The realization hit me like a piano falling on top of me, and I thought, Oh for the love of Christ, am I really writing about this?
I realized that the trilogy I’m working on, if it could be summed up into one word, is about karma. Or for those of you who aren’t tried and true Buddhists, dealing with your shit. Not heavy at all. Nope, not one bit.
Almost immediately I heard this voice, and it had the image of a smug, snot-nosed, intellectual college boy, who thinks he knows more about life than he really does, and this asshole stood up and said, “Who are you to write about karma?” I tried to brush this question aside and write it off as the voice of Resistance, but the question lingered with me.
The simplest answer is that I am nobody, quite honestly. I am no authority on Buddhism or karma and would never claim to be, especially given all the millions of other Buddhists and their teachers who have practiced in the past, oh, two-and-a-half millennia, dedicating their entire lives to learning, practicing, and teaching the dharma.
And while I may be a nobody, I am also somebody. I am somebody who practices with karma every day as a lay Buddhist. I am somebody who deals with my shit, and I”m now finding that this project has morphed into an expression of that experience.
It is a futuristic, supernatural story, in a world where there are guardian spirits who guide their living souls so that both may pass on. Not all spirits pass on, and those that don’t are still attached to some old notion or idea or event or feeling that caused them suffering in their old life, but they haven’t let go of it. And they can’t pass on until they deal with their shit.
Do I honestly believe in these spirits? No. This is nothing more than a story to help me understand something that is complex and mysterious. It is just a story, just like the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita or the Lotus Sutra or Ovid’s Metamorphises are just stories.
Those stories are simply meant to guide us, to help us understand an experience that is at the same time magnificent and devastating and marvelous and perplexing. It is meant to give us a language so that we can share our experiences with each other, which is how I find myself writing a story about karma.
There is a common misunderstanding about karma that what goes around comes around, that what you do to other people will come back to you.
It sort of is and sort of isn’t. It’s not as if there are karma fairies are flitting about, exacting perfect justice on those who do good and those who do ill. Its more like, if you don’t deal with your shit, it will haunt you. You can’t run away from it.
I wrote a blog post a couple weeks ago about an experience I had practicing mindfulness meditation on a long run. I had been dealing with feelings of shame and anger and guilt and hurt from a recent breakup. These feelings were the karma of a failed relationship. Whether or not I “deserved” the karma, makes no difference, because I was still stuck with these difficult feelings. They weren’t going anywhere, until I dealt with my shit.
Had I not dealt with my shit, those feelings would not have gone away. I would have buried them only to see them resurface again in my life, either in more troubled thoughts or in a reaction to something in a future relationship.
I love meditation not because some of the most successful people do it and so many people rave about it, but because its a gentle way for me to face my shit. Running is a slightly more cathartic way for me to face my shit. After the break up, I went on a lot of, what I called, Rage Runs, so I could deal with my shit.
Though the shit still comes up day-to-day, I have a way of dealing with it in a much better way than I did before, which was to push it down, to tell myself that I was unworthy, that it was my fault, or that it was selfish to ask for the things I needed. I missed out on opportunities, because I didn’t believe myself worthy of them. But I always felt like there was a better way to live, so I started searching. The meditation and the running gave me space to reflect and see what was going on, and when I did that, I could actually deal with my shit and have that better life that I’d been seeking.
Karma is what happens when you don’t deal with your shit, and it is also what happens when you do deal with it. What you put out in the world when you don’t deal with your shit looks much, much different from what you put out there when you do.
I started working at a gym, and when I field inquiries about the gym’s programs, I ask people what benefits they want to get out of martial arts or yoga. Some people will courageously tell me that they have an anger management problem or anxiety issues or depression and they need a way to cope with those things. These people are dealing with their shit.
So what I’m saying here is that everyone needs a way to deal with their shit. It doesn’t have to be meditation or running or Buddhism or whatever. If you find your shit is coming up as you do it, chances are its a worthy pursuit. As your shit comes up, bring it out into the light and question it.
To the voice of the smug, snot-nosed, intellectual college boy, perhaps I’m not an authority on the subject. Nor do I want to be. I’m writing a story, not a dharma talk, and too much knowledge would weigh the story down. But I have just enough experience to feel like I have a story to tell what it looks like to deal with your shit and the consequences of not dealing with your shit. And quite frankly, anyone can do what I’m doing. It doesn’t have to end here.