When discussing the concept of karma I mentioned that karma manifest itself in our actions. I mentioned that our actions are the effects of our learned behaviours, and I mentioned that these behaviours tend to be repetitive. I have explained how a decision making process interrelates with our beliefs. I’ve arrived to conclusion that as soon as we change our beliefs we will change our actions. Unfortunately the whole process is not all that easy.
In reality we have very little control over our decisions and we rarely understand our own actions. Our personality forms over the course of many years and most of it is rooted in our subconscious. Every minute of our lives we are bombarded by thousands of different stimuli from the outside environment. Our brain learns how to filter through this information. Only its tiny fraction makes its way to our conscious memory. We rely on the so called “common knowledge” and we usually never bother to verify it. As soon as you learn to tie your shoes you tend to do it the same way for years to come. We form many life long habits and we rarely feel the need to change them even if they’re not practical.
We form habits in the way we talk, walk, eat and in many other areas of our lives. We even form habits in our emotional reactions. Modern neuro- science teaches us about neural paths created in our brains. Each time we take a new action, something we have never tried before, we create a new connection between neurons inside our brains. The next time we repeat the same action our brain follows a preexisting path/connection of neurons to conduct it. The more times we repeat a task the stronger this connection becomes. Eventually the action becomes automatic. In a similar way if we repeat a certain reaction/behavior many times over and over it becomes a habit. We don’t think about it, we just do it. This is why change of one’s karma is so difficult. The only way to change an automatic reaction is by overwriting it with something else. Those of you who ever tried to make corrections to the way you walk, smile or speak will surely now how difficult it is. As soon as you loose concentration and forget about your intentions you immediately come back to your old way. Changing the old habits takes hell lot of work.
Similar process can be observed when trying to overwrite our perception of reality. Even the most powerful illumination is not going to cause a permanent change unless we make a conscious effort to do so. When looking back at my personal path I notice many such illuminations that never lead to a permanent change. Thanks to my habit of writing a diary I can “move” back in time to see what I was thinking and doing many years ago without having to rely on my memory. Very often I find notes about things that I completely forgot about even though they were very important to me back then. I also tend to find thoughts and reflections about things that haven’t really changed still despite my constant effort to do so. One of them is my life long tendency to low moods. My moods even seem to follow certain patterns during each year. What amuses me is the fact that my outside circumstances changed a lot during these years. If it was the outside circumstances that influenced my moods I should have seen more variety. It becomes kind of obvious that their source is inside and not outside of me.
Realisation that I have stuck on some level is an illumination of its own, even though it is perhaps not an ecstatic one… This struggle with low moods is the main reason why I started researching on the topic of karma. I realised that even though I wanted to change, some powerful force was holding me back and I needed to identify it. This search helped me to understand just how complicated beings we are. My own struggle made me more compassionate towards other people since I realised how difficult it is to change who we are. Changing old habits is way more difficult than learning new things. When you do something for the first time your brain doesn’t have a preexisting connection to follow. When learning a new thing you give it your full attention and concentration. To over-write the old habits we need to learn how to be alert and focused at all times. This is itself is a huge challenge as it goes against one of our most common habits of switching off and drifting away.
In our culture we get conditioned to boredom. Most of our lives we spend on performing routine tasks like school or work related activities. Most of us don’t enjoy them so we condition our minds to switch off and submerge in a stream of thoughts. We fantasize about our future actions, think about things we already did or are planing to do. If possible we distract ourselves with the internet, TV and the radio. We pay little attention to the actions we currently do. The art of life in a present moment becomes a skill of its own. Since a few of years I have been training myself to live in the present and so far I have failed. It usually takes only a few minutes before my mind starts to create thoughts. It can start from an innocent observation. For example when looking at the sky, I will say to myself “nice sunshine” and soon afterward the other thought follows”I wonder if it is going to last”. From there I can easily drift off thinking about plans for the rest of the day trying to decide what to do in case if it rains. Before I know it I depart the present and spend whole ten minutes imagining what my evening will look like. If by any chance my plans involve other people I might even consider topics of our potential conversions. This will lead onto memories of our past conversions and maybe even arguments we had recently. At this point I can start feeling irritated or tense or maybe even angry. And then I catch myself- “I did it again!” I have just spent a the whole fifteen minute walk completely unaware of what was happening around me.
Our streams of thoughts have the life of their own too and they too follow certain patterns. If you ever try to observe your thoughts as though you were an outside observer of your own mind you will notice how your thoughts jump suddenly from one subject to the other without any apparent connection between the two. When looking deeper you will see that the connection might have been really subtle. Jump might have come from some outside trigger like a smell or sound that reminded you of something but it might also been an effect of arsing emotion. If someone made you angry you’re very likely to think of other times when they made you feel in a similar way. In this case your emotional reaction is likely to follow a preexisting neural path and it can become very exaggerated. Arguments between family members often follow such pattern. The outcome of such an argument can be painfully predictable and for as long as people don’t learn how to redirect their reactions they will continue fighting for years to come. The only way to reprogram an old habit is by rewriting it with something new. A change of circumstances might be helpful but in the end it is the inside not the outside of you where the change needs to occur.
I mentioned that enlightenment can be a painful process for many people but what I want to add now is that not everyone is afraid of pain. Pain has always been associated with the learning process and in most cases it’s unavoidable. On the other hand learning on its own is also exiting. It seems to me that most people forget about that. When you learn how to walk you will fall many times. And yet somehow we all did it. Children never seem scared or tired o learning no matter how difficult it is. On occasions when they hurt themselves they can become upset for a while but it never lasts for too long*. By the time we’re adults we try to avoid effort at all costs. We’re no longer interested in learning unless we can see some immediate gain in it. We grow impatient. Why and how this happens I don’t know.
*This is not always true in case if learning is forced upon them by somebody- like learning at school. Plus I’m sure some people are naturally more lazy than others.