"People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are being punished. That's not the idea at all. The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further." -Pema Chodron I am a huge fan of Pema. We're both from New Jersey. We both are pretty sassy. We are both brave, independent and honest with ourselves. Where we're different is that she's a Buddhist nun and I'm...not.
here's Pema being rad.
But I do consider myself a Buddhist. And I do consider myself a bodhisattva (an enlightened being or one who seeks enlightenment). In my path to attain enlightenment, I try to remain open to receive the lessons that life has to teach me so I can have less suffering, inflict less suffering onto others and therefore contribute to as much peace and harmony as possible.
This past weekend was a tricky one. Full of highs and lows. After an experience I had flying home from San Diego yesterday, the only word that came to mind was one: karma. Because it's been warped (like many good things) in modern American vernacular, I wanted to share my understanding of this word as it relates to my experiences this past weekend. I do agree with Pema, that I am brought the experiences and teachings I need to open my heart. And boy, did it get CRACKED WIDE OPEN yesterday evening!
I was in San Diego to facilitate a day-long workshop to inspire and encourage folks of the surrounding area to improve their ministry to young adults. These people gave up a Saturday to come learn how they could be a part of spreading Unitarian Universalism to younger people who might find a spiritual home in that community. I was one of those young people about 10 years ago. I was suffering my first heartbreak, coming out about my sexual orientation, managing being a young 8th grade teacher, you know...life. I met a friend who invited me to a worship service, and then to her house for a potluck dinner and...10 years later, I'm standing in front of a gathered crowd as a leader and trainer to do the work as a supposed "expert". I am working on a book that includes more details of what has happened in those 10 years, but for now, suffice it to say that the event was a huge success and was one of the most heartbreaking experiences I've had to date. See--it was my full-time job to host and conduct events like this not even 2 years ago, but I was asked to leave my position in 2009. It was meant to be. Everything happens for good reason. It was the next step on my path. There were, however, aspects of my departure that had left me feeling some deep pain, grief and sadness. Low self-confidence, even. So to stand there and do work I once really loved, now bringing everything I've learned from health coaching and breathe that new energy and experience into my presentation on Saturday, was cathartic. To be given the chance to share my story of how UUism affected my life and my health and my spiritual path---and invite those generous people to offer that same gift to more young adults---was a precious and deeply moving gift. I also got to share the company of some amazing friends--which was so gratifying, I barely ate a bite at the dinners we shared. I had no need for food, because the company fed my soul in every way.
I was revelling. Life felt full, and wonderful and abundant.
And then came the karma I had sent out on Friday came back around to teach me a valuable lesson of the heart. Upon arriving at the airport on Friday, I had taken pictures with my iPhone of people waiting in line for McDonald's. I also noticed that the woman sitting in my row on the airplane was so obese that she couldn't fit in the seat. Judgments. My ego was judging.
Upon sitting in my airplane seat yesterday, I learned about judging. I spent the better part of 4 hours trying to reason with a 22-year old British student (doing a semester abroad here) whose religious beliefs vary greatly from mine. I'm a sinner. She's a sinner. Everyone's a sinner. But because the Bible says that God only believes a man should be with a woman (and vice versa), my sins keep me from loving God fully. And I'm on the list along with being a murderer, having sex before marriage, etc.
Loving my girlfriend, you see, makes me a Supreme sinner.
I was raised Catholic. I spent the past 7 years working in the headquarters offices of a progressive religious organization. I have friends who love me, a thriving practice, a loving partner, a good working environment...validation, praise and affirmation surround me each and every day. I had just come off a high of it the day before.
So what made me engage with this person for 4 hours, listening to her indoctrinated speech?
I believe it was two things: Karma and Ego. My ego was attached to my beliefs, my ego wanted to change her belief system (because it is also attached to the suffering that comes when I succumb to feeling oppressed) and my ego needed to bring into balance the supreme joy that I had felt only hours earlier. My ego wanted to make sure that the Enlightenment I had achieved didn't last too long.
The karma? I had judged, and now I was being judged. I hadn't been compassionate enough with people who eat McDonald's. I had drawn lines around my behavior, training, choices and vision to be "right" and then identified people who eat processed, unhealthy food to be "wrong". So it was that energy that came back around in the form of a young, innocent-looking 22 year old person---who sat there and drew lines around her belief system and mine. And judged me.
Lessons learned. Humility restored. Compassion begets enlightenment, which begets compassion.
With this experience, my spiritual health has been fortified. I woke up and felt that restored balance affecting other areas of my health. This is what I share with my clients: one area will affect the whole picture. Even as I was eating well and feeling balanced and inspired in my career--my spiritual practice had drifted a bit and fallen out of alignment.
Take a look at these aspects of your life: your job, your relationship, your spirituality, your exercise. Which has drifted and what lessons are being brought to you so you can do some much-needed repair work?
Can you see the lessons for what they are? Can you see the karma as an opportunity and not a punishment?