While I’ve explored karma in several other posts, I thought it would be useful to take it another step into application.
As the saying goes, we come into this life with a suitcase of karma to work through. There will be lots of little bits plus a few big ones. We might call the biggies life lessons or life challenges.
They’ll show up in certain areas of our life and not in others. For example, we may have reasonable health and good work but relationship challenges and issues with money. These things seem to be ongoing or show up repeatedly. We attract the same kind of partner or turn them into that partner by how we relate to them.
As discussed in Remaining Shadows, karma can make us set in our ways. We have automatic, habitual reactions to things that lead to typical outcomes. This fixity also relates to Tamas – inertia. And it has this quality of shadow, of being hidden from our view. A blind spot.
The key with resolving these issues is to develop inner clarity and presence. Consciousness is effulgent. Raise consciousness and clarity and the light casts out the shadows. We can see the dynamics more clearly and with less entanglement. The best way I know for that is samadhi or yoga. It cultures consciousness itself. From that platform, we can see our dramas a little more distinctly and can wind them down more directly.
In Entrenched Habits, I explored how you can feel your way into this inertia and release the resistance, resolving the karma without having to live it out, over and over. But again, the key is the light so you can see into the shadows. The bigger challenges can be the hardest to see until they’re almost resolved.
But how do you recognize this in your life?
1) Inertia – there are things in your life you want to change or think you should change but there is resistance and perhaps drama about doing anything to change it. This is entrenched habits.
For example, a friend struggled for years to lose weight and keep it off. She could point to various “reasons” for the difficulty, like “stress eating” or an unhappy childhood. We could even add the gut biome to the list. But those are symptoms and not reasons. They are the mind’s stories to justify the behaviour.
You can tell these are just part of a story because they do nothing to resolve the challenge. Except maybe help us feel better or more right. They are our personal “alternative facts.”
The friend then found out that in a prior lifetime, she had starved to death on a ship lost at sea. Unresolved fear and related emotions were driving her current response to food. However, while this information gave her some insight into the issue and may have helped see through some of the story, it didn’t actually resolve anything as it’s still on the level of mind.
What we’re looking for is a resolution to an energetic contraction. You won’t find that with the mind as it’s not on that level. You can look everywhere on the third floor for your missing glasses. But if they’re on the 2nd floor, you won’t find them.
Occasionally, key information can open our emotional doors but usually we have to go there directly. It’s not until we resolve that fear and take the charge out of that old experience that the entanglements and habit will release.
This is key – we have to meet it on its own level. This doesn’t mean reliving the experience – just feeling the contraction and releasing its emotional and energetic charge.
It’s also worth noting that the big ones are often multi-layered. There can be several rounds before the core is resolved. For example, resolving the trauma of one lifetime may reveal another contraction within that from a still earlier life. Or, the trauma of a past relationship may by layered over a childhood trauma that triggered the relationship difficulty in the first place.
There may also be diversionary “masks” that draw our attention away from the actual pain. It’s good to understand that some of this was created in childhood when we didn’t have the ability to process this stuff. As an adult with more presence, it’s much easier to release. Often, it can be like the monster under the bed – the reality is smaller than the fear of facing it.
With experience and detachment, letting go of these old shadows becomes second nature. We know this is not a mental exercise to “figure out” but an exercise in emotional awareness to feel our way into old resistance and let it go.
Then that contraction, the energy it took to sustain it, and all the noisy stories to explain it can all fall away. This can make a big difference in quality of life.
2) Charge – a charge is a point of emotional or energetic reactivity some call a button or trigger. Words, actions, and circumstances can trigger us, most obviously in irrational or excessive responses. Because of our stories, we may think our responses are appropriate. It may be easier to see the excess in others first or a partner can mirror them effectively. A great deal of behaviour in people around us is over the top, like a big drama about a poor driver or what someone said.
If your response is not as neutral as a sale clerks smile, there’s something there to resolve.
Notice how in the Inertia section above, there was a charge under the shadow and stories. Charges are often well covered in distractive masks. But if we have enough presence, when the charge gets triggered and made conscious, we can feel the charge directly and resolve it.
At first we notice after the fact. Oh, I did it again. Then we become aware while we’re reacting. Sometimes, this allows us to diffuse it. Finally, we become aware right at the trigger point. This gives us a conscious choice. Do we act it out or diffuse it?
In our culture, people are often out of touch with how they feel. We live in our heads and tell stories rather than being in the body and feeling how we are. We grew up without skills for resolving traumas and instead learned to avoid and repress. Living in the mind is a common way to avoid how we feel.
If we ask the average person “what do you feel right now?” many will say “nothing.” There is never no emotion so if we can’t feel anything, we’re probably in the head and out of the body and disconnected from our feelings.
You’ll also often find that there will be a pat story to explain everything. Mind does this naturally to feel in control. And yet it resolves nothing.
Ironically, we’re often afraid of how we feel. Yet that fear itself is an emotion. Fear is indeed the big one, often covered by anger, jealousy, and other fiery emotions.
For example, you have a boss who manages by diminishment. No matter how well you do it’s not enough and there’s no way to improve. Not only is this difficult, it may also be a button for us, amplifying our own self-dismissal stories.
Our reactivity tells us we have an unresolved charge being triggered. This is uncomfortable, but it also makes it harder for us to make sensible decisions about the circumstance. The adult wants to be rational but the kid is screaming.
This points to the difference between red flags and charge. For example, for a friend of mine, if a man they’re dating tells a lie, it’s a red flag for her – she’s learned it’s a bad idea to be in a relationship with someone dishonest. However, she also saw she had a charge about it. Catching a lie triggered a general rage about men.
Worse, the charge inclined her to look for dishonesty. Because a charge is active energy, it has a tendency to express and thus draw the issue out in others. It becomes a self-confirming reality we’re creating for ourselves.
It’s valuable to be discriminating, but this is much more effective if we’re not stirring the pot ourselves.
Again, life will bring us opportunities to resolve our charges, so we’ll see dynamics show up repeatedly. As long as we blame others, we won’t recognize that the trigger is actually in us. This doesn’t mean self-blame, just recognize that we have trash from our past that it’s time to toss.
It’s also not about being a victim, wounded, or broken. We all have challenges. We chose this life and these challenges as we thought we were ready for it. So we must be, even if it isn’t today. 🙂
3) Mind Grips – the mind also can develop beliefs that it holds on to intractably, even when evidence piles up that we’re mistaken. This is more subtle than energetic contraction so we usually have to clear some of the above before we gain the clarity to see these deeper grips.
Mind grasping is seen in the beliefs behind the stories we tell and in the roles we play.
For example, many of us have some challenges with certain family members. I’ve seen people have dramatic shifts when they stepped out of playing old roles. The old conflicts resolved when they let go of their position. Of course, this often has some emotional release as well.
Yet it takes two to tango. If the other party choses to hold their position, it won’t heal the relationship. But they’ll have to work a lot harder to keep it going if you’re not upholding your end. And this will have a much smaller impact on you because the charge is gone.
You may recognize elements of Hoʻoponopono here.
Other ways we may recognize mental grasping is in our “shoulds” and “musts.” We may not notice these coming up in the running discourse of our mind. They can be more obvious in what we tell others about ourselves. Watch for words like “have to” and the above in our language. They often show self-imposed restraints.
They also show up in roles we play, like the parent, provider, or supporter. If those roles are being triggered by a should or must, we know it’s a reactive mind contraction.
But again, these are much easier to recognize after we’ve done some energetic healing.
4) Benefits – It may seem odd to mention benefits but karma is action. It includes both events we might consider bad or difficult and the good stuff.
As unresolved karma, the good stuff is also shadowed and can come with entanglements. It shows up unexpectedly. And as we consider it good, it encourages us to try to hold on to it.
For example, a friend has a very successful business. They love the work and the affluence it brings to both themselves and their associates. But because of the nature of desire, there is always the seed for more. As a result, they overdo and their life lacks balance. Rather than an aversion to pain, there is a grasping at pleasure which entangles them. They become identified with their work and success.
When things change, as they always will, they will take it personally and experience it as a personal loss.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy our successes. Only that it’s better to recognize them as passing enjoyable experiences that don’t define who we are.
If we notice a tendency to grasping or controlling or manipulating what is arising naturally, we know we’re entangled. When we become less so, it allows more benefits to flow into our life and away.
“When non-theft is established, all jewels (wealth) rise up.”
– Yoga Sutra 3.37
Waking up (Self Realization) has a huge benefit for us as it roasts our karmic backlog. However we still have the sprouted seeds in play for this life. Even the very awake still have unfolding karma or their lives would be very uneventful or over.
“Yogis, abandoning attachment, perform action for self-purification.”
– Bhagavad-Gita 5.11
The additional clarity and ability to let go helps us clear more of our backlog and improve our quality. Recently, a friend sent me a section of Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. His master suggested that where we go when we die after awakening is heavily influenced by how much of this more subtle baggage we’ve resolved. It’s not how far we got but how much trash we still carry.
In any case, it’s worth it for quality of life.
Update: In the article, I use visual language because I’m visual. I’ve come to actually see these dynamics and can move light into the shadow with attention. But for a long time before this, it was all rather foggy. For most people, this will be a process of feeling into it, noticing.