Ever met someone who you longed to see mowed down by the karma bus? Of course you have – you’re human. Perhaps someone overtook you dangerously on the freeway and you want a cop to appear around the corner and slap them with a hefty fine. Or someone stole your lunch from the office fridge so you cross your fingers they’ll suffer some sort of allergic reaction to the mayo you used. On a more extreme level, perhaps your partner left you for someone younger than you, and you want nothing more than to see her turn out to be a gold-digger who’ll leave him high and dry. Ouch.
It’s a myth that when you begin to live a more spiritual, compassionate life you’ll become immune to such reactions – it’s normal to meet people that raise your hackles or left you calling 'unfair!'. Last week I learned that someone who has acted in ways that were, shall we say, unscrupulous at best, outright nasty at worst, had been given a significant accolade that, in my eyes, was not deserved. Meanwhile someone with talent, drive and integrity was snubbed. Guys, this made me so mad. Let me tell you – I really really wanted this person to get taken out by that karma bus, which I believed would make me feel really really good. And then I started wondering… why? Like, why does it matter to me how other people act? This situation doesn’t even affect me. So why do I expect the people involved (or anyone else, for that matter) to behave according to my ideas about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? And more significantly – why do I think they should be bitch-slapped if they don’t? Which is, let's face it, what invoking the law of karma is all about.
Once I started picking apart what was at play behind my outrage I realised there was a lot of yucky stuff going on:
1 JUDGMENT. The bottom line: it’s not up to me to assess someone’s worthiness for what I regard as a reward. I am only responsible for my own behaviour. Period.
2 UNHEALTHY INTEREST (and yes, judgment, again) IN THE WAY OTHERS ARE RUNNING THEIR LIVES. Which, quite frankly, is done of my damn business. What’s more, it distracts me from sorting out my own shit. Convenient. People in glasshouses, and all of that…
3 SUBCONSCIOUS PROGRAMMING. When other people behave in ways that I find morally questionable, and don’t get punished for it, this calls into question the road map I have of this journey we call life. Conversely, if they do get a comeuppance, I feel superior, as if my ideas about how life should be have been endorsed. Bow down to meeeeeeee! I know how to run this planet! I am doing life RIGHT! I’m sure I don’t need to point out what an arrogant (not to mention faulty) belief that is. Yikes.
When I do an angel card reading for someone and I repeat a message urging them to forgive someone, they can’t wait to tell me how wrong their husband was to have divorced them, how evil their mother was to have given their sibling more attention, how asshole-y their boss is to keep overlooking them for that promotion. I tell them all the same thing: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. You’re entitled to feel aggrieved, but you’re not justified in staying in that place of suffering. There are no winners in the blame game, no matter how wrong you think they are/were. Even if you’re right. Especially if you’re right. All you can do is calmly and peacefully let it go. This is a lesson I’m still learning. (Hey, I never claimed to have all the answers here.)
Finally, a note about karma. We have this idea that the universe operates according to a cause-and-effect relationship – basically, if we put good into the world, good will come back to us. Likewise if we hurt other people, the universe will take from us. While at a basic level that holds true, it’s much more complicated than that. Sometimes people suffer because of the consequences of their behaviours in a past life. Sometimes people suffer because that’s a situation they have to live through to learn an important life lesson. Sometimes people pour their hearts and souls into relationships that come to an end anyway, purely because that relationship has served out its time.
We may never know the ‘why’, but here is one thing I do know to be true: we are all of us here to learn to live with kindness and compassion for others. We are called to help each other, as much as we can, with no expectation of reward, nor fear of punishment if we don’t. Many spiritual teachers tell us we can’t attain inner peace until we can allow people to live their own lives their own way (I would add a caveat: if the behaviour of someone else is detrimental to your health, wellbeing or safety, you need to remove yourself from the situation, stat). That means forgiving them for not adhering to your own personal code of conduct. Forgiving them doesn’t mean you’re saying that they are right, it just means you’re letting go of your bitterness and pain around the situation. Let go with me. Right now. Yes you can. Once you’re no longer emotionally invested in seeing someone suffer, you’re truly at peace with the situation, which is much more satisfying than watching a karma-bus smackdown. And longer-lasting too.