All I have to do is pay attention. Not so easy, I say. It makes sense in theory, as advice I give to myself or someone else and that anyone else might give to me. In practice, remaining conscious and present so I behave knowing that what I send out comes back to me—that’s a tough one. And though I’ve had six decades to practice, it doesn’t seem to get any easier. My doing, I know.
Last Sunday my friend Steve and I planned a day of enjoying the examples of architecture on the 2011 AIA Albuquerque architecture tour. We began Saturday afternoon by attending a lecture at the University of New Mexico. I had decided to skip church Sunday morning so that we could get an earlier start. Come morning, though, I was beside myself. Events of the previous week had me in their clutches. I wasn’t in the mind to go to church or go on the tour. I just wanted to stew in my anger. Steve suggested that we go to a Center for Spiritual Living different from the one we usually go to. “He’s (the minister) is talking about karma,” Steve added. I need that, I thought. And so I did.
As I sat listening to the minister’s talk (I had heard him only once before and remembered how much his words had rung true for me), I could only say to myself, thank you, thank you, thank you. I could have quietly moved my lips. I could have said it out loud. Most of us misunderstand the meaning of karma—I guess making it into something more complicated and exotic than it really is—the minister offered, in a raspy voice that I now realize characterizes his normal way of speaking. Quoting the work of Deepak Chopra—he summarized it simply. We get what we give. For every thought, action and word, there is a consequence. If I give anger, I get anger back. If I choose to live in distrust, distrust is exactly what I will get. If I can’t forgive—either myself or others—that’s right, then forgiveness is a gift I will be denied. From the scriptures, “…for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7-8, KJV)
Leading up to last Sunday, I had let someone I hardly know tap into my insecurity. I had allowed him to poke a needle into my fears. And I had responded defensively. Cause and effect. I fell into my old habit of being my own worst critic. And ultimately, all I wanted to do was withdraw and look for a place of safety. In the course of that, I became angry. And though I knew the anger shouldn’t be directed at anyone, including me, I wasn’t sure of what to do with it. I forgot what I already know—that what others say to or about us is not about us. It is indeed about them. “Don’t take things personally,” reminds Don Miguel Ruiz in his short book titled “The Four Agreements”. He builds his philosophy on four simple principles: be impeccable with your word; don't take anything personally; don't make assumptions; always do your best. Last week I had fallen into the trap of violating all four of these principles.
I guess it took a bit of a crisis to get me back to where I know I should be. And so it is, I think, for most of us. How easy it is to forget that what we sow is what we reap. Life is full of metaphor and parable and experiences that are oh, so real. At dinner last Saturday night with three others, including my challenge over the previous few days, I thought about the potential power of our words and the power that we give away to others. The only female at the table talked about her experience recently with a man she had allowed to wound her. He had violated her trust. As she talked about the distrust that has taken root in the front of her mind and on the top of her heart, at least for now, I began to think about my own responsibility to myself. It wasn’t until Sunday morning, as the minister made his way around his talk on karma that things began to fall into place for me. They will fall out of place again, of course. But I have the peace of knowing that I know how to do the next right thing. I understand the laws of cause and effect. I believe, absolutely, that what I give is what I get. I know that I am always at choice. I know that no one else has the right or the power to define who and what I am. And so it is.
All I Have to Do is Pay Attention—Albuquerque, NM (May 24, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis