Imagine your worst enemy.
He is casually strolling down a city sidewalk. He’s just committed his latest horrible deed. He was rude to his server at lunch. He cheated on his girlfriend—perhaps he even hit her.
He’s a jerk, this guy—arrogant, dishonest, an Internet troll in his spare time. He’s an active member of the opposite political party and very vocal about it.
Above him, some workers are trying to move a large piano into the window of a high rise penthouse. Suddenly, the cables snap and the piano hurtles several stories to the ground right on top of Mr. Horrible. He’s flattened, just like in the cartoons.
“Karma,” everyone says.
The guy deserved it. He got what was coming to him, people believe. If you act like a jerk, a big piano is going to fall out of the sky right on top of you because that’s karma, right?
Actually no. Most of us possess an ingrained belief that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people, and we mistakenly call that belief “karma.”
The universe doesn’t work that way, however. The concept of karma is much simpler. The Universe operates on cause and effect, and karma is nothing more than the direct effects of our actions. A piano falling on some jerk’s head is just a coincidence. The man happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time regardless of his moral composition.
Let me give you a few real life examples of karma in action.
I once knew a vicious woman who was, by most accounts, a very nasty and manipulative person. Not well liked, when the woman became terminally ill, several people who knew her commented that the illness was her karma. Wrong. Her karma was that when she became ill, because she had offended so many people, she suffered mostly alone and disconnected without the love and support of others to help her transition out of this life. The consequence of her bad behavior wasn’t that she got sick. It was that no one cared when she did.
In a remarkably similar situation, a woman in my neighborhood was notorious for cheating on her husband. She was also a gossip and spread a lot of lies about innocent people and she was deeply unhappy. The woman ended up involved in a freak accident with a traumatic brain injury that left her disabled. Because she betrayed her husband, he wasn’t willing to care for her. Because she’d hurt people who could’ve been her friends, no one came to her when she was in need. She now sits alone in a nursing home.
“Bad things happen to bad people” is a total fallacy. First of all, “bad” is relative. How we react to certain situations and how each individual labels his or her circumstances is very subjective anyway. Everyone suffers loss and pain, illness and aggravation, and in a lot of cases, we don’t bring these things upon ourselves. They are just a part of life. I know a ton of truly awesome people who have cancer, for instance. They didn’t cause it and don’t “deserve” it.
I even know people who have experienced catastrophic illnesses and disabilities and who view these things as gifts, as learning experiences and as miraculous second chances that allowed them to see themselves more authentically and to make important changes. There are so many “good” people on Earth who find their life’s purposes through tragic events and go on to work miracles because of them that it’s impossible to see any kind of adversity as punishment. Rather, adversity is more of an opportunity.
“Good” karma, likewise isn’t the same as what most label as good luck. There are plenty of kind and generous people who never strike it rich, never receive the recognition they deserve and will probably never have an easy life. It may seem unfair if we think that material wealth and commercial success are the rewards for good behavior. They aren’t. There are a significant number of rich, famous assholes.
In order to understand the universe’s rule of cause and effect, and how we bring upon our own rewards and punishments, we must redefine what “good” and “bad” karma means. We can’t behave kindly with the expectation of receiving riches, romance or acclaim and we can’t stew in bitterness, delighting in the grief and pain of our enemies, no matter how satisfying that might be (trust me, I get it). The notion that the universe is the ultimate cosmic judge ready to rain gold upon the well behaved or to send hurricanes to destroy the homes of the wicked is pretty outdated. All we have to do is look around to see that this isn’t even remotely true.
“Good” karma, the reward for living a life of joy, service, fulfillment, generosity and compassion, is connection. When we make positive choices, when we treat ourselves and others with kindness and live from a space of love and understanding, we are happy, comforted and connected to other people, our natural environment, animals and our spirituality. Then, we can experience true satisfaction and fulfillment. There is no greater prize than to feel whole.
“Bad” karma is the opposite. Behave cruelly or violently, live a selfish life stuck in resentment, act out of anger, and the punishment is isolation, disconnect. People who act this way become trapped in the prison of their own minds, unable to escape their own negative emotions and impulses and they are painfully separated from the beauty that comes from connecting with loved ones, of serving others and being supported by a network of kindness. What worse punishment could there be than this? I’d much rather have my material possessions leveled by an earthquake and to be held and helped afterward by a family of beloved friends and relatives, than to live in mansion tortured, alone and unloved.
In order to attract good karma we must live mindfully. Before each decision we must ask if this action will lead directly to positive connection or lead us away from that fulfillment. The law of karma is remarkably easy to understand and predictable. Its magic and beauty is in its perfect simplicity.
Author: Victoria Fedden
Editor: Travis May