The carrot and stick of Karma

Growing up in India, Karma was a topic that was ubiquitous.

“You reap what you sow”, “keep doing the work and don’t worry about the outcome”, “he/she is paying for the price of bad deeds done in life” – these were just some of the phrases people around me would use all the time.

I grew up believing that I needed to do good deeds to get good results later in my life. It was like a carrot and stick — “you better do good deeds or God/Universe is going to get you”.

In my experience, believers in Karma often think about the cause and effect of their actions when making important decisions in life.

The cause and effect of the mind chatter

Our thoughts are generally running at 150 miles per hour. They are continuous and judgemental, either towards others or towards us.

These thoughts are also predominantly negative thoughts – how things can go wrong or might not work out or how we are less than someone else, or not enough, or not good enough in comparison to others, or how we don’t belong, or we would rather be doing something else with someone else and somewhere else…so on and so forth.

One of my teachers used to talk about Karma as the seeds we sow through this continuous chatter in our brains i.e. the kind of thoughts we think and the kind of assumptions we make — moment to moment – create our reality and define what we reap further down the line in our lives.

This simple yet profound way of looking at our thoughts that we might be creating our own reality had quite a big impact on me and changed my perception of how I actually create my reality.

It had me realise that every time I have a thought that is based in the belief that I am not good enough or that I am not capable of doing something, I am, in reality, sowing a seed in my subconscious and laying a path that will lead to proving to myself that indeed, “I am not good enough or that I am incapable”.

When I look at my life, I can say with utmost certainty that it has only always been true!

Our brains are creatures of habit

While it has been good to intellectually understand this, I have also discovered that it was a totally different thing to change my thoughts and just start thinking, say, positive thoughts.

Our brains are creatures of habit.

Once we get into a habit of worrying, which most of us do from quite early on in our lives, it is extremely hard to change because it becomes embedded at a deep unconscious level.

An experience of trauma

I recently had an experience where an old childhood trauma got triggered.

When I was a young man living in India assisting my father in his business, an irate customer once pulled a gun on me and threatened to shoot me.

I was terrified after this incident and spent many weeks being very scared. I remember that the trauma would get activated anytime I was caught off-guard.

Over time, though, the memory of that incident and that period got deeply buried in my psyche. I never really thought about it or felt bothered by it.

That is, until last year, when a dispute with one of my business partners and subsequent communications with their lawyers triggered that same trauma.

I was living in a life or death narrative 24×7.

In the beginning, I couldn’t understand why I was so distressed. In my rational brain, I couldn’t understand why I was experiencing such intense emotions, but I think our body has its own way of remembering such trauma.

After a few weeks of struggling to understand and make any sense, it finally dawned on me what was happening and that that old trauma was getting triggered.

Anytime I would get an email, a text or any kind of communication, it felt like a gun was being pointed to my head. I was reliving and reactivating that trauma…again and again and again.

Intellectually, a part of me knew that I needed to change the narrative to something more positive, but found myself incapable of doing so. I felt completely and utterly powerless over it. It was almost like an addiction that I had no control over. I couldn’t sleep at night and was living in a state of constant terror.

My mind chatter was on full throttle and the only thoughts I could think of was that I was in danger and needed to protect myself.

Prayer to the rescue

And then one day, after many weeks of feeling terrified, when I couldn’t take it any more, and my mind was consumed by fear and negativity, I felt that I had no choice but to pray.

The only thing I could do was to surrender myself to something higher than me and hand it over to God/Universe/Higher Power and just pray!

Every time my mind started going down the path of terrified thoughts, I would start reciting the Serenity prayer of Gayatri Mantra (from vedic texts) in my mind, so as to fill my mind with prayer and thoughts of surrender.

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

Gayatri Mantra

om bhūr bhuvaḥ suvaḥ tatsaviturvareṇyaṃ bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥ prachodayāt– Rigveda

That is the only way I could experience any relief in my system during that period.

Thereafter, every time I had a negative or fear-based thought that I was conscious of, I reverted to praying. And every time I did so, my mind would calm down and my entire body would relax.

After a while it got to a point that whenever my mind was empty I would automatically fill it with a prayer, which I ran in an infinite loop.

I do not know for sure if I have found a hack that believers and spiritual people have known for ever, or if I have finally understood and experienced what my teacher explained about Karma. I do think though that praying helped me through that intense period of my life.

Since that time, I have also found that praying is a good way stop my mind from going down the path of the negative chatter.

After struggling with changing my habitual negative thoughts throughout my life, filling my mind with prayer has pushed out the negativity and left me in a state of peace. I have now developed a new habit of praying any time my mind is empty or starts to go down the path of negative thoughts

I definitely have a new found understanding and appreciation for prayer. Praying changed my life!