|"Deserted Farm" by David Schwab|
Let me tell you a story.
Years ago, while listening to past life regression tape, I found myself in another body: a heavy, morose farm woman. I wore long skirts and my dull hair was pulled back in a loose bun. It was a hot day and the blue sky was big bowl overhead. The grain was yellow, the farm house a weathered gray. I saw myself walk toward the barn and into its cool darkness. A shaft of light flowed in from the upper window and lazy sun motes drifted through the funnel of golden air. I stepped in further, behind ruffled tails of the whinnying horses. I startled one, there in the darkness. It kicked back, caving my head, and I died.
That's all I remembered of that life. The tape prompted me to identify where the scene took place: Kansas. I didn't know the year, but the clothing looked like about 1890. Why was this life important? It taught me that I had to ask for more, do more with my life, not just let it happen. Interesting, but not fascinating. I was not Cleopatra or Catherine the Great.
Later that same year, I moved back to the West Coast from New Hampshire after a four year stint in graduate school. While I'd been away, younger members of the family had grown up and didn't know me. Except for one: my 8-year-old niece Micah, who from the time we re-encountered one another began to call me "step-mother." When I asked her why, she said, "Well, you're my real mother, but if I called you 'mom', my mom now would get hurt."
"What happened to me?" I asked.
"A horse kicked you in the head and you died," she told me.
I have believed in rebirth ever since I could talk and begged my mother to take me to see my "other family," my "other sisters" who lived in the woods. Eventually, whatever memories I had faded as I grew into more mundane beliefs. Still, from time to time, a young relative would reel me back with a shivery statement: "When's grandma going to come back and be a baby again?" "I was a pirate with long red hair. I was killed in a battle, but not by a cannon ball. The splinters from the deck killed me." "A long time ago, I used to be a diamond girl."
Yes, I believe in rebirth. It doesn't matter if it's true or not. What matters is that it helps me live my life. We come back here to grow and to learn. We remember past lessons in the form of talents and disabilities, immediate attractions and intuitive distrust. If we "owe" someone from the past--or if they owe us--we come back in such a way that our paths will cross and we can balance the scales through forgiveness and compassion.
These beliefs helped me this week when I received an email that hurt my feelings, sent by someone I haven't seen in almost twenty years. Even though I believed I had brought that chapter to a close, done my forgiving and wished this person well in every way, I snapped into immediate sorrow -- and rage. The rudeness, the childishness, the pomposity! I craved revenge. I wanted to send a response that would make me feel better by blackening his name to the "all" who had been copied. Where was my spiritual growth now?
Earth is the place souls go to school and the curriculum grows out of karma, the spiritual law of cause and effect. We never know when we're going to get a pop quiz on all those areas we thought we'd mastered. Deepak Chopra calls karma, "...an echo from the past." If the forgiveness is incomplete, as mine must have been, it keeps on echoing. It's an ache, a tremor, a lingering scent.
Newton's Third Law of Motion teaches us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is as true for spirit as it is for motion. If I respond with anger, I must turn it to forgiveness before I permit myself to act. Otherwise, only harm will come of it on one level or another, and maybe not even where I can see it. I know that if I kick the wall, I'll end up with a sore toe, but if I swear at another driver, does a child's balloon burst on the other side of town? And what if karma isn't limited to the individual, but drives the world as well? Look at our media, our politics, our attitudes toward those who think differently from us: What if our ill will, cruel humor and prejudice cause tsunamis and plagues? All those things our ancestors and some today see as the punishment of an angry God. What if we are punishing ourselves?
Annie Besant said of karma, "It is the law that binds the ignorant but frees the wise." Once we believe in karma, we can control its effects through love and forgiveness. Out in Fairfield, Iowa, there are more than 800 visitors from India -- pandits who practice Transcendental Meditation for hours a day in the name of world peace. They believe that it would affect the well-being of the world if the U.S. were a more peaceful nation, and here they have come, giving up their daily lives for two to three years, devoting their lives to this practice, trying to mitigate karma.
Aside from not answering that email with anger, what else I can do to heal karma, my own and the world's? I look at my list of grievances and grudges -- Rush Limbaugh, my fifth grade teacher, the way I gain weight on my hips -- and wonder what would happen if I just let them go. That would be a start. Not everyone's lives allow them to meditate for years out in the cornfields, but I begin to believe that even small things done with enormous intent can contribute to the healing: planting flowers, picking up trash, smiling at strangers, leaving a penny...
All these acts demand of us is being present to the opportunity to do good. Present, not past. That's gone, except in the ways we allow it to stay.