Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Karma as Energetic Momentum

Karma is a term that is often overused, misused or misunderstood in our culture.  At our recent interfaith seminary retreat, we had a lengthy discussion about karma and fatalism, and we came to some optimistic conclusions.  I won't exhaustively define karma here, because my goal is rather to share the refreshing ideas some of us are using to frame karma in the work we are doing. 

As an introductory suggestion, I will simply point out that there are two types of karma we deal with throughout our lives: 1. Karma we are born with coming into this life (this concept is found in most every religion, eg. original sin), and 2. Karma we create and manipulate through our present experiences.

I like to think of karma as a sort of momentum, an invisible undercurrent we ride along from year to year, from day to day, from moment to moment and experience to experience.  Sometimes we are completely unaware of it, and other times it hits us in the face, and we may exclaim, "This is karma!"

Another overused term in spiritual and New Age parlance is "energy," and I would need more than two hands to count the number of associates I know who cringe when they hear people talk about "energy work;" be that as it may, we need a word to describe the effect and unique presence we each have, and our way of existing in the world, individually and collectively.  For lack of a better word, energy suffices, even for non-physicists.

In our concrete day-to-day experience, we regularly harness and manipulate energetic currents; you don't need to be an electrician or a physicist to understand this.  In our psychological, spiritual and interpersonal spaces, we can also tap into and adjust the currents that connect and move us.  We can consciously trace, discern and direct our mental, physical and spiritual course. 

I define karma as energetic momentum.  It is your own way of being in the world, interacting with your environment and the natural course you take as you are moving along.  By the way, you are always moving along.  Sitting motionless in a chair in a silent, empty room, you are still moving through your life, and you are riding the wake of a specific energetic momentum of which you may or may not be aware.  Karma is mutable and malleable.  It takes awareness and effort, but you can adjust your energetic momentum, and this part is fun: you can step out of it as an observer and watch it.  This isn't easy, snap your fingers, overnight stuff, but instead it's a gradual process that takes many lifetimes according to some people, and many years according to others. 

Working with your karma requires becoming aware of the patterns that drive your experience.  People do this through all sorts of means, psychotherapy being prominent among them.  All forms of work on the self take you through identifying your individual and familial patterns.  First, you take an inventory of your situational and relationship histories: What types of people keep coming into my life? What are the relationships I tend to repeat? What stories have played out repeatedly in my experience, in family, friendships, in work and training contexts?  Then, on a more internal level, you identify patterns in your internal experience: What stories do I tell myself?  What kinds of opinions do I consistently form?  What occupies my thoughts?  What are the thought patterns stuck on repeat in the Ipod of my mind? What's playing through my shuffle?

When you are working on consciously directing your karmic conditions, it's possible to focus on several patterns at once, but that can be a lot to juggle.  I am personally finding that my karmic issues are better addressed one at a time, with focus and precision.  It is hard work, and it helps to take a little rest from time to time by stepping back and watching.  I do this through spiritual practice, i.e. yoga or meditation, which allow me to disconnect from the emotion inherent in experiences.  I get myself to a place where I can sit with my eyes open and look at what's happening (or what happened) and say, "Oh! That's so interesting." This brings some objectivity into the picture. We can step out of the dream to watch it, then wake up from it. 

The best way to illustrate karmic work is through a concrete example, so I'm going to give you a current one for me, a repeating pattern that is playing out in my life now and can be traced back to early experience.  Now that I am working this way, when this one came up for me to work on, I was actually very excited!  In this story you will notice the importance of language and key words--we can heal our karma and powerfully impact the quality of our experience through the power of words.  Certain words we hear, say or think can alert us to patterns.  

Here's the example: a couple of days ago a friend was relating a painful experience to me and she said this phrase, "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip."  She was talking about a stressful financial situation in her family that mirrored something similar I experienced in my family of origin as a teenager.  I had a visceral reaction to what she was saying.  This alerted me to a karmic pattern.  I have a specifically close sort of relationship with this person and her family, which I have known to be of karmic significance to me.  So since that conversation, I have stepped outside of my visceral experience and gone back and pinpointed the time in my life when I first heard those words, "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip."  It turns out that there is a whole set of thoughts and circumstances attached to that phrase, and they carry a specific energetic charge.  I am working on neutralizing that charge in my life and hoping that both of our families can be aware of healing that particular karma.  I hope we can forgive where we need to forgive, love ourselves and the other people impacted by stressful finances, and believe in our hearts and minds that these are worn out patterns that no longer serve us.  The specific ways we can identify old beliefs and identify with new beliefs would take too long to cover in a blog post, but the basic idea is conveyed here.

"As you think, so you are," is a quote attributed to Buddha.  In Proverbs 23:7 we read, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."  The spiritual masters teach us that our being and our becoming is shaped in great part by our thoughts and words, our energetic currency.  Recent research shows that our bodies respond to words, down to the level of our DNA.  In addition, there are many who believe that DNA is linked to karma (not in a fatalistic, judgmental sort of way, but in a healing way, such that as we heal our karma, we can impact our own DNA).  This DNA link is more recent, but for quite some time we have known that healing occurs on a cellular level and as we heal our hearts and minds, we heal our cells.  What I am getting at here is that the way we frame our experience through thoughts and words, and through internal and external reactions, can shift our energetic momentum.  We can consciously heal and redirect our karma, and as we do, the impact is felt as deep as our cells and as far as our ancestry and community can reach.  

Our origins, current coordinates and as of yet unknown destinations are all tied in with our karma.  Our collective energetic momentum is a river, carrying us along, and just as it is nearly impossible to change the course of a river, as one person we're not going to alter the whole fate of human history, but we can make more of a significant impact on our own experience than we might think.  By awakening more and more to the character and substance of our unique experience and using conscious means to alter it, we can heal ourselves and our world, by extension.