Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Karma in the world of Hinduism and Buddhism could be translated into our western language as fate or destiny. Those who believe in karma tend to look at life's events as something with a meaning or reason that may come from what they've experienced in another lifetime. In our western traditions, the idea of fate is more connected to the will of God, who intends for us to go through whatever comes our way. This will of God isn't always so clear to us, and it can be looked at in different ways, like being tested, being punished, or receiving a gift disguised as suffering.
Both in the east and in the west, there is an attempt to explain one of the deep questions of life.
Why is there suffering? And more specifically - Why do I have to suffer?
Since trying to understand the suffering of all people might be a lot to start with, let's start from the latter - Why do I have to suffer? Is my suffering a punishment for what I did? For what I did in a previous life? Is it a test? A gift in disguise?
Or maybe there's no answer at all. Maybe things that happens to us have no reason or meaning. Maybe there is no divine intention behind it, and it is just a matter of circumstances and luck.
When I was in high school I wrote a paper called "Why do bad things happen to good people?" It was a paper for my Jewish philosophy class, and it was the topic that interested me at the time. My 16-year-old conclusions were not so clear, but over the years I've been able to delve deeper and deeper into this question.
Whether what happens to us is divine or not (which, in my view, it is) and whether it's connected to our previous lives, mistakes or good deeds, (which I believe it is as well) it doesn't matter. I believe everything that happens to us comes from somewhere. It has a reason, a meaning and an origin.
Everything that happens to me comes from the unresolved emotional conflicts of my family of origin.
My parents, grandparents and great grandparents lived through many challenges in their lives. They were able to work through and resolve some of those challenges, and others they could not. Whatever was not resolved before the birth of their children, they passed on in a similar way that you would imagine DNA and genes passed down. The emotions, conflicts, secrets and any "unfinished business" were all passed down to the next generation, for us to find a solution to the conflict they could not resolve. I must say that it's easy to fall into blame and guilt regarding what we've inherited from our families, but if we can look at it as another form of DNA that nobody gave us on-purpose or with bad intentions, it makes it easier to accept and understand without the need to feel blame or guilt about it.
What does this mean?
When I look at my life, I can find meaning in my major life events, traumas, and challenges by looking at the lives of my parents. You could say that my life's blueprint or plan happened around the time when I was in the womb of my mother.
Let's imagine our blueprint as one of a building. Every building that's built is completed after a long process of planning. Someone has to think of building it, create a plan and a blueprint, buy the materials and find the right location and team to build it. After a long process, the building will finally stand completed. After that, the building will begin fulfilling its purpose, and once it stands in its place, it can begin to be occupied by offices or apartments, giving it its "personality."
This is how our "karma" is created. Our parents plan our arrival (or not), think of which sex they might want us to be (or not), what name they would like us to have. They might have dreams and expectations for what they would like us to become or possess in our life. But even more than their conscious thoughts about the baby to come, they live through a whole range of experiences in the time of the blueprint that wasn't intended to be part of the plan.
Imagine the architect planning the building, sitting in his office dreaming of the building to be. As he plans, he might fold the paper of sketches at the end of the day and put in his pocket. He might erase and write again. He might spill some coffee or tea on the paper creating a dark stain. He might use the sketch to doodle or write a phone number of someone important he doesn't want to forget.
In order to reach the final draft, the sketch will be cleaned up and made into a pristine blueprint, but in our case the sketch is what ends up being put together as is. The sketch is marred by their fears and worries, their joy and expectations. All of what happens to our parents as they prepare for our arrival is a part of the blueprint of our life, whether we want it or not. But rarely do we attribute significance to this period or look to explore the meaning of it for our lives today.
If you were to find a problem in the foundations of a building 30 years after it was built, wouldn't you go back to the blueprint, to the architect or to the original building plan? Wouldn't it make sense to start there and see if there may have been an issue with the foundation? So for us, wouldn't it make sense to explore the time of our blueprint to look for clues as to why we feel the way we do. If we feel safe and welcomed, maybe that's what was in our plan. If we feel scared and outcast, perhaps that was in the plan too.
If you were to be born after a miscarriage or a difficulty to get pregnant as many mothers might experience, imagine the hope and expectation that is projected onto you. Imagine the fear of experiencing another loss that you may come to carry.
If you were born to parents who were tired and fighting often after already giving birth to 2 other children, perhaps their hope is that the new baby will save their marriage. Maybe the mother dreams of another child and stays with her husband only because of this baby to come. How would that affect this baby later in life? Could it be that it will feel a responsibility to keep the parents together? Could it be that whenever the parents fight or think of breaking up, it will feel responsible, feel like a failure in fulfilling the purpose it was meant to serve?
I'd like to give you an example that I've encountered lately from a patient about the blueprint of her life. One of my patients (I'll call her Catherine) shared that her whole life she had felt that she was always slower than everyone else. As a child she was told by her teachers that she's too slow, and as an adult she continued to struggle with everyone else's pace. When I asked her about her blueprint, she said that she remembered the story her mom told about her birth. She was born 13 days early and on the day of her birth, her mom had been planning a big party with friends. When she went into labor sooner than expected, the feeling she expressed was "It's too soon, too fast. I'm not ready yet." This story clicked in Catherine's head as we spoke, and she understood that the reason she was always so slow was because she had arrived too fast. Her brain understood at an unconscious level that she must not arrive too soon or too early, as it might disrupt her mother’s plans.. This continued to play out again and again throughout her lifetime, and it gave her a sense of peace and understanding to now know why she had always felt this way.
We all have a story around our blueprint. A story of positive and negative emotions, all mixed together. This is the story we live today. This never ending mix of positive and negative emotions, feelings, thoughts expectations and hopes. This is the karma we are living, the karma of the story of our becoming.
Many times it helps just to realize this. To ask again about the story of our birth. To start connecting the dots of how the story of our becoming affects how we feel today. There is much to be explored and realized, and it's never too late to start.