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Karma

We all try to make sense out of what happens in our lives, and when something momentous happens - for better or worse - we often say "it was meant to be," or it was "fate" or "karma." Even Joko will say that "Life always teaches us what we need to learn" as if there were some guiding plan or intelligence behind events. I've always resisted that way of talking, and still think it can be very dangerous to attribute any purpose or design to life, but lately I've come to see something about what gives rise to that way of talking and how it makes a certain sense.

I've been trying to come up with an image to illustrate what I mean, and I'm not sure I've found just the right one yet, but let's right this out together and see what we can come up with. Picture yourself walking along a crowded sidewalk. If you match your pace to the flow of everything around you, you can probably proceed pretty comfortably for a quite a ways. But if you abruptly stop, or try to walk with your arm sticking out at a 90 degree angle, well almost invariably you're going to get bumped, or worse. I think when we're unconsciously attached to some image of ourselves or how we expect life to go, it's like walking down the street with our arm sticking out. The very thing that we're attached to, that keeps us separate from the flow of life, is the thing that going to get bumped and cause us pain. Or if we try to protect ourselves by standing still, not participating or hiding from life, that's going to get us bumped too. If we expect to be able to keep control of our life, our health, of loved ones, invariably we're going to experience life rather painful bumping into that expectation, that's when we can say life is trying to teach us just the lesson we need to learn. Not because there's anybody up there planning it all, it's just the natural consequence of separation. Obviously, all sorts of painful experiences will happen to us along the way in any case. But unless we have some expectation that we're special and such things shouldn't happen to us, they don't stand out, they simply are our life. In that way, someone who is used to living a simple life without much money may never notice that they are "poor," while a millionaire obsessed with getting and spending may suffer from constant money worries. I have a friend who spent much of his childhood in a wheelchair, and who has had to have various operations over the years so that he can now walk. But as far as I can tell, he doesn't spend anytime asking "why me?" or thinking of himself as "disabled." His difficulties are simply his life, and dealing with them is taken for granted. None of this has to imply passivity or merely going along with the crowd in order not to get bumped. It does mean a practice of attention to where and how we get bumped in which we ask ourselves what expectation or self-image was sticking out just then, how did I think I should've been treated, where physically or emotionally, does that hurt? This is what Joko has called learning to suffer intelligently. And if we do we truly see life as endlessly willing to be our teacher.