Discovering the True You
Joan Duncan Oliver

Are you ready to emerge from the cocoon of your past?  The key to inner freedom is self-reflection--uncovering the habits that have held you back and identifying your strong points.  With self-knowledge comes the ability to frame new responses and to relate authentically to the world.

Lately, whenever I try to start something new, whether it's a project or a friendship, things don't seem to come together as I'd hoped or planned.  I make all the right moves, but success remains elusive.  Somebody suggested that the problem is something I'm not looking at--a hidden assumption I'll fail, for example.  Maybe so, but I don't see how digging around in my psyche will help.  I simply want to get on with my life.  Any suggestions?

Unfortunately, we can't just set aside what we don't want to think about and assume that it will go away.  Whoever suggested you try a little self-evaluation makes a good point.  When we've exhausted all the excuses for why life isn't working--other people, bad luck, misalignment of the stars--we're left with the possibility that the answer lies within.  Nine times out of ten, it's our fears or doubts or attitudes--carryovers from the past--that are getting in the way of our accomplishing what we want.

Can't I just let bygones be bygones and start afresh?

Unfortunately, "the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind" exists only in movies.  Even if you could ignore the past, I doubt that would make you happy.  The past is the repository of all your experiences--the joys and triumphs, as well as the disappointments.  Without your past, you wouldn't be you.  When you say you want to put it behind you, don't you mean you want to be free of unpleasant memories?

I guess so.  Whenever I think about the past, I have a thousand regrets.  Every "Why did I. . . ?" or "Why didn't I. . .?" feels like karmic punishment for my sins.

Everyone has regrets.  We've all said or done things we're not proud of, or that failed to get us the results we want.  But torturing yourself by rehashing those moments isn't going to put the past to rest any more than ignoring them would.  Karma isn't a cosmic evaluation slip that says, "Too bad, you failed the test."  It's merely a clue to where you need to do some self-reflection.  Karma says, "Mine your experience for what it can teach you about your habitual responses to the world."  You need to find out what's keeping you from expressing fully who you are.

If I look, I'll only feel inadequate.  Maybe whatever is happening now is just my karma, and the best I can do is accept it.

There's a common misperception that karma locks us into what was true in the past.  Fortunately, that's not the case.  Character and personality are malleable.  We can and do change.  In fact, our inner experience of the world changes constantly.  That's why it matters so much what thoughts we entertain.  If we cling to our old ways of thinking, we'll simply respond as we always have and the same things will keep happening to us.  The first step toward awakening is admitting you want something different.

Some things aren't going my way right now.  I suppose my whole life could use an overhaul.

It isn't a matter of overhauling your life--though aspects of your life are bound to change as you develop self-awareness.  This is about understanding who you are at the core.  We all have within us a wealth of resources--everything, in fact, we need for growth.  Evolution has seen to that.  The way to tap that inner wisdom is through self-examination. . . . self-reflection is very practical.  What are the hopes and dreams you cherish, the abilities you aren't yet actualizing?  What are the secrets and nasty little habits you're hiding?  Only if you bring all this to light will you be able to lead the full, rich life you crave. . . .

I see how mindfulness could enhance my experience of the present, but how will it help me put the past to rest?

The only place you can change the past is in the present.  By not focusing on the "story" of your life--the events themselves--but rather on how you interpret and shape those events, you will start to see patterns emerging.  Insight into the assumptions that have been running your life will tell you why things turn out in certain ways.  The patterns and habits you've developed are karmic opportunities.  Unlike age or eye color or family of origin, they're aspects of yourself you have the power to change, which could, in turn, change your life.  Karma arises out of our choices.  When we choose not to respond as in the past, we create the possibility of a different future.

Good Karma shows us how to take responsibility for our words and deeds, to listen to what our conscience is telling us, to behave in a way that won’t undermine our prospects for happiness, and to examine specific actions closely and untangle the right from the wrong.  The karmic view on decision-making discussed so intriguingly here is one of the trickiest, most essential forms of self-analysis that we can undertake—and one of the most rewarding.

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Due to having made karma, rebirth consciousness arises. But we need
not think of rebirth only in a future life. We are in actual fact reborn
every moment with new thoughts and feelings, and we bring with us
the karma that we made in past moments. If we were angry a moment
ago, we are not going to feel good immediately. If we were loving
a minute ago, we would be feeling fine now. Thus we live from
moment to moment with the results of our karma.

Ayya Khema



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People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are
going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are
being punished. That's not the idea at all. The idea of karma is that
you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To
the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting
your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given this gift
of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything
you need to open further.

Pema Chodron


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