Friday, August 5, 2011


My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Do you believe in karma? Do you believe that what you throw out at the world comes back to you, sort of like a cosmic boomerang? That sometimes you have issues, unfinished business, with a certain person from previous lifetimes, issues that need to be worked out because of these actions you have thrown out at the world, and that this person you keep butting heads with becomes your teacher of sorts and that you will keep repeating the lessons until you have passed this class, that you will eventually, in essence, have to repay the karmic debt? For fear of putting myself into the category of weird, I think I believe.

To me, it works like this. We are all interconnected, all of us. What I do in my cozy suburban home impacts those I may never see, individuals living in impoverished circumstances across the world, maybe, or perhaps just the neighbor down the street. I help one person, or I harm one person, and because of that a chain of events occurs that leads to future good or bad, a chain that I don’t necessarily personally witness, but that happened because of something I did, some action I took or didn’t take. Cosmic dominoes, if you will. Maybe this comes back around full circle, maybe I see the consequences of my actions, maybe I am impacted in some way, maybe not.

I teach psychology at the local community college. For each class, at the beginning of the term I send around index cards. I ask each student to write down why they are in the class and to only share as much as they are comfortable sharing. Inevitably, each term I will receive at least one card that goes something like this: I am the first in my family to go to college. I want to help people, to make a difference, but I am not getting much financial support from my parents. I want to prove to them that I can do this. I want to prove it to myself, to provide a better life for my own kids than the one I had growing up.

I am struck by this every time. I am surprised always that it is not my name at the top of the card.

I am so strongly impacted by this because I am only able to gather the information at all, to stand in front of these classes as I do, due to a kind act from someone who will never know me. When I was in high school my father, among his many other jobs, sealed parking lots. He put the gross smelly black stuff over the top of the pavement, painted yellow stripes, and spread around orange cones to keep drivers off until everything was dry. It was embarrassing to tell my friends that he did this, even more embarrassing to have the giant red work truck all splattered with that black sticky crap parked in the driveway, but it was a job and it paid for food. One of his larger clients took a special liking to him and on finding that I was interested in college offered to fund my entire first year and a half. Had he not done this, I’m not sure that college would have happened. I could not take out loans or apply for grants for fear of my parents being found out by the government. I had scholarships, sure, but not nearly enough. And we were lucky to have dinner on the table, to add a degree to that would be pushing it.

Whenever I receive one of these index cards, I wonder how the cycle will play itself out. Will the student who stands before me go on, as I did, to teach others? Will she come to my aid one day when I am rushed to the hospital? Will she become a leader in the community and go on to inspire others to do great things? And, then I think of this man who will never know me and will never know her and will never know those she will lead or inspire or heal.

This would be good karma.

But sometimes, our actions are less than honorable. Sometimes we shoot out a flippant comment to a stranger that is meaningless to us, but that stays with that individual forever. Sometimes our words leave ugly marks on another’s soul.

I’m a smart girl. I am, but I am not always the most clued in to the feelings of another. I have crushed people with my words. I have crushed them both when it was my complete intent and when it was not the intent at all. I can run through town like a tornado in a trailer park and not have a clue what I have done. I have to believe that this will come back to me. I have to believe that those individuals will not take their absolute fullest out into the world because of something I have said. I have to believe that when I trash another or fail to step up for another that karmic debt will come back to bite me in the ass.

So, sometimes, when I am butting heads and getting nowhere at all, I think to myself what is the lesson here? Harsh as it sounds, there are those I drop from my life due to incessant negative behavior. I am not a fan of Debbie downers. I am not a fan of those who verbally attack huge groups of people. I am not a fan of mean. And yet. There are those I cannot strike from my life. There are those who irritate me to no end, who stand for everything I do not, but whom I return to again and again. There are those. What is the lesson I think to myself. What am I to get from this? What is the debt I need to repay here? What am I to throw out to the world now?

1 comment:

  1. Maybe the lesson is tolerance, even when it is not what you are getting from that person. It's not easy!