The Dharma-Karma Thing
The Dharma-Karma Thing is what I call the sense of two divergent, often dissonant, but equally substantial streams of purpose running through my time on earth. Karma—the world, family, business, stuff, stuff—feels a bit heavy. Dharma feels like the forward unfolding of spiritual Path, my reason for being born. Both carry responsibilities and both bring satisfaction or misery, but one is laden with the past and the other is the freedom of becoming True.
I’ve just spent six weeks with my parents at their Maine island home. This year it was hard to leave my solitude on the mesa in New Mexico. I didn’t want to go, but I did want to have time with my parents. As well, they are elderly and my presence helps them continue to do what they love with a sense of safety. I have my own little cabin so their space is still their own, but I am nearby. Just in case. We visit every day, talk, do things very slowly. I wash a lot of dishes and do piles of laundry which would otherwise heap high.
My practice on the island became sudden bouts of of deep sonorous breath suffusing me with ‘here-ness’, rising suddenly, sweeping off my thoughts, shucking husks off my eyes, and landing my limbs in gravity. Aware embodiment came abruptly, intermittently, uninvited but welcome. Rather than going toward my breath, my breath came to me, rescuing me from the drain of things. I’ve walked toward the ocean for all of my meditative days and now stand in the surf, waves crashing over me.
Living with my parents was the karma of the Dharma-Karma Thing. I repay, gladly I might add, goodness given to me in my childhood. I hope I express, by kind and loving company, gratitude for being so well brought into this world. In past summers I wasn’t very good at all this. Simple, petty frustrations would not subside. I saw how my lashing out riled them and poisoned me. Shame for this immaturity began to torment me. After 50 a person should be able to grow up, yes? And not only in the apparent aspect of actions but right down into one’s core. I despaired of ever outgrowing my habituated resentments, those barnacles of pain.
But this summer was better. On the outside I did almost perfectly. I didn’t provoke my parents or rise to their provocations. Without playing my end of the game, our typically inflammatory interactions petered out. As the outside calmed, my reactive-ness grew fainter, tamped down, then out. I observed its staleness, its dullness, its irrelevance. Yet this was work. The daily four hours with my parents was effort for me, and if not for the years of Sufi practice, learning how to stay put, stay ‘in’, stay focused and weather myself, I would have been incapable of being kind and aware and present with my parents. I would have been incapable of taking on my karma. So though right now I am weary, I feel deep satisfaction. How wonderful to not hanker for approval but instead to seek to usher in happiness. My despair has lifted. There is hope.