I used to be a “why me” kind of person.
Maybe it’s because I was raised Catholic.
Maybe it’s because I have an overactive imagination.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been dealing with anxiety, in one form or another, since childhood.
Whatever the reason, whenever something seemingly bad or hard or upsetting would happen to me, I’d spend hours trying to figure out the why. And that why often was just as “bad” as whatever was happening.
The reason behind this? Well, I believed in the most rudimentary definition of karma: what goes around comes around.
Grief? Heartache? Hurt feelings? Scary diagnosis? Family dysfunction? Financial issues? Obviously, I must have done something wrong. The universe must be trying to punish me. To put me in my place. To show me I made the wrong choice. To show me what I deserve.
But this flawed thought process seemed to only apply to the tough stuff in my life. When good things happened, karma never crossed my mind.
Happiness? Love? New job? Great first date? Bucket list trip? Accomplished goals? Well, that must have been a fluke or a swift stroke of good luck. Because why would the universe be rewarding me for anything?
It took me a long time—plus a few deep dives into my spiritual beliefs and a lot of therapy—to realize that the definition of karma most of us were taught is a giant load of crap. It’s fire and brimstone. It’s low self-worth. It’s the belief that life is linear and black and white and easily explainable, instead of nuanced and shades of grey and interconnected.
But karma is actually a tool. It’s a teacher. It’s a road map.
Karma is seeing everything that happens to us not as good or bad, but as an opportunity to step even more fully into who we are (or who we’re learning to be). To open ourselves up, a little bit deeper each time, to all this world has to teach us.
Pema Chödrön redefines it perfectly:
“People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are being punished. That’s not the idea at all. The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn’t understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you’re given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further.”
And when we change our view of karma, when we remove the armor and let each experience be fully what it’s meant to be, “why me” easily transforms into “thank you.”