectly altruistic intentions will still generate bad karma. That is, you can’t do good things for the sole purpose of generating good karma (because that’s self-serving). The good or bad seeds that you plant in one lifetime could manifest itself in the same lifetime or in the next. Karma works in mysterious ways!

Maybe nice is not the first adjective you would assign to me (kind or sweet probably aren’t either). But I go through my day inflicting as little pain as I can to others. I keep to myself. I do what needs to be done. I don’t cheat or commit fraud. I play by the rules. If I can help, I do. If I didn’t make someone’s day, then at least I didn’t make it worse.

Nevertheless, bad stuff happen to good people. Good people like me.

I would like to think that good deeds are rewarded and that bad deeds are punished. But I struggle with the idea that I (or others) did something to deserve the bad things/events in our lives. And that I won’t ever know whether it was this action or another one. I wouldn’t even know if it was in this lifetime or a previous one! I don’t need to walk on the moon myself to believe that it isn’t made of cheese but the fact that you can’t prove the existence of karma or predict how it works makes it hard to swallow. It’s all a little too convenient – like whether God hears your prayers or not. If what you want doesn’t happen, then God must have an alternate plan for you. (<~Yup, I’m going straight to hell for that one. Sorry, Mom!)

Karma tells you to live a life where doing something good is its own reward but how do you escape the idea that if I do good, I will reap good things? Sounds more like true altruism doesn’t exist – not even for Mother Theresa.

I don’t think that life is meaningless or purposeless. I’m not denying that I can’t see patterns or causality in my life because I do but I also feel like sometimes things just happen and we can’t do a damn thing about it. Other than come up with a rationalization that helps us sleep at night… The Indigo Girls expressed it best when they sang in “Galileo:”

And then you had to bring up reincarnation
Over a couple of beers the other night
And now I’m serving time for mistakes
Made by another in another lifetime
How long till my soul gets it right?
Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?

I am not a karma expert. What little I know about it is a shallow understanding at best. But as of now there is no place for it in my life. Reality is hard enough as it is without feeling ambiguously bad about myself. Maybe the person who hit my car will get his just desserts or maybe he won’t. I will never know and I am okay with that.

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The Alchemist is full of crap

Yeah, I said it.

The Alchemist with its message of the universe conspiring to make our dreams come true is (in my humble opinion) a bunch of baloney. When I first read the book 10 years ago, I was totally on board. I wanted to believe it. I bought it hook, line and sinker.

So did everyone else apparently. As of 2012, this book has been translated into at least 56 languages and has sold over 30 million copies.

Universe in a teardrop

But my feelings about it over the years have changed. Why? Because we don’t function in a vacuum. Our actions have consequences and affect others. If one person wins, it means there are losers. Picture this scenario: What if your goal is to win a baseball game or be the best team ever? Well, the universe conspiring to make that happen for you means it’s working against the other team. And all I can say to that is “WTF?!? Not cool, Universe.” That kind of arbitrariness is not something I want to live with. Not to mention that karma will tell you that wishing that kind of bad juju on someone else is going to land you in a whole heap of trouble. (Disclaimer: I am not necessarily a believer of the machinations of karma either).

So what do I believe? Personally, I take huge comfort in the idea that the universe is neither working for me or against me. Things just are – whether they’re beautiful or ugly. Imagine how much better it would feel for everyone if we were all prepared for and accepted whatever life threw our way? I don’t mean settling or compromising but more like doing our best and if things don’t go well despite our efforts, then so be it. That’s just how it’s going to be. Peace and coming to terms with unpleasant things happens so much more quickly when I don’t spend time trying to analyze and re-analyze everything. Ultimately, we will never know the “why” behind the events in our lives anyway. Though I guess you could then argue that it doesn’t matter what you believe or what rationalization you attach to life events… (If that works for you, why not?)

We are all so caught up in trying to find the meaning of life or trying to figure out how the universe works. Whether things happen for a reason… Or whether if we behaved in some terrible way (in this life or a past one) and simply “got what was coming to us…” I don’t know if spending time trying to figure that out serves a purpose when the truth will never be known. Why can’t we just be good to ourselves and others?

Like the Staple Singers sing in their song “Respect yourself:”

If you’re walkin’ round think’n that the world
owes you something ’cause you’re here,
You goin’ out the world backwards like you did
when you first come here…

But in case I am wrong and the Universe really is paying attention, then I would like him to know that I am still interested in, nay, dedicated to winning the lottery. And that I’m being good, praying to him every night and I have left him some milk and cookies for when he comes down my chimney. 🙂

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by H.Koppdelaney.

On the other side of the alcohol fast

I have seen and soaked in the light at the end of the tunnel!

Giant hand

My husband and I went alcohol-free for 43 straight days. It started on February 1 and ended, fittingly enough, at a St. Patrick’s Day party (in case you were wondering about the random number). Together we do this fast annually.

Despite not being a heavy/binge drinker (less than 2 – 3 beers a week if that), I slogged through this year’s second annual alcohol fast. There were many moments that reminded me of how prevalent alcohol was in my life. Especially my social life. I didn’t go out much during the fast. Without alcohol I just didn’t feel like it. Why put myself in the path of temptation, right? Not that it was considerably easier to avoid at home… At the end of the week, my husband and I like to sit back with a beer after dinner, talk, laugh and let the absurdities of the work week slide away. One Friday night my husband and I were playing music that we liked for each other and halfway through the night I paused and blurted out, “I miss beer. Are we crazy for doing this?” The few times I did go out with friends, including to attend a Super Bowl party, involved people who were light drinkers so there was no pressure to drink. It was still hard but we survived and even had a really good time.

Now that I am free to drink again I am feeling a little anxious. A little hesitant to start again. Maybe even a little guilty…

You see, during this year’s fast, a friend invited me to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting with him. He thought that maybe I would appreciate and benefit from the solidarity. I was nervous – not knowing what to expect. But I found the meeting to be very powerful. Somehow. Some way. Not sure why. It seemed like a straightforward enough formula. Just people meeting everyday and talking about their experience with alcohol recovery. There were no counselors or other “professionals.” It was a meeting for alcoholics – run BY alcoholics. And yet, this simple act of gathering with others and talking is helping a lot of people cope with alcohol addiction.

Listening to their stories made me think about my own relationship with alcohol. They didn’t seem so different from me and yet I am not an alcoholic. (Yet?) But I realized then that the only reason I can do these alcohol fasts is that at the end of the 30 days (or however many days I decide to abstain) an ice-cold beer is waiting for me. It’s not forever. Not even close. That is not the future that these people see. If you told me I couldn’t have alcohol ever again, I don’t know how successful I would be. I just don’t know if I could give up something forever… not willingly anyway. And now that I’m drinking again I feel a little bit like a coward. Even though I know their battle is so very different from mine.

Ultimately, I am tremendously ill-equipped to grasp the struggles of recovering alcoholics. I could try but not without coming off as patronizing or just plain stupid. There are people out there with problems bigger than my own. And I walked away from that meeting immeasurably moved but also feeling small and petty. And a little silly for thinking that my few weeks of abstaining had some sort of meaning in the larger scheme of life. But I’m not sure it has to. Maybe it’s enough that it has meaning for me…

We don’t have an understanding of addiction. Let alone a solution for recovery. We try a hundred different ways including acupuncture and for some people it works. But for others it’s back to square one.

As for me, I will continue to abstain for a few weeks every year, in the hopes of learning something – maybe about myself – maybe about others. And I encourage you to do the same. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Anything really that you think you can’t live without. You will learn so much about yourself – good or bad. Maybe, like me, you already have…

What would you give up temporarily if you were to embark on your own experiment?

Your yoga will change…

Or maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s okay.

When I started doing yoga, I was at a low point in my life. I was directionless. Uninspired. Lost. Depressed.

My sister took pity on me and magnanimously bought me a full year’s membership to the local gym which offered free yoga classes. And then she dragged me to one. (I think she was tired of seeing me moping around the house).

At first, yoga was purely a workout for me. I had an emotional attachment to it but only in the sense that it made me feel good (and look good!).

It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized that yoga had become this physical AND mental practice for me. I mean I always knew that yoga was so much bigger than me doing poses. I was starting to benefit from yoga beyond the mat. I was using breathing techniques learned in class during stressful situations. I could channel into the good feeling that resulted from my practice even when I wasn’t on my mat. I was also starting to follow yogic principles of practicing self-care and non-violence. I was no longer just a gym rat who happened to be in a yoga class. I felt like a yogi. I had finally (maybe accidentally?) tapped into the larger fabric of yoga. Despite myself I had moved beyond yoga as a workout to yoga as a way of life. And HOLY HELL I liked it! I could not get enough. My heart felt bigger than my chest. I was calmer. I was happier. I didn’t feel so alone.

One of the more beautiful things about yoga is its independent existence. Whether or not I believed in yoga, it just was. When I stepped on to the mat, I was joining the millions of other people who have done the same poses for hundreds of years and sharing in the cosmic energy. I didn’t have to be special. I didn’t need to be able to do certain poses to gain access to its full potential. In whatever measure that I wanted to take it on, it was enough and there for me. I don’t even have to be vegetarian (though some would argue with that – but that’s for another blog post).

One of my teachers spent over ten years trying to define “his yoga” and he finally concluded that yoga was anything good that he was doing for himself. It could be anything from practicing, meditating, going to bed earlier or choosing a healthier meal to eat.

And so maybe like my journey with yoga, your relationship with yoga might change as well. Or maybe it won’t. It’s okay. You will get there when you get there.

So tell me, has your yoga changed?

Yogitastic on the beach

On being here…

Ever feel like maybe you are exactly where you need to be?

That circumstances and decisions made in the past have all led to your being here at this exact place and moment in time…

That maybe we shouldn’t be rushing off to or worrying about the next thing because this moment has its own value to impart…

That you wouldn’t have the great things that you have now if it weren’t for less than desirable situations in the past…

That maybe rough times are up ahead and we need to appreciate the present so that we can thrive in the future…

That this present though far from perfect is still good in its own unique way…

In the spiritual practice of yoga, one of the guiding principles is Santosha. Simply put, it is the practice of contentment. There are many ways to interpret that. For me, it’s living in the moment and spending more time recognizing what I have rather than lamenting over things that I don’t. I am where I need to be and I have what I need.

Does it mean that I don’t wonder how differently life would have been if I had decided to go to a different college? (Or other similar life-altering decisions?) I still do but rather than thinking it might have been better I simply acknowledge that all I can ever really know for sure is that it would have been different.

I am here now. In my current job. With my husband. In our cozy apartment. With good friends living nearby. With my gaze turned towards the future but my feet firmly rooted into the present ground.

Outerbanks Sunrise

Namaste.

I believe…

…that there is no such thing as a panacea (not even yoga). That to be better takes concerted effort using a myriad of solutions and tools.

…that suffering is a necessary evil. We are better people for it.

…that denying yourself builds character but occasionally giving in generates more happiness.

…that you can never be too kind to yourself.

…that you can have happiness NOW.. not when you’re thinner, richer or partnered up.

…that being happy doesn’t mean never being sad (or angry).

…that gratitude will change your perspective. Every. Single. Time.

…that embracing the unknown can be incredibly liberating.

…that surrounding yourself with people and things you love is medicine for the soul.

…that it’s up to us to define and shape our lives. Not societal precepts.

Sunset

“…above all treasure love, moderation and humility. Love begets courage, moderation creates abundance and humility generates power. Courage without love is brutish. Abundance without moderation leads to over-indulgence and decay. Power without humility breeds arrogance and tyranny.” – B. K. S. Iyengar

What do YOU believe?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by DavidYuWeb.

A kink in the shield

Late Sunday evening I started to feel dizzy… As in room spinning… Drunk-without-the-alcohol dizzy… By 5:00 PM on Monday, the dizziness hadn’t gone away and it was making me feel really queasy. I had no other symptoms and as long as I wasn’t moving I felt perfectly fine. I thought it was strange so instead of letting it linger on like I like to do, I headed to urgent care last night and was told that I was experiencing VERTIGO.

Damn it all to hell.

Vertigo Staircase

With vertigo, I could not go to work. I could not take a walk let alone attend Monday night yoga class and I had to find a substitute for my yoga class tonight. So I am sitting at home, staring at my computer screen, not doing much.

This morning, I started the day with a little meditation in the hopes that it would make me feel better. Two minutes in… an emotional dam broke. Tears came flooding out of me. We’re talking body wracking, full-on sobbing, snot running down my face, Ron Burgundy weeping… And I couldn’t stop. The tears just kept coming.

I was scared.

When I closed my eyes to listen, I ran smack dab into a scared yogi.

What if it keeps coming back and gets worse? What does vertigo mean for me and my yoga practice? What if I had to stop doing the things I enjoy? What if I had to change my lifestyle? This person I had become? I’m doing everything right. How could this happen???

You see, I don’t get sick. Not really. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been really really ill. I even escaped my husband’s bout with viral meningitis. I have never been seriously injured. I exercise. I eat well. I get plenty of sleep. I take good care of my body. Fanatically so.

And I guess I felt like I was invincible.

But I wasn’t. Vertigo has shown me that. I was terrified. And humbled.

I am reminded that life holds no guarantees for us. That try as we might and as healthy as we are – things happen. Beyond our control. No one is immune. Not even the most health-conscious.

I have calmed down since my weep-fest this morning. Although I have yet to find the words to allay my fears and give me comfort. For now I am simply acknowledging the possibility that I am overreacting and senselessly worrying myself.

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Ewar Woowar.