Thursday, September 07, 2006

On Vacations, Karma, and Relationships

The Buddha said, "If you want to know what your future life will be like, look at your life right now."

Okay. I'm in the middle of some amazing nowhere in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, staying in a cozy little cabin with my partner, Kira. The small town we are staying near is surrounded by lakes and other small, quaint, old fishing villages. The view from our window is amazing as the sun begins to come up over the eastern horizon. There is freshly brewed coffee in the cup beside my computer. We have planned a mellow day today of shopping and visiting galleries and artisans -- a nice break after several days of driving and packing as much as possible into each day.

And, one other thing, I slept on the couch last night because we had a fight.

Something has gone horribly wrong with this picture . . . .

I mentioned the other day how vacation can be transformative instead of just a series of experiences that may or may not be translative. There is something for me to learn from this situation, something more than the details of the fight.

Sleeping on the couch last night awakened in me the memory of the last six months of my previous long-term relationship. I slept on the couch for those six months. Our relationship had been dead for quite some time, but I couldn't force myself to leave until I had separated from her for a week to teach high school kids about initiation with a friend in Louisville. Being away from the situation and immersed in a transformative teaching experience triggered the jump in awareness needed to leave -- and to know that it was the right thing to do.

I don't want to let this slide until I get to that point. There were many moments in that previous relationship when I could have left or tried to fix things. Instead, I chose to drink myself asleep and smoke my concerns away in a cloud of tobacco.

My relationship with Kira is much more mature (even when I am not) than that other relationship ever was. We solve problems when they come up -- except last night, when I was unable to unplug from the weird bonding pattern that had emerged and that Kira wanted to break out of.

If we were not on vacation and dealing with a new set of challenges and situations, we may not have had to face that pattern and it may have remained operative beneath the surface indefinitely. But being here, in this place and on this trip, forced the pattern to the surface. Kira had the good sense to want to look at it and fix it -- I didn't.

But this morning, I awoke with the need to sit down at the computer and start writing -- with karma as the subject in my mind. But then this emerged. And this is what had wanted to emerge anyway, what had been festering all night.

It might be a few hours before I get a chance to post this (no internet in our room, or even at our hotel), so for now, I'm going to go talk with Kira.

The good thing about karma is that "it can be changed, worked with, expiated, purified, and transformed" (Lama Surya Das). If my past and current actions have produced this situation, then I have the power to act with different intentions and different behaviors to alter the future that currently awaits me.


Surya Das (in Awakening the Buddhist Heart) offers an exercise in karma that can help us turn our hearts and minds to the Dharma and away from confusion.

The reflection on four basic thoughts can help us sort out our values and priorities and become more conscientious about our spiritual practice. We use this exercise to keep us grounded in reality and conscious of what's truly important.

Reflect on the following:

I. I have been blessed with a life in which I can do many things to further my own happiness and the happiness of those around me.

II. Life is short: there is no time to waste.

III. The journey through life isn't supposed to be easy: it's supposed to be real.

IV. Our karma is the one thing we carry with us always.

Surya Das says, "He who understands karma understands Dharma and realizes reality."

The Buddha said:

Wherever we go, wherever we remain,
the results of our actions follow us.

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