As we grow more aware of who we are, we naturally notice that we are connected to all of life. We stop feeling separate, we stop feeling better than someone else, we stop our old patterns of “pushing through” life. Life itself becomes a song of love with its tenderness – because we ourselves have become softer, kinder, and more peaceful. This awakened life is naturally more gentle – like a whisper, like a butterfly kiss, like a pleasant cool breeze on a hot summer day.
I’ve never actively chased awakening or enlightenment. I never thought much about it. The first awakening happened by accident through an accident 10 years ago. Thinking back, I guess I’ve always known something BIG would happen in my life and I would die at a young age. I was okay with it. I was forced to have my hand read by old Chinese gypsies and wise monks when I was a child by my mother. Some of them warned my mother that my life line disconnects and there’s a strong chance I would not make it past my 28th year. The number 28 in I-Ching symbolizes a significant test in one’s life where the pressure of karma accumulates into a pinnacle.
Needless to say, the younger me was not at all gentle. I think there were many reasons why. Growing up, I was a “Tom Boy” and I climbed up trees and got mud all over my face. I think my mother guided me into being a “Tom Boy” because I was always afraid. The first time I got a cut on my knee and saw blood, I thought I was going to die. In order to toughen me up, my mother had me play with the boys and be one of the boys. It did help me to have more confidence in my own ability to survive. I was also a slow learner. My father was the orchestra conductor of Xi’an Academy of Music and he was surrounded by over-achieving excellence. And I was not excellent. So I had to be shaped into excellence. I did enjoy music, but I was terrible at following instructions. I found reading music sheets a form of torture. But I had to push through it with two hours of practice per night after school and after homework. I learned early on that life is a constant struggle, and that there’s only work with no joy. Perhaps it is also in the genetics of the Chinese culture that emphasized the survival of the fittest. Since I wasn’t physically strong, then I must become book smart and emotionally strong. Therefore I must adopt the type A personality structure in order to make it in this lifetime.
Yes, a type A over-achieving “Tom Boy” is definitely not a gentle being. But it was the way things were. It got me far in my career but it was exactly the sword that nearly killed me. This type-A-pushing-through-life attitude masked my true emotions and physical exhaustion during a half iron-man race – giving me the perfect opportunity to experience the accumulative pressure of karma.
Karma refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual influence the future outcome of that individual’s life. Karma means it was my doing that resulted in my own misfortune or it could also mean it was my doing that resulted in the wonderful fruits of my labor.
It was my karma that caused my cycling accident 10 years ago. It was this drive to do more, be better, achieve more in me that pushed me off that bike going fast down a hill. Karma is a bitch. And the person that created the bitch was ME.
Today, a bit over 10 years since my accident that nearly killed me, I am able to revisit some of the painful memories. In a way Life spared me so I can re-do my life. The old wounds of karma still hurt. But looking at the outcome as I was the one who caused my own pain is enlightening.
Today, the day after I trimmed the trees and flowers in my garden, the sunlight seeps through in the morning on my patio to greet the butterflies, hummingbirds, and snails alike. I opened my eyes after meditation to find Love – sitting – right there – within me.
“He has the right to experience the consequences of his actions,” said the wise young mother as she walked to the car. Moments later, a small boy ran out the door with open shoe laces, backpack in one hand and a half bitten waffle in another. He did manage to hop into the car seat with all of his belongings. He buckled himself in and without a word in the backseat, he finished the rest of the waffle while mom drove to school.
Her words struck me…
Years ago my family visited an old monk who served us tea in his temple. Grandma asked for a safely protected life for our whole family. The old monk looked around and laughed, “life is just a series of cause and effect.” I chuckled to myself as I caught a glimpse of his gaze.
“What do you mean?” mom asked sincerely.
“Well, if you drink tea now you will later have to use the toilet. The act of drinking tea is the action that causes the effect of using the toilet.” I held my head high and did my best to explain the little bit I knew about the source of karma.
“Yes. Just as such – an action will always cause a reaction. This is the law of nature. If you eat something bad, your stomach will suffer. This is not because buddha did not have compassion upon you, this is because you made a choice that is causing your suffering.” The old monk gently rinsed each of our tea cups as he spoke.
One of the reasons I studied science is because I was drawn to the exploration of nature, the exploration of cause and effect. In my tissue engineering class, we searched for various pathways embryonic stem cells transform into other types of cells in the body. Depending on the chemical environment, stress-strain conditions, cellular orientation, and other factors, two stem cells can have a very different destiny. Under the microscope a neuronal cell differs from an enteroendocrine cell in both appearance and function, yet they started from the same source. This is just the microcosm expression of karma – the starting point for both is neutral, the causes differ, hence the outcomes diverge.
In the macrocosm expression of karma, human destiny takes a similar course but with more layers of cause and effect. As we live our daily lives, each moment we incur “causes” in the forms of thoughts, words, and actions. And sometime later we experience the consequences of our actions. These consequences can be joyful or painful. Hopefully we use the consequences to learn if our actions are beneficial for us and those around us. From our learning we have a choice to do things differently the next time around.
In the case of the small boy who ran out the door with his half-eaten waffle, he ended up arriving late to school, which lost him the title “star student of the day”. He arrived home that day feeling sad because of his lost title. To feel better, he ate lots of candies. Unfortunately he later faced an awful stomach ache from his over consumption of sweets. A classic tale of cause and effect.
The boy learned the next day that he better not allow himself too much time to play while eating breakfast. He walked out of the door with his backpack on, held onto mom’s hand and walked to school. Having arrived 10 minutes early and maintained his good attitude throughout the day, he became the “star student of the day”. He joyfully skipped home from school and had a good rest of the day. This too was his creation, as he learned from the previous day, he made different choices with very different results.
Of course when there are multiple layers of cause and effect, the process of learning becomes more difficult. Sometimes I can get overwhelmed when the complexity of layer effects increase. In my youth, I often misinterpreted events and came up with wrong conclusions. Other times instead of taking personal responsibility to examine my own actions, I can play the ostrich or even blame the outside world for my own emotional dramas. Obviously, both strategies lead me nowhere.
Then I did something different.
I vowed for directness and honesty. In both what I reveal to myself as well as to others. I vowed to be truthful and direct the best I can each moment. No more trying to convince myself of the lies I’ve created, nor hide without looking deeply at my own actions. I vowed to stay on my path of truth. I can’t say it was always easy, but the more I practiced the easier it became to maintain my balance.
Nowadays I can disassemble the layers of cause and effect, recognize the cause of my suffering, learn from my past choices, make different choices, and live a life filled with peace and love as my natural state of being.
A few weeks ago I went home to see my 88 year old grandma. She held onto my hand tightly and said, “don’t go, just stay with me, it is safer at home!” I gently opened her grip, kissed her on her cheek, “don’t worry grandma, I am safe.”