As she has planted, so does she harvest; such is the field of karma.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib
The Importance of Harvesting Karma
The shrill of the tenth snooze alert goes off and you jump out of bed in a panic and well behind schedule. You heat up the shower, head into the kitchen and brew a cup of Joe. As the coffee drips into the pot, you become entrenched in the sweet aroma and forget all about the hot water running. To your dismay the hot water is now cold and taking a shower is not happening.
This is a fictional account of a plausible experience used as a narrative to explain the laws of karma. Karma is a word that comes from the Sanskrit language meaning ‘action.’ It points to what Sir Isaac Newton coined, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The Yoga tradition adds to Mr. Newton’s claim, there are three ways in which an opposite reaction (or karma) can take place.
The first type of karma is when you take an action and an immediate reaction follows. From the narrative above, you turn the shower nozzle and water flows out. Instant karma.
The second type of karma occurs when the result is not as directly correlated but still clearly related. After you turn the coffee pot on, the water heats up. When it reaches a specific temperature it flows through the pipes and then reaches the coffee grinds. Once a certain weight of water is resting on the coffee grinds, the water penetrates through the grinds, then the filter and you have a cup of coffee.
The third type of karma occurs when you do something in which the result is not known until much later. The shower water heats up, time passes, the hot water runs out and then the shower is cold. Because the shower is cold you don’t take one, only to find out 3 years later that that was the day you became known as the stinky kid.
This oversimplified and somewhat comical rendering of karma is something that we should take seriously. It is valuable because we are always accumulating karma in our life because we don’t sit back passively but engage in it. Since we are constantly engaging we want the results of our actions to be positive and not give rise to future suffering. What it comes down to is being clear about what we are doing and our intentions behind it. From my own life I learned this lesson early in my Yoga practice.
When I first began practicing, I realized quickly that my hips joints were bound with tension. With my ego strong, I diligently worked to increase the range of motion in them because there were a few postures that I was unable to do. Years past and my hips slowly released but not without consequence. I opened my hips significantly but at the same time found myself now struggling with severe right knee pain. In all of the pushing, I failed to realize that I was accumulating karmic debt somewhere else in my body.
Now, with a greater sense of the human structure and biomechanics, I understand why I was doing damage to my knee. If I could go back, I would do it all over the right way, but it is too late. Every action has a reaction and the body is not exempt from this.
My attachment to creating space in my hip hip joint overshadowed the totality of my practice and as a result became crippling. Desire should never inhibit us from seeing clearly and such misperception is what Yoga aims to eliminate. From a teacher’s perspective, I see the same tendency in students that I fell victim do.
I invite you to consider the why behind the actions you take. Are you pivoting from attachment, aversion or fear? Are you coming from a certain identity or limiting belief? When you can say yes to any or all of the above, the karma that comes will not be favorable. In contrary, when you self reflect, dissociate from habit and have trust in yourself, the karma that results will always be supportive. This is the importance of harvesting our own karma.