Category Archives: Karma

Creating New Karmic Patterns, & Some Crazy Good Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies

In last week’s post, I talked about the self-sustaining karmic energy of recurring habitual patterns. I mentioned that meditation has been helpful in creating the space to identify the pattern and then to create a new pattern.

How exactly, though, does the new pattern get created? In the past year, I was lucky* enough to find myself facing similar situations again and again. In fact, sometimes it was really almost the identically same situation, with the identically same person. Thanks to my meditation practice, I was able to see this happening (okay, after a while. Not so much right away) and I gained some time between stimulus and response.

Then I’d ask myself: 1) How did I handle this last time? 2) Was I happy with that outcome? and 3) If not, what had I not yet tried that might have a different, better outcome?

This was a pretty painful process at times. It caused me to look back at the many previous times I’d been in the same situation, and how my actions had caused suffering to others, as well as to myself. There were days where I felt like a total scumbag and thought it might be best to stop interacting with other people. But seeing how I’d hurt others was powerful enough to enact change where the fear of simply hurting myself wasn’t enough. As I mentioned in last week’s post- I just had to try something different.

No doubt I’m still wreaking havoc with my life, but I’m certainly trying to do better. Being able to ask myself those three questions feels a bit like standing at the entrance to a labyrinth- which way to go?- knowing that even if I screw up, I’m still moving forward. In Richard Buckminster’s words, after all, “there is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”

In the spirit of trying something totally different, I offer you this delicious recipe for vegan ginger chocolate chip cookies. If you’re a fan of soft molasses ginger cookies, and love a dark chocolate fix, I think you’ll enjoy this mash-up. This recipe started with this delicious recipe from Oh She Glows. Thanks, Angela!

(Oh, and to illustrate my point? The next time I think, “I’d like a cookie, why don’t I bake two dozen,” I’ll stop and ask myself those three questions. Because really, I don’t need to be unsupervised with two dozen cookies. 🙂 )

Try Something Different: Vegan Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses (I like sorghum)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp ground chia seeds (I ground them in my coffee grinder, but you could leave them whole if you had to. They add crunch that way)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • a sprinkle of cardamom, or get creative with any spices you like!
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dark (vegan) chocolate chips (if you leave these out, it’s still a fantastic recipe)

Making It Happen: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine coconut oil, sugar, molasses, vanilla, and chia seeds until well-mixed (I throw it in my Kitchen-Aid and let it run while I mix the dry stuff). Separately, mix the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet until combined, but don’t over-mix. Add chocolate chips. Wet hands lightly, and roll into small balls. Flatten lightly with your hand and bake 10-12 minutes or until done. Rest on baking sheet for a few minutes before moving to cooling rack. Enjoy! photo

 

*Not being facetious. Until I was challenged in this way, I was likely to keep creating the same karma again and again. I was forced into growth!  

Getting off the Ride- The Karmic Energy of Habitual Patterns

Summer at the amusement park: unrelenting, humid, hot, hot heat. You find yourself in a line of sweaty bodies, too close for comfort, snaking half a mile through a hot indoor maze. Fans drone from the corners, their sad, smelly breeze offering a brief moment of sparse relief. You feel ripe, over-damp from sweat and over-stimulated by the crowds and poor nutritional choices you made earlier in the day. Maybe you don’t really want to be in this line. How can a 10 minute ride be worth this 30 minute wait? Your eyes are on the crumpled plastic Coke bottle in the corner, which has become a symbol for how slowly you are moving, and a metaphor for everything about this experience that you despise. In another five minutes, you think, I’ll be past the Coke bottle. Perhaps you plan to pick it up and recycle it, in a quiet show of self-righteous dignity. Before you is a family that you have come to know too well during your time there. You think critical thoughts about hygiene, discipline, and the poor manners of other people’s children. Your judgment turns inward: Stop being so mean. Why did you do this to yourself? There’s NO WAY this is worth it. 

But- great joy!- finally, you’re a few steps from the gate. The family in front of you- minutes before, downtrodden and miserable- is transformed as they squeeze through the turnstile into a bouncing, joyful photo opportunity. “I’m in the front!” one shouts with glee.  A benevolent fondness toward them warms your heart, knowing you will never, ever have to see them again. And it’s almost your turn!  In a few minutes, you’ll be on the ride. You feel lighter, excited, the previous hour’s suffering forgotten. A bored teenager waves you into your seat and you strap in for the exhilarating rush of emotions.

In ten minutes- probably more like five- it’s over. As you disembark, heart still pounding, dejection has set in, and you’re already planning the next ride. How many times have you done this? How many times will you do it again? As many times as you can. Even when the pain of the line no longer outweighs the joy of the ride, maybe you will keep going- it’s the thing that you’ve always done.

A friend’s recent assertion that karma is all “bullshit” felt like a challenge to me, and I’ve been thinking about how I can share some of my (really limited) understanding with you to de-mystify the concept a bit. This week, I want to look at one aspect of karma: the cyclical energy that drives us to repeat the same actions again and again.

While I have not been to an amusement park this summer, I have been doing a lot of meditation and working with my understanding of karma- and the roller-coaster metaphor really worked for me.

Let’s say you have a bad habit. Okay, let’s say I do (cause I do). When I am feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, or otherwise emotional, I eat. Actually, I binge. The formula is simple:

Stress Occurs -> I Eat Too Much -> I Feel Awful Cause I Ate Too Much

Every time that this happens, I am creating more karma that makes it likely that I will do the same thing again in the future. This makes sense, right? From a neuroscience point of view, every time I repeat an action, I strengthen the connection between the neurons in my brain so that it becomes easier and easier to do it again in the future. And because I’ve always done it, it feels “good”- even when it feels super awful.

Pema Chodron, in No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattvaspeaks directly to this: 

“The…fault of the kleshas (afflictive emotions)  is that we welcome them. They’re familiar. They give us something to hold on to, and they set off a predictable chain reaction that we find irresistible…. Each of us has our own personal ways of welcoming and encouraging the kleshas. Being attentive to this is the first and crucial step. We can’t be naive. If we like our kleshas, we will never be motivated to interrupt their seductiveness; we’ll always be too complacent and accommodating… It is just as difficult to detox from emotions as it is to recover from heavy drugs or alcohol. However, when we see that this addiction is clearly ruining our life, we become highly motivated.”

As I look back at my life, at my sense of who I am, I can see that I am a collection of habits: given certain situations, I am likely to react in a certain way. As in the ride at the amusement park, the habitual rush of emotions is familiar, comfortable, even stimulating. But there’s suffering afterward, and suffering again leading up to the next “ride.”

Pema Chodron is often quoted as saying, “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” This is true, in my experience: we will be presented with similar situations again and again. Each time, we can make a choice to react in the same way we’ve done before (because that’s our brain’s pattern, or, if you will, the karma you’ve created for yourself)- or, you we can try to make a different choice, creating a new habit. Better karma.

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When I encountered this Sharon Gannon quote earlier this week, it really clicked for me. Of course! I’ve had a lifetime of being Laura, of reacting in predictable ways, but there’s no reason that I can’t be a different collection of habits.  There’s no reason I can’t create good karma for myself. Get out of line for the roller-coaster.

Here’s why it’s not so simple: it is hard work creating new habits. It’s hard work even noticing the old ones. But, through meditation, some space has opened around my habitual reactions so that I can see more clearly.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s Turning Confusion Into Clarity puts it this way:

“With shamatha practice, we learn to detect impulses in their early stages. We can check an impulse toward anger before exploding like a volcano. If we do not recognize that impulse, then the repetition of angry outbursts strengthens the tendency toward anger and creates its own karmic energy, its own propensity for reoccurrence. Recognition allows us to disrupt the habitual identification that we have with the impulse, and therefore to separate from it.”

I’m going to go ahead and give a testimonial here. Meditation has helped me to handle some of the biggest challenges of my life in a way I didn’t know was possible. The type of meditation practice my teacher mentions above- shamatha- is a simple technique that is easy to practice and completely forgiving. I cannot recommend it enough. You can learn more about this style of meditation at the Tergar website (this is Mingyur Rinpoche’s online community). You can even participate in a free Introduction to Meditation course that is really fantastic.

Yes, it’s work. Hard work! It’s not always easy to make the time to meditate, and it’s really, really uncomfortable to clearly see your own negative patterns. It takes time and patience and a big amount of kindness. So you can start small, with a few minutes a day, and gradually build up.

The alternative? Well, I could keep doing the same things, I guess, couldn’t I? I could spend the next half of my life repeating the choices I made earlier. But I’d rather not suffer in those particular ways anymore, and a lot of the choices I made caused suffering for other people, too. Once I saw that, I couldn’t consciously go on without at least trying to change my patterns.

Happy Labor Day Weekend, and good luck with your habitual patterns (and wish me luck with mine- I need it)! I’ll leave you with a picture of Stanley, me, and one of my favorite karma shirts.

 

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Much love,

Laura

Karmic Growth and Collateral Damage

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I think a lot about karma. How our past choices, our past relationships, draw us together and apart, create dynamics that can cause joy and suffering. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, you can easily see and grasp the most elemental concept karma on the short-term level. Well, I told a lie, and now the lie was found out, and I need to suffer the consequences. As you sow, so shall you reap.

I’m especially interested in karmic relationships- in the idea that we meet others, are drawn into complex dynamics with them because we have something to work out together. Perhaps (as I believe), it’s because you have karma from a past life together. Or maybe (as others believe), it’s simply that they are part of a divine plan for you to learn something.

Sally Kempton’s article “Seeds of Change” offers a fantastic summary of the situation that I often find helpful:

Question: What is a karmic relationship? How do I know I’m in one?

Answer: In one sense, everyone who comes into your life is someone you have karma with. But a truly karmic relationship is one in which you have a powerful, almost fated sense of connection with another person. You may feel you know the other person well—even if you’ve just met. You know you’re in a karmic relationship when you feel obligated toward someone or inexplicably drawn to them, when a person has a powerful influence in your life, or when you try to extract yourself from a relationship and find you can’t….Another sign of a karmic relationship is a natural feeling of obligation. Sometimes you feel as if you owe something to the other person. At other times, you feel that the person is obligated to you. One of the old definitions of the word karma is “debt.” Something is owed.

When I first encountered this concept a few years ago, I immediately felt a sense of recognition and relief. There are in my life a few relationships (“good”, “bad”, romantic and platonic) that seem to have more complex dynamics beneath the surface- a web of emotional ties that feel hauntingly familiar, like an echo in my soul. Sometimes these are painful, or frustrating- other times it’s a source of great joy to have so much closeness. Sometimes they’re all these things at once.

I believe that these karmic relationships are in play in our lives in order to highlight our samskaras, or karmic imprints. You might think of these as grooves worn into your life- a way of doing things habitually, again and again. that will continue to create similar results. Samskaras can also be a lesson to be learned, if I’m lucky.

I often find at the end of a week, when I sort of look back and review what’s happened recently, that I’ve been presented with the tools from various parts of my life to learn such a lesson. Sometimes the tools come from funny places. This week I saw (maybe you did too!) this Louis CK video. You might enjoy watching it, because he is both hilarious and wise in this clip, suggesting that we hide behind our smart phones to avoid feeling sadness in our lives- but what I really took away from it was this sound bite, in which he is explaining to Conan why he won’t let his kids have a smart phone:

“Kids are mean. They’re trying it out. They look at a kid and go, ‘You’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, ‘ooo, that doesn’t feel good, to make a person do that.’…  But when they write (on their smartphone) ‘You’re fat,’ they just go, ‘mmm, that was fun.'”

In one of my interactions this week, I chose to communicate with someone by email, rather than in person. This was a poor choice, as it turns out. My email caused this person great distress. I was fortunate enough, through a series of complex misunderstandings with another friend (crazy karma at work), to find out accidentally that I had made this person feel really, really crappy.

As soon as I found out, I called the person and spoke to them honestly, but the damage had been done. I felt really lousy, of course. And then I realized: That lousy feeling? That’s karma at work. I have the opportunity to learn from this situation, to feel, as Louis CK mimes on the video clip, that icky stomach feeling.

Oh, it sucked all right, but it was only the prelude to bigger pain. Later in the week, I was presented with an opportunity to learn a much bigger life lesson- one I have been presented with many, many times in my life.

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It’s not a coincidence, I firmly believe, that recently Facebook has reconnected me with some of my earlier karmic relationships. I’ve been working through some memories, and having conversations with these old friends about how we interacted together 20 years ago.

So as the needle dropped into the groove with this most recent karmic relationship, I had a little more awareness. I saw my pattern clearly. I even narrated the pattern to myself, shared with my closest friends- “Look, I think this thing is happening again.” I felt the witness in the back of my head saying, “You know this isn’t a good idea.”

But oh, this samskara was deep, and I wasn’t done learning my lesson. I had to live through it again, I had to cause myself pain, and watch another’s pain, and this time I saw the face and I thought clearly of Louis CK’s child and thought, “Let this be the last time.”

Please, may I not cause any more suffering in this way.

After the first lesson, I noted to myself that it was a real shame when my life lessons come at someone else’s expense. Karma Collateral Damage, I thought. But then I remembered a famous dharma talk given by Khandro Rinpoche when a mouse was found dead at the Mindrolling Lotus Garden in 2006:

“For the mouse, itself, this death may be a good thing. It may be its first encounter with Dharma. This mouse could have been born on the adjoining land, or in town, or across the street. Instead it just happened to be born on this particular spot, with the causes and conditions for becoming the basis of a Dharma discourse that enables more than a hundred people to better understand karma. That is a lot of karmic fruition.

Maybe this mouse was a bodhisattva, born for this particular activity. One never knows. It could have been the Buddha sitting in that field—because of which we’re talking about karma. If its death becomes the basis of a hundred practitioners understanding karma and having a moment of genuine compassion, what greater merit could a being accumulate?”

A karmic relationship takes two people. As painful as it is, when I hurt someone else, when I see their face scrunch up because I have done something stupid to them, I can only be responsible for my future actions. They’re living their own karma, too.

Listen: I don’t take this as license to be an asshole. I am growing up more every year, and learning to be less of a fumbling moron of a human being. But my job is not to take on someone else’s pain- that’s theirs. I’ve got my own karma to learn from.

My dear friend and fellow teacher Jaye shared this with me and I think I’ve shared it with you before, but here it is again- Melody Beattie, from The Language of Letting Go: 

“We are each in our present circumstances for a reason. There is a lesson, a valuable lesson, that must be learned before we can move forward. Something important is being worked out in us, and in those arond us. We may not be able to identify it today, but we can know that it is important. We can know that it is good….We must go through it until we learn, until we accept, until we become grateful, until we are set free.” 

When I spoke to my first Karma Collateral Damage victim this week, I said to her: “Tell me what I can do or say to you that will make this better- that will help you to understand how much I value you, and how little I meant to hurt you.”

“There’s nothing,” she said. And I remembered: I used to try to apologize to my ex-husband for the mean things I’d say to him, for the way I often made him feel. My apologies were useless- he didn’t want to hear it. “Just don’t do it again,” he’d say. “If you do it again, then I know you’re not really sorry.”

I hear you, Karma. I think I’ve got a chance this time. May I become grateful. May I become free.