‘Never gloat over good fortune… for it will certainly be lost one day. The ripening of karma is sometimes predictable, but generally it is not, and the exact manner in which it ripens never is.’
Jamling Tenzing Norgay (2001)
Over the last couple of months I’ve had a fair bit of time to think. I ponder the usual things such as why things happen, why I am doing what I’m trying to do and how our little personal universes work. One thing that I keep coming back to is the balance between spending our lives preparing for the future and simply living for the moment, ready to attack the future when it is that moment. I bought this train of thought with me to Alaska but it has been further enhanced by the coach and RV loads of silver-haired tourists that hog the states highways and visitor centres.
Here is a little window into my consciousness:
I’m a believer in some form of Karma; a cause and effect where all ‘good’ in my life will be balanced by equal ‘bad’, thus keeping my feet on the ground and life on an even keel. That is not to say that every action has a predetermined reaction, there exists no set destiny, rather a personal bank that serves to keep my conscience clear and body healthy. ‘Good’ does not translate to happiness and ‘bad’ to sadness; these are emotions and therefore temporary. For example, on a simple and physical level, I may enjoy drinking whisky, doing so makes me happy, but still I regard it as bad for my physical Karma (it holds no nutritional content). On the inverse, I don’t take much enjoyment in eating apples, yet I still do as I know they are a good source of Vitamins A and C.
Rigid categorization and quantification does not exist within my Karmic construct of ‘good’ and ‘bad’; often you will not know the merits of something until hindsight or learning has allowed you enough context to appreciate it and even then the comprehension is completely subjective. This can be superficially demonstrated by delving beneath the simple reasoning as to why I eat apples: What causes me to eat apples and what effects do I get from doing so? In the case of the apple, my knowledge of the benefits of eating the fruit make something that should on the surface be no fun actually quite enjoyable to me; although I confess to not finding the act of eating an apple particularly enjoyable, the sense of personal sacrifice in doing so makes me feel good about myself. This leads to net positivity in the action. Everyone should enjoy the self-congratulation we get from these small little ‘victories’, it’s basically an unobnoxious, non-judgemental form of internal smugness. Not something to be ashamed of and a thought that helps explain why some people may feel motivated to cycle solo for thousands of miles.
Others may dislike the experience of eating an apple so much that the positivities pale into insignificance… I get this with mushrooms. How individuals judge these effects against the causes is naturally subjective and often subconscious. Thus, it would be dangerous for me to think myself better or worse than anyone else for my choices and views; that truly would make me despicably smug. It is however undeniable that societies are split based on people’s perceptions and priorities, and as such we should all have the right to treat others choices and ambitions with whatever disdain or sympathy we think appropriate. We should be free to pass judgement and do to so with great passion, but we should also be careful to damn opposing views on their merits and shortcomings, not irrational hatreds or perceptions of superiority. I view this as one of the keys to our western freedoms: I can eat apples or mushrooms as I please, and so can you. I don’t understand why you like mushrooms but I can accept that you do.
We may often remain blind to the true Karmic value of our actions and experiences. This is not important to me as I view the entire circumstance as less a guide on how to live life than an explanation as to how or why it occurs. It is moral codes and our empirically determined personal mentality that influence our cognitive and emotional selves in ways that lead to life decisions. I may not be in complete control of this balance and more often than not, its actions work deep within my subconscious. I am presently unaware of how this might be applicable to the entire universe, but I do know that we’d all like to have an internal reply to the question ‘why?’
In some respects I believe that the rise of capitalism has led many people to confuse Karma with economics. We are taught to spend decades prostrating ourselves in front of the gods of finance in the belief it will bring us a better standard of living, more educated children, a fulfilled retirement and ultimately happiness. The model has worked for many, in particular the Baby Boomer generation, but in the 21st century western world we have full stomachs, an indoctrinating and overzealous media, and deep cracks appearing in the very foundation of the capitalist system. Some people will win in the economic game of life. The ‘silent majority’ will coast through with successes and failures, divorces and second marriages. While others will fall on the sword of misfortune. There is no saying who will win and who will lose, only that none of these outcomes seem to bare any resemblance to happiness.
I do not wish to discount the realities of life; in our society we need money for food and a certain standard of living. I just think that many people should be more mindful of where the boundaries of this standard lie. Is it wrong that people lose themselves in a mire of work related stress to support a family they accordingly resent? Is the man who dies suddenly before the comfortable retirement he’s blindly dedicated his existence to achieving lucky? Should we feel for the aging man who has always followed his dreams yet longs for the wife he never had time to find? All questions for which there is no answer. Life is one long game of roulette, some people may accrue the riches to place bets on more than one number, but that’s no guarantee they’ll win.
There is a balance to be struck between living life and filing a bit of it away for our future selves. This balance has multiple complications, trap doors through which too many people fall, blinded by the future they think they deserve. Planning for the future is certainly no fallacy, it is a necessary gamble. Yet how easy is it to confidently plan for a future self we do not know. A man/woman we may not even like who will live in a future world a few decades from our own in terms of time, technology and understanding. Surely we’d be foolish to forget the context of our essentially fleeting existence.
‘Everything in moderation’ as a philosophy is not a bad ally to my thoughts, it allows the space for Karma to work its mojo. If Karma is going to deal positive experiences, people must be in positions to appreciate them, otherwise maybe the balance will get messed up and their account closed. There’s no point winning the holiday of a lifetime if the job you need to support the mortgage your family demands won’t allow you the time off to go. However, this makes me a hypocrite in so far as my cycling ambitions transcend moderation and as such will take two years ‘out of’ my life. Years that hold importance in the game of career, wife and mortgage. But I am not running away from these responsibilities, I am merely investing in myself to see if they are the trappings that life is meant to deal me. Right now they are not, yet in the future I am sure I will seek companionship and I know I will look for some meaning to my life. If these two things happen I will almost certainly end up hankering after security.
Sometimes cycling can feel like a penance and there will be days on the bike entirely devoid of enjoyment. But I am ready to deal with this, knowing that these feelings are going in the bank ready to reward me with a dramatic sunset, maybe a stranger’s seemingly random act of kindness, and ultimately an experience that will help set me up for the rest of my life.
This is how I’m trying to quantify life. I’ve got lots more thinking to do.
Lets see how I feel two years from now.