Let me be absolutely clear about something: I believe we all live multiple lifetimes. I believe that we are born into this lifetime with the condition of death and the promise of rebirth. I believe we are born into lifetime after lifetime to bring our gifts to the world and to learn the lessons we need to learn. Face it...there is a LOT to learn, so how can we expect to learn them all in one lifetime? These lessons are sort of a pass/fail deal. If you don't fully learn the lessons you are supposed to, then you will receive many more opportunities to learn the lessons, and it may take several lifetimes. That is how I, at least partially, define karma. What goes around, comes around.
I realize that not everyone believes the things I've just described, and that's okay with me. I embrace all life affirming forms of belief and unbelief. For the purposes of this blog post, it's important for you to understand where I am coming from.
Any of you that have children in your lives or have observed children know that when they want attention, they can be very insistent...especially if they think they are being ignored. Imagine: a Dad is out with his children when they run into one of Dad's friends. Dad and the friend start talking when all of a sudden, one of the children has something very important to say, so the child tries to get Dad's attention: "Dad...um, Dad...excuse me please Dad..." Then the incessant tugging on the hand, or shirt, or tapping of the arm begins as well as a more exasperated tone of voice. You may also notice elongated consonants and vowels here: "Daad...Daaduh...Daddy...Daaddyyy."
If Dad continues to talk to the friend, the child, refusing to be ignored, will go to great lengths to get Dad's attention. This may include yelling, hitting or even screaming.
By the time things escalate to this level, Dad will most likely, bursting with frustration, snap back at the child, yelling "WHAT?!"
Now at least two people are agitated for no good reason. This could all of been avoided...by paying attention and not ignoring the child who quite clearly needs to be acknowledged.
Guess what? Karma is the same way.
Karma is that child who will not be ignored. Oh, you can ignore karma for a while, but you will give karma its due in time. There is no way around it. Fortunately you have the choice of whether things go the easy way or the hard way.
Karma is the spiritual student loan company...you can ignore it for a while, move, run, hide, but sooner or later you will be found.
That's why this post is entitled "When Karma Calls, You'd Damn Well Better Answer." Just like that child wanting your attention, the longer you put things off, the higher the cost.
Most of us know the cliché "When it rains, it pours." Murphy's Law states "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible moment." I am reminded of sayings like is when karma seems to catch up with me. I've also learned to keep things like, "it can't get much worse" and "I can only go up from here!" out of my thoughts and words as much as possible. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's learned that every once in a while when you think things can't get much worse, just to humble you, they do get worse...a LOT worse.
I've come to think of times like this as "karmic avalanches." If you are paying attention, sometimes you can sense when it's going to start, and if you're lucky, you can ride the wave and not get completely tossed by it.
When these things happen in my own life, my wife, C, reminds me that I have some karmic debt to deal with. In fact, she believes, as do I, that part of my being drawn to New Mexico is to deal with some of my karmic debt. That thought was concerned by a Navajo herbalist I befriended. I was joking with her that I was thinking about getting a DNA test to determine if I have Native blood...I figure I must since I am so strongly drawn to Native healing and spiritual practices. She said, "Or maybe you were in another life. You probably have some karma to work out."
Karma is like a living hell. I don't buy into the concept of hell as described in the Christian bible...a place where sinners are sent after death to be punished for eternity. I resonate more with the way it is described in The Tenth Insight by James Redfield. He describes part of the Afterlife as a place where souls who completely miss the mark in life (side note: Eckhart Tolle mentions in The Power of Now that the original definition of "to sin" means "to miss the mark.") become trapped by their own grief and pain and repeat the same mistakes over and over again in the hell they create until they can remember enough of the life purpose they ignored to break free.
Karma can be like that in this life. If we ignore the lessons that are presented to us, they will be presented to us again and again until we remember. This concept of remembering is something I have read about over the years and something and something I discussed with my Navajo herbalist friend. She told me that is wasn't until recently that she remembered she is supposed to be an herbalist. Her father was a medicine man and she learned about the healing uses of traditional Navajo herbs her whole life, but she said it wasn't until recently that she remembered that she was meant to help the people through herbs. When I say "remembering", I am not talking about things like losing your car keys and then remembering where you left them. I am referring to remembering what our spiritual goals are in this lifetime; our life's purpose this time around. The transition from one life to the next is hard on a soul...so hard in fact that the things we accomplished spiritually in our previous life only show up in this lifetime as vague impressions, or interests that we develop. Part of our mission in every lifetime is to remember what it is we want to accomplish.
Karma has a role in this process. Karma is the ancient power of "what goes around, comes around." If we put bad energy into the Universe, bad energy will visit us. Of course when we put good energy into the Universe, we are blessed beyond belief. So how does this help us remember? Every day we are presented with situations in which we have choices. If we respond to a situation in a good way, then more good things happen. If we learn what we are supposed to from the situation, we can move on to something else. If we respond in a not so good way, we will end up being presented that lesson again so we have another opportunity to learn. The more we learn the lessons we are meant to, the more we remember. The more we remember, the closer we get to our spiritual goals in this lifetime.
What about the "when bad things happen to good people" idea?
We all know some really terrible things that have happened to good people. Have faith that there are lessons there too. Sometimes it doesn't seem fair or it doesn't seem right, but there is a purpose in it. If we pay attention, we might just figure it out one day.
When karma catches up to us, we would be wise to attend to it.
Twenty days after I got married the first time, my Mom died unexpectedly. The autopsy named cause of death heart disease secondary to obesity.
After years of reflection, I believe my Mom ignored karma one too many times.
I don't know at what point my Mom started gaining weight. I can only guess she turned to emotional eating because of her abusive father. I don't really know many of the details of their relationship, and whether or not that was the cause of her emotional eating, I am only speculating.
What I do know is what I observed during my lifetime. When I was quite young, Mom was diagnosed as borderline diabetic. The only thing I remember from that time is Mom stopped making cookies and cakes and started drinking Tab. Eventually she was placed on insulin injections. Years later, things shifted. She stopped taking insulin, and she never lost weight. Sometimes she would eat ice cream for breakfast. As she later reflected, one day she wore a pair of shoes that led to a diabetic ulcer. She ignored that ulcer until it developed gangrene and she had to have her big toe amputated. At 58 years old, she died in her sleep.
When one ignores karmic lessons, there are consequences.
This presented me with lessons in my own life. At age 33, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Even though I was aware of my family history, I chose to eat whatever I want and not exercise enough. Now I am faced with my own lessons...do I take the steps to reverse the disease and live as long and as healthy of a life as I can? Or do I ignore karma's call and die too young, full of disease?
Pay attention my friends. These lessons are presented to us gently unless we repeatedly ignore them. When karma calls and we don't answer, it will leave a message. Rest assured, it will call back. Unlike telemarketers, there are no laws governing when or how many times a day karma can call. It really is a gift to help us move forward if we graciously accept it. But know this: karma always calls collect, and sooner or later, you have to accept the charges.