Saturday, March 26, 2011

From Mystery to Predictability

A retreatant sent this to me after the 2010 Santa Sabina retreat. --Cheri

From Mystery to Predictability

Karma can seem to be something of a mystery. What is it? How did I get “mine”? What actually is “my” karma? I remember an exercise on a retreat with you many years ago. You asked us a number of questions designed to help us get a picture of our own essential karma. I remember that my answers to the questions painted a very familiar picture of life as “me”; then what I saw in that sort of drifted away from conscious awareness. If you had asked what my karma was and how it operates in my life, I probably would have given a very vague answer… “It’s a mystery,” to quote one of my favorite lines from the movie Shakespeare in Love.

The recording process has clearly revealed the mystery around my own particular brand of karma, with more showing up every week. The road map of suffering is revealed! The broad brush strokes are clear; the subtleties are emerging daily.

After recording my “stories” and identifications for just a very few months, it is hard to remain clueless about exactly what those stories are. Almost every other entry among hours of entries is a version of two, or at the most three, stories. I listen and think “wow, that one again; that’s the same one as this morning and yesterday, too!” No more mystery for me about what the stories are that send me down the familiar hole of suffering, complete with the same package of sensations and conversations.

And, as the stories continue to repeat and be recorded, I begin to see what is behind them. What are the beliefs and assumptions that make these so real? Who is it that always falls for them? What does she believe about herself? What survival strategies arise to defend her from these stories?

So, for me, mystery has been replaced by a considerable amount of predictability. 98% of the stories are a version of 1) there is something horribly wrong with my body, physically, and I am going to be very sick and die “young” (kind of funny when you know how old I am), and 2) I am a bad/wrong person and they hate me. Both of them are directly tied to shame; for either, “I should be ashamed of myself.” The words I can most often hear in my mother’s voice are “shame on you.” The response, historically, to the stories and that sense of shame and failure is also not a mystery: the classic fight or flight. Either stand my ground and argue my case, or say, “it’s too hard, I can’t, I quit” and leave.

A couple of days ago, story #2 got started, complete with all the emotions associated with rejection and inadequacy. I grabbed the recorder like a lifeline, told it exactly what was going on, what I was feeling, and asked the mentor for help. Even through all of my emotion, the mentor was right there. First of all with reassurance for the little one getting the beating: “I know; it’s hard. I can understand why you feel that way.” And then as the guide for the adult me: “We don’t have to respond that way any more. You are an adult and can act as one. What would you like to do to take care of this situation? I’m right here to help you.” And that was that. The little one felt heard, and she disappeared. The adult was there and she knew what to do. All sensation and story gone in less than five minutes and on to a new moment.

So, not only is the karma now predictable, the way to handle it is, too! And all because of a little device made of metal and plastic that is able to digitize my voice and play it back. And all because of the willingness to use the recorder, to do the practice, to show up for me and for all beings.

Not only is there relief for me and all the internal little ones in this, there is the social relief as well. No one has to deal with that unfortunately identified version of me! And, best of all, a gift of the greater predictability of karma is the ability to be present to the mystery that is life.

Thank you, Cheri, for this practice – all forms of it – and for the invitation to reflect on what I have seen about karma and its evolution from mystery to predictability.


  1. Karma is as Karma does.

    But wait a minute!
    I am not an unwilling participant.
    I see it coming and can choose:
    To collapse under the (seeming) historic momentum, or side step the freight train with a Gassho and tip of the hat to loving compassionate awareness.

    Is that cool, or what.....

    Deep bows for the practice

  2. Great insights. It is terrific when you begin to get conditioning's number. Been practicing a year, and continue to keep it up for the rest of my life.

    Still, conditioning is weird. It usurps your awareness and personality, and then it parades itself around as you even though it's not. It consumes your destiny, in a way. Which reminds me of Darth Vader and the dark side, and that's convenient because I happen to have an essay on the subject right here -

    Sure, it's a shameless plug, but it's also relevant. It features a rather eclectic group of Zen teachers, from Alan Watts to Brad Warner to our very own Cheri Huber.

    Maybe someone will enjoy. Keep practicing, and I'll do the same.