You’re rolling along doing great, happy as a clam, your life full of blue skies and smiles and – BLAM – you get fired from your job. Or your girlfriend leaves you. Or even worse, you get fired from your job and get terrible, terrible reviews on your exit interview and you know your resume’ will be screwed up for years. Or . . . wait . . . your girlfriend leaves you for a lesbian who ALSO happens to be your supervisor and fires you and they BOTH give you terrible, terrible reviews on your exit interviews and you know your resume’, your ego and your libido will be screwed up for years.
We’ve all had those moments when life suddenly turns to shit with no warning and for no discernable reason. It happens to everyone. A rabbi named Harold Kushner even wrote a book about it called, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” that sold millions of copies.
Of course, you could also write a book called, “When Good Things Happen to Bad People,” but it probably wouldn’t sell as well. Or you could write a book called, “When Good People Have Their Lives Turn into Shit Sandwiches and Then All of a Sudden Things Get Better For No Particular Reason.”
As the King of Siam said, “It’s a puzzlement.”
One of the reasons it’s puzzling for most of us is that we get that training from the time that we’re infants: if you’re good, good things will happen to you. If you’re bad, no fruit cup for dessert and you stand in the corner. It’s supposed to be a straight, cause and effect transaction that if you’re good you get rewarded, not kicked in the head.
But life is full of ups and downs, and The Wheel of Fortune is a perfect illustration of that. At best our ill fortune can seem terribly random and at worst it can seem just plain perverse. A turn of some invisible wheel over which we have no control.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to take a lot of comfort in the concept of karma. When a stranger decides he doesn’t like me and he’s going to make my life hell it makes more sense to me to think that I must have screwed with him in a past life than to think that he just doesn’t like my nose or my aftershave.
And if you really embrace the concept it can actually help you to get through some horrific times. “Yes, this is terribly painful and I’m going through some serious suffering. On the other hand, think of all of the bad karma I’m burning off.”
I remember the first time I had a serious discussion about karma. I was taking a tour of a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center and the woman who was the tour guide and who lived there said: “When we get up in the morning we try to live virtuously and if we do that we accumulate merit, which is good karma. And then we consciously dedicate that merit that we’ve earned to anyone who is suffering or in need. Which is also a virtuous thing to do so we accumulate more merit by doing it and then we consciously dedicate THAT merit to others.”
To which I replied, “Huh?”
It took me a few years to get it but the key words there are, “consciously dedicate.”
When we encounter the bad times in life – as we always do – live them consciously. Endure them with grace and dignity. Be determined to learn and to grow spiritually from them. Consciously dedicate those bad times to earning merit.
And when we’re having good times in life, consciously dedicate some of that extra energy and fortune to helping others who are having hard times.
Conscious living makes The Wheel of Fortune make sense.