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Transform your life with karma


Credit: 123RF

Credit: 123RF

Do you ever wonder, “How did my life end up this way?” Maybe you wish you could move your life in a more positive direction, or do a complete U-turn, leaving unhelpful and harmful circumstances behind you. Now you can. Through the ancient Indian and Buddhist wisdom of karma, you can learn to influence and respond to your life in a way that promotes greater happiness, peace, health and success.

What is karma?

Karma is the idea that the decisions you have made, and will make, have consequences that shape and define your life. “Whether you like it or not, everything that is happening at this moment is a result of the choices you’ve made in the past,” says Deepak Chopra in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfilment of Your Dreams. The consequences of your decisions will be either positive or negative. This is often referred to as “good karma” or “bad karma”.

Your intentions, the choices you make and how you respond to the unfolding events in your life determine your karma and therefore the type of life you will live. In order to enjoy positive karma, you must first begin by making wiser decisions.

Choosing wisely

Without a crystal ball you can never know what the outcome of your decision will be before you make it. Even though you can’t know with certainty what the “right” decision is, you can learn to make the wisest choice possible at the time, based on the information available.

In order to enjoy positive karma, you must first begin by making wiser decisions.

The English philosopher Francis Bacon has been credited with the saying, “Knowledge is power”, though it was around in various forms and languages long before Bacon’s time. When making decisions, self-knowledge is your most powerful tool. Self-knowledge is the awareness you have about your inner world: your thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes and values.

Do you know what makes you happy, anxious, inspired, stressed or energised? When you understand who you are and what you want in life you can begin making decisions that reflect your values and aspirations.

How often have you known a decision wasn’t right but you went ahead and made it, anyway? Or maybe you have made decisions based on what you felt you “ought” to do, or what others expected of you? Very rarely do decisions made purely out of fear, pressure or obligation produce a positive outcome or good karma.

If you are used to making decisions without considering whether they are in line with your values, it’s time to break that cycle. Joan Oliver Duncan, in her book Good Karma: How to Find It and Keep It, says, “To break the cycle of karma, you have to break the cycle of unskilful behaviour. You can’t keep saying and doing the same things and expect better results. When you see your behaviour clearly you can frame new responses.”

How, then, can you better understand yourself so you can frame new responses and begin making wiser decisions? American comedian Eddie Cantor summed it up well: “Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going fast — you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”

Putting on the brakes

To say that life can be busy sometimes is an understatement. The busier life gets, however, the more important it is to slow down. William Shakespeare noted, “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.” When you make decisions on the run they are quite likely to be bad decisions. When faced with a decision, first slow down, bring your awareness into the present moment and then weigh up the possible consequences of your actions.

Developing a mindfulness practice, through meditation, yoga or tai chi, will help you take the necessary time out of your day to slow down, develop inner calm, and reflect on what is happening in your life and where you are headed.

Mindfulness practices switch off the flight-or-fight response of your sympathetic nervous system, and activate the restful response of your parasympathetic nervous system.

Mindfulness practices switch off the flight-or-fight response of your sympathetic nervous system, and activate the restful response of your parasympathetic nervous system. This process reduces stress levels, which allows you to bring your awareness into the here and now and not get caught up in all the distractions of life.

Within the present moment you can explore your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Through inner exploration, self-knowledge is gained. Once you know how you are feeling, you can begin to gauge how certain decisions may affect you and those around you. With greater self-knowledge you can learn to make decisions that are right for you.

Chopra explains, “… the best way to understand and maximise the use of karmic law is to become consciously aware of the choices we make in every moment.” To bring consciousness into your decision-making process, he says, you must ask yourself, “What are the consequences of this choice that I’m making?” and “Will this choice that I’m making now bring happiness to me and to those around me?”

Making decisions that are likely to enhance your own and others’ happiness is fundamental to making decisions with the right intentions and fundamental to developing positive karma. “Intention is one of the most significant factors in determining whether or not some contemplated action is likely to produce bad karma. It pays to think ahead,” explains Oliver Duncan.

Similarly, when you consider what possible consequences your actions may result in, it allows you to determine if any possible harm may come to you or those around you. Oliver Duncan writes, “Science and spirit agree: we exist in a web of interrelationship … Our well-being depends on courtesy to one another, our survival on global care. Karma turns on respect.”

Sometimes it can be hard to determine if a decision is right. Chopra explains that you can use your body to find the answer. “At the moment you consciously make a choice, pay attention to your body and ask yourself, ‘If I make this choice, what happens?’ If your body sends a message of comfort, that’s the right choice. If your body sends a message of discomfort, then it’s not the appropriate choice,” he says.

Making decisions with awareness, mindfulness and good intentions increases your chances of making wiser decisions and enjoying positive karma in your life. What happens, however, when your decisions produce unfavourable consequences and results? What happens when you begin experiencing the effects of negative karma?

Transforming your karma

Many people wrongly believe that karma is fatalistic. Everyone has the power to transform negative karma into positive karma by learning from their mistakes. When facing a difficult situation, Chopra suggests asking, “What can I learn from this experience?” and “How can I make this experience useful to my fellow human beings?”

Within every struggle lies a fragment of hope. “All problems contain the seeds of opportunity,” explains Chopra. Seeing your struggles as opportunities to learn and grow is vital if you want to be an active participant in your life rather than a victim.

One man who has refused to be a victim of his circumstances is triple amputee, Giles Duley. A war photographer working with the US in Afghanistan, Duley had no idea that on the February 7, 2011, at age 42, his life would change forever. Stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) while on foot patrol, Duley lost both his legs and his right arm — and very nearly his life.

Talking at the Chicago Ideas Week in that northern US city, he said, “When I became a triple amputee I became part of the story. At that time I thought this might be the end and I would have to give up photography. Most people said I probably wouldn’t walk again and I would need a carer for the rest of my life. I have a slightly stubborn trait and I decided that wasn’t going to happen.”

The quality of your life is not determined by what happens to you. The quality of your life is determined by how you choose to respond to the circumstances in your life.

While Duley may have lost limbs he didn’t lose his hope or his conviction to continue to photograph those affected by war. After completing his rehabilitation, Duley returned to Afghanistan to photograph civilian amputees at an emergency hospital in Kabul. Documenting their suffering and struggle, he produced powerful images illustrating the devastating impact land mines and explosives have on the innocent victims of war.

Of his new life as an amputee, he says: “I am incredibly lucky. I see myself as a better person than I was two years ago. I’m a lot stronger, I’m a lot more focused and I’m a lot happier, actually.”

The quality of your life is not determined by what happens to you. The quality of your life is determined by how you choose to respond to the circumstances in your life. This is the most powerful lesson of karma: you can transform your karma and your experience of life by changing how you think and respond to the things that happen to you.

How, then, can you learn to respond in a positive way when faced with difficulties? The answer lies in the most important conversation you will have: the one you have with yourself.

Mind over matter

The conversation you have with yourself — the mental chatter in your head — frames your world view. Do you see yourself as a victim or a survivor? Do you believe you’re an unlucky person or a blessed person? What you focus on magnifies, often becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t underestimate the power of your thoughts.

Everyone will experience positive and negative events in their life, but it is how you choose to “frame” those events that matters most. What do you choose to tell yourself when difficulties arise? Are you unlucky to have lost your job or are you privileged that you now have the chance to find a job you are more passionate about? Is it unfair you got sick or are you fortunate that you can now see life from a new perspective, knowing what is truly important to you? Your thoughts determine the type of person you become and how you experience life.

When faced with difficulties and challenges, take a moment to notice how you are thinking about the issue at hand. Are your thoughts negative and self-defeating? Negative self-talk is unhealthy and leads to significant inner distress, turmoil and illness. “One thought leads to another and another until, like putting a match to a woodpile, you’ve ignited a raging fire,” explains Oliver Duncan.

If you notice your thoughts are mostly negative, ask yourself, “Is there a more positive and optimistic way to view this situation?” By replacing your negative interpretation of your situation with a more positive and balanced perspective, you free up energy to live your life with greater motivation and inspiration. By consciously rejecting a negative and closed mindset, you can move forward in life with alertness and openness to new and exciting opportunities.

“What you think you become,” said Buddha. He explained that from your thoughts come your words, from your words come your actions, from your actions come your habits and from your habits comes your character. To begin to transform any negative karma in your life, start by improving the quality of your thoughts and the rest will follow.

If you desire happiness and peace in your life, start making decisions with happiness and peace in mind. Begin looking at your life and consciously choosing to see the learning opportunities in negative situations. When you live according to the wisdom of karma you can live with confidence, knowing you have the power within yourself to determine the type of person you become and the type of life you live. You can choose hope, happiness and new beginnings.

The life lessons of karma

  • Your future is determined by the choices you make today.
  • Make wiser choices by connecting with yourself through mindfulness activities like yoga and meditation.
  • Make decisions that will increase your happiness and the happiness of those around you.
  • Look for the positives and lessons to be learned in all difficult circumstances.
  • Life is not determined by what happens to you but by your response to what happens to you. Choose to respond with hope and optimism.