Letter to Elliott and Shelby #3 – Karma

Dear Elliott and Shelby,

If there’s one absolute I would tell you it’s this, there are no absolutes save one: the law of karma. Don’t get thrown by the label, it’s a concept at the center of every belief system. You will reap what you sow is what I learned growing up (Galatians 6:7). For every action there is a reaction, something that Newton laid out in his laws of motion. It’s also remarkably efficient.

Let’s say we are watching a basketball game on tv while trying to cook something and because we are not paying attention, we manage to burn our house down. Karma works on all those levels: the winning team, the losing team, people who won money on the game, people who lost money on the game, and us with our house burning down.  There’s also the fireman. He wanted to be home with his wife and children and managed to get injured putting out your fire. Karma is working on him too.

Imagine standing in front of a wall and on that wall are an uncountable number of gears of varying size. The large gear at the upper left doesn’t care or even know about the gear at the lower right. The even tinier gear in the center doesn’t know about those gears either, but if it stops, it stops every other gear. Everything is interconnected ultimately so it’s much more complicated than what society might tell you.

It operates on several levels also, but that is another letter.

It is not a supernatural force, but it is to be framed in the manner of causality and, this is important, it isn’t just “karma” when you like it. It’s always karma. Everything, all the time. When good things happen to you, karmically it’s because you deserve it. Seeing it as “karma” then is easy. When bad things happen, that’s karma too. Best to not dwell too much on it, but to accept the reality and insist on growing from the adversity. Instead of whining and wallowing in the inevitable self pity, your default should be “Damn, my karma has struck. How am I going to be a better person from now on ?”.  If you can see it that way, you will initiate some of the best changes in your life.

When a boss kicks you, you don’t have to go home and kick the cat who will then kick the mouse who will then kick whatever. Choosing to apply some mindfulness to a crappy situation and then consciously act in a 100% opposite compassionate and loving manner can transform your life.

Once, when I was having a particularly bad day, I went to a diner for lunch. Work was bad, my love life was bad, everything was bad and predictably, I was looking to pay the bad dynamic forward. The waitress at the diner looked as if she had a hard life. She was much older than I, she was haggard and wrinkled and you could just tell that life could have been kinder. She reminded me of my mother who cleaned hotel rooms for very little money when I was a teenager. It was my mother who bought me my first computer that started me on my life as a software engineer.

Here’s a tip when things are really bad, exchange yourself for someone else and know this, every person you meet is struggling with something you know nothing about. I briefly exchanged myself with the waitress and I realized that all in all, I didn’t have to wait tables for a living. I wasn’t struggling to make my bills. I realized that I didn’t have a bad life, at least not compared to most others.

So I left a tip that was equal to the bill and high tailed it out of there as fast as I could because there’s another critical part of trying to act in a kind and loving manner: don’t expect applause, which is going to be another letter.

This is also a good time to mention forgiveness. If you decide to act with a philosophy of it being easier to ask forgiveness than permission, know this: men will forgive you, karma will not.

Karma is mechanical and cannot be bargained or reasoned with. Karma is like gravity, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in it or not because it doesn’t care, and it may quite possibly be the only law in the universe that is infallible. No exception.