For years, I dodged commitment—luxuriating in the love of another without feeling the need to fully reciprocate.
I loved in my own lazy way: mild in strength, tepid in temperature, fickle in consistency, easily dismissed. And I left emotional wreckage in my wake. For anyone whose love hasn’t been fully reciprocated, the quality of that pain doesn’t need to be described.
A slow recovery from marriage and divorce was the reason for my emotional non-availability. That’s not an excuse for my behavior, just an explanation.
After years of recovering, I came to a point when I was ready to love again. I opened up and chose love; I let love enter me, move through and about me. Surrendering to love was a wonderful and frightening experience, one that left me vulnerable, present, and sadly, so very fearful. I wrestled with my thoughts and expectations, and I worked through the vulnerability and fear.
Love had been unsafe territory, and I needed to relearn some of my behaviors.
But the one thing I couldn’t work through or relearn was karma. Because our relationships are a consequence of our karma—and I learned this the hard way.
You cannot negotiate, meditate away, or rethink karma. Karma does not respond to mantras to calm fears. It cannot be reprogrammed or breathed through. Karma simply happens. And when it does, as the saying goes, it’s a bitch.
After years of mild and tepid loving, is it any wonder that when I loved, fully, for the first time since divorce, that I was loved in exactly the way I had been loving? She returned my love in her own way—weakly, meekly, never fully committed, with one foot out the door—just as I had loved those who came before her.
I learned not to fault her for this. After all, our relationship was a consequence of my karma.
This experience got me thinking about how to understand the workings of karma in our relationships, and specifically what we can do to prevent it from biting us in the ass again.
The word karma is Sanskrit for “action, work, or deed.” The concept, or its kissing cousin, is found in many religions, though its importance and function varies.
James Swartz, the contemporary Vedanta teacher, describes karma as an impersonal function of the cosmic machine. It is a bit like gravity—neither good nor bad—and we need not interpret karma or its consequences. It simply is.
Karma is commonly understood as cause and effect. Good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished. We find this same understanding in Christianity, expressed through the Apostle Paul’s teaching of how we reap what we sow.
Following this logic, when I sow mild, fickle love in the spring, I will reap the same in the fall. But sadly, karma is rarely instant or so direct. Life would be much easier to understand if it were. Instead, we see too many nasty deeds go unpunished while selfless acts are ignored. Tyrants grow rich while saints are crucified. Very few get their asses kicked for every time they literally kicked some ass.
If karma is not quid pro quo, then how do we recognize it operating in our relationships?
One possibility is to look to the Bhagavad Gita, which describes karma as a spiritual practice. Much of it concerns Karma Yoga—action as a path to liberation—as opposed to seeking knowledge or devotion to a god. Simplistically stated, by doing what is right in all situations and remaining unattached to the outcome, you become free.
If I love without being attached to how my love is returned, according to Karma Yoga, I am one step closer to freedom, while if I am attached, I remain a slave to my desires.
Another possibility was offered by Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, who equated karma with will, desire, intention, and a thirst to exist, all of which create a powerful, directional force. From this, I understand that by loving meekly and tepidly, I express my will and intention, and can therefore expect more of the same. I invite in the very same energy I act out.
We can also think of karma along the lines of Newton’s first law of motion: bodies in motion stay in motion. In the direction you have been moving, so shall you continue (until a greater force knocks you in another direction or brings you to a halt). The way you act now influences and encourages the direction of actions and energy to follow.
Our relationships are a consequence of karma. And if our goal is to avoid karma biting us in the ass, we need to be conscious of how we relate to it.
We can simply elect to be aware of the reality of karma. Awareness is important, after all.
We can act with the knowledge that we are either creating or strengthening a directional force that affects us and those around us.
We can decide to consecrate our karma to something beyond ourselves, something sacred, or strive to consciously and consistently act as our best self would.
We can also take it a step further and view karma as yet another reason to practice being honest with ourselves, especially when it comes to intentions.
Whatever flavor of karma makes sense to you, and however you choose to relate to it, remember that we are not in control of the consequences of our actions, only the actions themselves. So let go of the results. Act as your best self would act, then surrender the outcome.
That’s not only wise, it’s the path to freedom.
Author: Todd Schuett
Image: YouTube screenshot
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Taia Butler
Social Editor: Khara-Jade Warren