These are facts – job loss and long periods of unemployment are experienced by millions in this country, and not just once. It can happen, unbelievably, over and over. I personally have experienced layoffs multiple times, and so far there is no such thing as real recovery when I have found employment again. For many, the financial losses that accumulate in periods of unemployment have yet to be made up. After your savings are gone – if you were lucky enough to have had a salary where you could put something away – the next phase in the downward spiral is to accumulate increasing debt. How else to make ends meet? Unemployment benefits are a pittance and require that you choose between paying your rent or eating – if you want to avoid maxing out the credit cards. Realistically, this is not a choice. Even when employment is found, most have accumulated so much debt that recovery of their original situation is as likely as finding a ring lost in a lake. There are those who believe – and sometimes insist – that personal responsibility or even karma are the causative factors in job loss. This may be true in some cases, but not for the majority. Look up and observe the reality of the bigger picture. Unemployment and resulting poverty is a historical issue of such magnitude, sweeping across race, gender, education levels and more, that it eclipses personal responsibility, pointing to a much larger, vastly more powerful origin. What most conversations on self-reliance fail to include is the context in which each of us thrive, or fail to thrive. The assumption behind self-reliance is that focus and hard work is sufficient to ensure conventional success, yet it is clear that the myth of the rugged individual who need only rigorously apply himself has failed the majority of those who have, in all sincerity, done just that.
What bears witnessing here, obvious as it is, is that it is not our personal efforts alone that get us employed. Each time we present ourselves for a paying position, we engage in a dialogue with those who ultimately must advocate on our behalf if we are to get the full benefits of the effort we made in pulling ourselves up by our “bootstraps.” As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
My Personal Story
Towards the end of 2010, I was laid off for a period that turned out to be 14 months long. In that time, I applied to over 300 openings, all of which I could reasonably fulfill, at least from the job description. Out of those 300, I was offered only two interviews. The first did not result in a job offer, but the second landed me a position in a law firm where the advertised job description and the actual job duties bore no resemblance. Unfortunately, the downgrade in job duties was not to my liking or a benefit to my resume, but after 14 months of looking and severely diminished resources, I was grateful for what I had. At the end of a little over a year I was laid off, ostensibly due to the firm’s economic restructuring. This was another in a series of layoffs that began for me in the early ’80s.
In my quest to understand how things had gotten to where they are, I sought input from others about the possible causes behind my current dilemma. Well-meaning persons volunteered various insights, most of which were expressed as “Your circumstances are the result of karma that you are now paying back;” “This is happening because you have consistently run from what you agreed to do with your life,” and “It’s a wake-up call – better figure out what the Universe is telling you before it’s too late.” All of these perceptions awarded me 100% responsibility for having created my situation, but the upside of being the creator of so much discomfort is that I surely had an inimitable capacity to manifest far more joy and abundance. And have at least a little insight into what the “Universe” was allegedly calling me to do that I couldn’t do by keeping my job.
What is Karma?
I want to take some time to explore the feedback to my question, “What do you think might be going on here?” and we’ll begin by getting on the same page with an understanding of karma. According to Hinduism, karma is the reaping of what was sown previously – in the current life and/or a previous one, and perhaps even several previous ones. It’s a cosmic principle that you will not ultimately get away with stealing what rightfully belongs to another, especially those things which are needed to keep that person alive (food, clothing, shelter, funds) and which also enable their well-being (education, reputation, health) such that they are able to live the life they agreed to and have a right to live. Stealing someone’s foundation of support is akin to stealing their life force and can be akin to murder (where all choice is removed). It is a major tear in the matrix of both personal and universal balance that must be repaired by being paid back at some point. No one really has a choice about eventually returning what does not belong to them. You may get away with putting it off for several lifetimes, but the irresistible force behind the immovable demand for balance through restoration will compel you, sooner or later, to do the right thing. Whether you want to or not.
Karma is magnetic. When you are in the vicinity of someone to whom you owe restoration (or who owes you) you will feel drawn to them. Often you will feel an overwhelming attraction. The intensity is not easily dismissed. This is necessary in order to create the relationship that will provide the opportunity for resolution of past painful interactions. Note that there is also attraction with dharmic agreements (but perhaps without the burning intensity of karma), such as teaming up to perform a mutual task. Follow the yellow brick road as it were, and the purpose of the connection will eventually be revealed. In both cases there is a mysterious pull that you will want to explain as “that person is really interesting” or “that person is really attractive” or “they have something to offer that I’ve been looking for.” In any case, your karma has hooked you – or your dharma is calling.
Sometimes karma takes on the form of direct payback. What you did to another will be done to you by that same person. In this instance, the other person is forcibly taking back what belongs to them rather than waiting for you to graciously return it. This is far less pleasant than engaging a relationship that may have other mutually rewarding aspects, but lacking gracefulness as it does, it gets the job done, and you are released from that karma. This is the form of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but more advanced souls prefer to avoid such literal payback. It is far more pleasant to heal the broken connection between you by offering gifts that serve the same purpose as returning stolen goods. This also opens the opportunity to take the relationship to a higher level, one in which you mutually find ways to assist each other’s journey. The willingness to do this will depend on the severity of the original theft. It will be much harder to accept someone who previously murdered you as a friend you can trust. It can, however, be done.
Often karma works like this: instead of being drawn to a person or a situation (place of employment, organization, course of study, educational institution, and so on), you find yourself the surprised and unwilling recipient of a series of unpleasant and life-altering events. Bewildered at how and why these events have occurred to mess up your life, you may begin to search, not only for the cause behind those events, but for the meaning that might be behind them. In this scenario, you are experiencing what it is like to have crucial support taken from you, allowing you to know intimately what you did to another when you stole what they needed to live a flourishing life. This type of karma is sometimes referred to as self-karma because it is not brought about by the direct manipulation of another person but by an agreement you made with your higher self to understand the ramifications of undermining or destroying another’s life options.
Unemployment as Prima Facie Evidence of Karma
Applying the understanding of karma as above described to my current status of joblessness/ lack of cash flow, I could conceivably draw the conclusion that I am in the throes of self-karma. If it isn’t self-karma, I could be receiving direct payback from those who hired me to work there, assuming they suffered the termination of employment as a result of actions I once took against them. In either case, applying the belief that stressful circumstances are always indicators of karma at work, finding myself unemployed is the direct result of a forced restoration – where my employers took from me what at one time I took from them – much-needed livelihood. And that is one answer to the question “what is going on here, or why did I lose my job?” There are other perspectives, of course. Perhaps karma was being made against me, or perhaps personal karmas play no part at all. The immediate reason why something happens, downsizing in this instance, can point to greater complexity than can be explained away by one simple cause.
How to Know If It’s Karma
How do we determine when karma is at work? I don’t believe there is any way we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we have entered karmic territory, but when you feel as though you have stepped into the twilight zone – meaning that the status quo of your life peels away unbidden to reveal strange images, dimensions or new insights, or time seems to slow down and even freeze, or there’s nothing you can do to convince the other party of your good intentions, then you might be in the zone of karmic payback. Other things may also be going on that have nothing to do with karma and which are not the subject of this discussion, but suffice it to say that karma can feel like what I’ve just described. However, the proof of release from the karmic pudding ultimately comes down to this: you will know when a karmic tie has been released when the charge of the situation is gone. You no longer feel compelled to remain in relationship with someone, or at a job that was replete with unsolvable issues because after the restoration has occurred, you begin to feel calm, balanced, and neutral about the whole thing – that is, after you are done processing your human reaction. It is as if you have awakened from a long nightmare, and you know you are now in your right mind because the fever that once held you in its thrall has finally broken. At this point, it is a matter of choice whether you walk away (assuming you haven’t been irrevocably dismissed), or stay to create a new, healthier configuration which all parties agree to take to a higher level.
Signs of the Times
Sometimes it isn’t the karma of the immediate parties that is in play. It could be the signs of the times, that is, the historical context which everyone is inside of, and which is the common denominator to which everyone across the board, regardless of station, status, creed, race or gender, is subject. According to a July 28, 2013 article, Survey: 4 in 5 face near-poverty, no work (published online at TPMLIVEWIRE by Hope Yen), “Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Survey data…points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.” From another article: “The vast majority of people in the United States will experience poverty and economic insecurity for a significant portion of their lives.” For the statistics behind that statement, see Gary Lapon’s article, Poor Prospects in a “Middle-Class” Society, August 18, 2013, published in the online magazine Truthout.
Without too much argument, I think we can agree that national and world affairs are an inextricable superimposition into the course of our lives, mixing their enormous bandwidth into the much smaller frequencies of our own. We barely need to raise our heads to see that fracking, the broken nuclear reactors of Fukushima, the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, ethnic genocide, human sex trafficking, and many, many more life-ravening actions have a reach and impact far broader and deeper than any personal karma could hope to claim. These acts are karma against the entire planet, generated intentionally on an incomprehensively large scale by the abusive politics of power.
The Global Karmic Pandemic of 2020
In 2020, the entire planet soon found itself at the mercy of a pandemic brought about by a new virus, the Sars-Cov-2. I believe this virus was cultivated through the horrific imbalances resulting from the cruel and unconscionable ways human beings treat animals and the environment. The extreme physical cruelty that caged animals in wet markets and factory farms endure affects their immune system. Forced to live in filth, and lacking health and freedom, they become easy hosts to bacteria, parasites, and viruses which quickly overwhelm their bodies. These malefic entities easily pass to humans (and then the animals get blamed and subjected to inhumane wholesale slaughter.) When you consider that these beings have emotions, live in constant terror and endure horrific pain, it is clear that the damage done is multi-dimensional with far-reaching effects, and is nothing short of sacrilegious.
There is a tremendous disconnect and regard for life generally, and for living beings specifically, including tremendous ignorance about the impact to our planet of continuing to act as though individual actions do not reverberate across the entire matrix of life. I believe this novel coronavirus is a manifestation of the “butterfly effect.” The butterfly effect is the idea that small things can have non-linear impacts on a complex system. Of course, we now have a monstrous impact from a powerful yet microscopic virus that likely began with an assumption that it is OK to do as you please, regardless of the consequences. And this assumption has been repeated innumerable times through the innumerable actions of millions of people around the world.
The effect of this virus, whether one wants to call it karmic or not, is nevertheless karmic in its impact. When I first wrote this article in 2013, the numbers of people suffering from unemployment were far, far fewer. Yet each one of those people suffered no differently from those whose multiple sufferings are directly related to unemployment. At the time the numbers were not enough to influence change in federal and state policies. Now the numbers are striking — off the charts — and yet Congress must argue and delay taking obvious action to do what needs to be done. It is imperative that they do their job and take care their people, or add yet another straw to the unraveling of the structures that support the lives and well-being of human beings. Not doing what you have been tasked to do with the explicit power to do so, especially at the level that can make or break civilization, creates karma.
Karmic Impact, Delays, and Detours
It is not sustainable to be repeatedly knocked down in the name of paying back karma. It doesn’t make sense to continually remove a person’s livelihood from them such that they are unable to carry out their life task and agreements. In other words, it may not be karma that is at work. When we painstakingly created the agenda for the current incarnation we agreed to address our karma – working through past unbalanced painful situations with others, the working out of our own self-karmas — as well as our dharma –through the continuing expansion of our souls. We do this by surrendering to experience, including specific life tasks, agreements, facilitating and mentoring others, relationships, upgrading old skills and learning new ones, and stepping up into a larger (or smaller) game, to name a few. To do both karma and dharma we bring through the themes of a half dozen or so past lives that are consonant with the themes of our current life. The goal is to more fully realize who we are.
But things don’t always work out as planned. Sometimes we have to fill in the gaps, creating and re-creating from scratch. We can get delayed, detoured, or taken out. Sometimes there’s a deliberate abdication by those who agreed to help us. And, life isn’t set in stone. The best-laid plans of the wisest souls are still subject to the slings and arrows of unpredictable fortune – accidents and other people’s choices.
When your efforts to make yourself at home are repeatedly obstructed, it could be because you are presenting yourself for membership in a tribe whose tasks and agreements are not in alignment with yours. They will not recognize who you are or what you have to offer. This is true even if you can function competently in their environment. The phenomenon that occurs in these instances is the lack of familiarity at the soul level and the lack of agreements. It makes one a foreigner. And although foreigners can be seen as attractive because they are different, those same differences can be seen as threatening, and even repulsive. If you find yourself in a workplace where you experience constant abrasion, and the tribe is busy creating “evidence” to support their low opinion of you, it is time to leave. It is not likely you will be able to convince anyone of your value. You may consider that what is at work here is a form of self-karma in which who you are is ironically mirrored back to you by reflecting who you are not.
Finding yourself in situations like this doesn’t always mean that you are working against your own agreements. It might mean that, or it might mean that your community of agreements is not available, and your creativity and willing participation in wherever you find yourself is needed to keep the seams of your life from unraveling. Sometimes it is necessary to make things up as we go. The upside is we develop mastery in flying by the seat of our pants, using our own initiative and wits to keep body and soul together.
The Larger Context
All of us live inside a context that has been written and is being written by, capitalism gone wrong. Those of us who know better make no bones about this – human beings have created a political and economic civilization that is built on the belief of power-over, competition, and “survival of the fittest.” This paradigm is pervasive, and even if one does see right through it, we as individuals are still left to deal with its fallout. Without a cultural belief that embraces the right of everyone to the tree of life, which includes making available the financial resources and opportunities to allow the individual to bring forth his or her best contribution, each one of us is on his/her own. Some of us have family and friends who can from time to time help bridge the gaps, but many do not. Even so, without a larger societal support structure that recognizes the grave reality of unemployment and resulting poverty, the suffering of millions will continue. These comments are also meant to include the handicapped, the aging, the lesser skilled, and those who suffer from debilitating physical or mental issues. Their entry into the “game” is even more severely circumscribed.
The reality is that for most of us, our voice is limited, and our contributions undervalued. Still, we cannot give up or surrender. We must believe in our right to be here, and the right and necessity of carrying out our unique agreements. We must also believe that there is universal truth in this: without our full participation, the evolution of life and of the Tao Itself will be impeded. These times call for collective courage and digging deeper to manifest it. They call for us to be conscious of the ways in which we personally contribute to injustice and inequality, the places where our words and deeds are thoughtless or cruel. Individually, we must do all we can to consciously live righteous lives. In so doing, we can stem the fallout of individual and collective karma.
These times also call for the creation of community that takes its directives from an ideology that fearlessly declares: We are all one; it is unthinkable to leave anyone behind.
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