Attitude adjustment and some musings on karma

Let me just begin with the factual and even the experiential negatives, so that I’ll have something agains which to paint my story in relief.

My wife agreed last week to have a joint counseling session with me. This was a significant change in communication with her, and to me this was nothing less than a portal opening, through which I will eventually reach her heart and mind, and through which reconciliation will inevitably happen. Since there are always tons of financial obligations at the end of the month, and going forward into the beginning of the new month, I had to hold off on booking the session until the beginning of this week. I managed to get a session scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon, but since my wife didn’t return home at all yesterday and remained incommunicado, I wasn’t able to confirm with her whether that time would work at all. She finally texted me early this morning to say that she was going to a garden show with one of her girlfriends, and so that time wouldn’t work. I rebooked for Friday morning; she agreed this would be okay, but said she could only stay for an hour. That’s all we’ll need. Frankly, the timing is perfect, since she normally departs for the weekend on Friday afternoons, so the experience of the counseling session will be fresh in her mind when she does leave, and any seeds of doubt about her current situation will also be there and hopefully taking root.

She did return home this morning, and fairly late at that, sometime around 11:00. The dog looked a bit thinner, as if she hadn’t eaten for a few days, and also appeared very tired and relieved to be home. This is how it normally is with the dog when she has been forced to be away from home for several days, and especially when the energy in the environment she has been taken to has a negative edge to it. (I think it’s fair to say that “negative edge” is probably an understatement here.) As for my wife, she looked like hell. I have seldom seen her come home on any of her mornings away looking fresh, rejuvenated, and happy. She looked tired, had not bathed (and did not take a bath while she was here) and seemed like she just wanted to drop off the dog and get out. So I let her do that. I offered her a bottle of root beer that I’d bought, so that she could take it along with her, and she said it looked heavy. Hmmmm. So, I left it in the fridge for her so that she could drink it tonight, as she will be home teaching.

You might notice that I have not really written much of anything negative, aside from that which is mostly factual, and that I’m not talking about the “A” word, either. This is deliberate. I got an email from my counselor recommending that I watch the movie The Secret¬†as soon as possible. I wasn’t really sure why he would have recommended this, and I had been pretty skeptical about the whole “law of attraction” idea, especially since there is so much faux spirituality out there that relies on a something-for-nothing approach that really doest work. But I watched it anyway.

Much of the message of the film rings true to me: you become what you think. Basically that’s the long and short of it. If you think that you’ll be in debt for the next ten years, then that’s what’s likely to happen. If you think you’ll manifest wealth in the next year, then that’s what’s likely to happen. Essentially, it’s not much more than intention-setting, and then being open to the manifestation of that intention by a) believing that the manifestation of that intention is possible, and b) being willing to receive it when it does manifest.

I think the objection many have expressed to this film and the ideas expressed therein is that it has a fairly strong materialist bent: if you desire a new car, it will manifest in your life. So it is with money, career success, etc. These things, however, are not the secret (no pun intended) to leading a fulfilled existence. Such fulfillment comes from a much deeper place.

In my own spiritual practice, which at this point is basically Mahayana Buddhism from within the standpoint of a Vajrayana lineage, the orientation on self-satisfaction is seen as ultimately pointless, as the self is a mere fabrication that does not truly exist. (This is a complex philosophical issue that I will not get into here.) Instead, one’s orientation should rather be directed toward others in helping the to attain happiness. This does not mean that one should not aspire to have wealth, a new car, or a better job, but one’s intention in so doing is more important: if you’re doing it just to feel better about yourself, you ultimately won’t, but if you’re doing it with the intention of benefitting others, then your motivations are likely quite pure.

Here’s what I’ve taken away from watching this film: your present situation is the result of past thoughts and actions. Your future situation will be the result of present thoughts and actions. If your present thoughts and actions are conditioned by current and past experiences, you can likely expect more of the same, e.g. if you’re in debt now and can only focus on that, then you’ll likely stay in debt in the future. Essentially, this is not much other than the workings of karma. People misunderstand the idea of karma, thinking it’s a tit-for-tat accounting procedure wherein a negative action cases a negative consequence of similar order to return to you, and a positive for a positive. It doesn’t work like that, because a) our karma includes all the karmic seeds of our previous lives and b) our karma ripens as our experience when the appropriate causes and conditions allow it to ripen. Everything that happens to us is nothing other than our karma, and this includes each breath we take, each glass of water we drink, each sunrise we see, and so on.

I once heard an acquaintance describe karma, and in particular bad karma with the following anecdote. He had been working with a prison dharma program (basically a prison Buddhist ministry program) and he was facilitating a session with a Theravadan monk. One of the prisoners asked how he should deal with the fact that he had created so much bad karma through his crimes, as he thought it was basically like a sword being held above his head, just waiting to drop. The monk explained it this way: imagine that you have a thimble of poison, and you drink it in one shot. You’ll be poisoned and die. But if you take that same thimble of poison and put it into a gallon of water and then drink it little by little, you’ll be okay. The water might not taste so good and you may occasionally get a bit sick, but you won’t end up being poisoned. Thus it is with our karma. If you have bad karma, even really bad karma, you can prevent it from ripening in hugely negative ways by flooding your life with as much virtuous activity as possible.

So it is with this blog entry. I do realize that the more I think about my wife’s affair and the more I worry about our marital crisis, the worse it wears on my, the less present I am to the situation, and the harder it is for me to be present in a positive way for her and to move forward in a positive direction for myself, and by extension for her. I have long had the sense that I have an unshakable determination to reconcile my marriage, but I have let negative thoughts and emotions derail me and get the better of me from time to time. I have used this forum as a place to vent and likely will do so going into the future, but I am going to try to take a more positive tack here, at least for the short term, to see if and how that affects my life.