This shall henceforth be known as "Part Two of Tom's Pretentious Posts Where He Acts Like He Has a Clue But Obviously Really Doesn't."
Common depiction of karma is either that it's some sort of completely inexplicable mystical hoohaw, or that it's simply sin and punishment. Kick the dog, the story goes, and get in a car wreck.
It's not like that :D There's no global arbiter of karma. Nobody's "up there" doling out punishments. If you kick the dog, you may well go on to live a long and happy life. Well, a long life, anyway.
In reality, karma is both simpler and more complicated. It can be pretty much summed up by the trendy phrase "no matter where you go, there you are."
Let me give an example -- it starts in the men's room. At work, in the men's room, there are three sinks. Two of them have those weird push button faucets you knew and hated from grade school. One of them has a nice lever on/off thingy. The push button ones are annoying, because they always decide to cut off right as you're halfway through washing your hands. So, I quickly developed an affinity for the lever faucet. I'd try to use it if possible.
Of course, I'm not the only one who uses that restroom. There is usually at least one other guy in there just finishing up his business and getting ready to wash his hands at the same time as me.
So, I'd "race" to the faucet. If I could hear some guy rustling around, making "finishing up" noises (to avoid getting graphic, gross, and just plain silly), I'd hurry up with what I was doing so that I could RUSH to get the lever sink first.
A while back, I realized just how silly this was. I'm EXTREMELY competitive and fairly insecure, to I tend to make everything into a race or a competition. That's just silly. Not only that, but the push button faucets, annoying as they are, are technically more hygienic, since you don't have to touch them again to turn them off.
So, I started on a campaign of TRYING to get one of the push button sinks. This was fairly easy to achieve, since most people seemed to gravitate naturally towards the lever sink. So, I'd be finishing up, hearing someone else finishing up, and thinking smugly how they were going to RACE to the lever faucet (how do you spell that anyway? that looks wrong) sink, whereas I was going to casually stroll over to the push button sink.
It started to get to the point where I'd feel a tension in me. I wanted to finish up first just so I could race over and -- use the push button sink. hahahaha! fooled you!
A few days back, I stopped and thought about this. How incredibly fucking stupid!!! I was making all kinds of tension and competition over a stupid bathroom sink faucet! Good LORD!
Another example -- driving. My favorite karmic gridiron. I will be trucking along in the slow lane (my car's too sick to manage more -- it's a good humbler, a sick car!), and I'll see someone pass me, near an offramp, for example. And I'll think sourly, "great, they're just going to cut in front so they can get like THREE car lengths ahead when exiting the freeway."
And sometimes they do. And sometimes they don't.
The point is, I can feel this expectation... as a physical tension inside me. And I thought about THAT a while back. I am a very rude, pushy driver at times. I don't like this, and am trying to change it. As I said, a sick car helps to keep me humble; I just can't zoom around people.
And see, right there -- I do exactly what it is that I accuse others of doing... that I ASSUME others will do.
And that's the core. No matter where I go, there I am. If I'm petty and petulant and judgemental, I assume others will be too. If I make cruel jokes about others, it's only reasonable to assume that they'll make cruel jokes about me. If I constantly compete with others, I'll find that others will constantly compete with me. If I am weaving in and out of traffic, trying to get ahead, I will just be impatient and frustrated. There will ALWAYS be "some jerk" who cuts in front of me or won't let me pass.
The problem is looking for a solution "out there" *points* when the problem is really "in here" *points*. The problem isn't that "jerks" are preventing me from getting ahead... it's that I'm attached to "getting ahead" to the point of silliness. The problem isn't that people are competitive and silly about rushing to the lever faucet sink, it's that I'M being competitive and silly.
And when you -- when I -- act in this way, the universe naturally resists us (or we perceive it to be so). This kind of negative, judgemental, suspicious thinking naturally produces a kind of "drag" or inertia that pulls us back. The harder we fight, the more "drag" we feel.
Now, if I just sit back in traffic and go with the flow... accept that sometimes I'll move quickly and sometimes I won't... the odds are MUCH higher that when I get home, instead of being tired and frustrated, and grumpy, I'll be relaxed and calm. If, when I use the restroom, I just accept that I'll use whatever sink is available, and that what others do is their business, not mine, then a trivial thing like washing my hands after using the restroom won't produce inner tension.
The former way of doing things -- which comes from a "me" focus -- produces karma and karmic reactions. Thinking these selfish, petty thoughts causes the universe to "fight back." It's not really a sentient thing -- there's nobody saying "ah, he's being a DICK, I'll show him!" It's just that the mindstate ITSELF produces the negative results. No matter where you go, there you are.
When you get out of "me" centered thinking, you'll find that you instinctively act in a way that doesn't generate negative karma. Instead of focusing on how you can get ahead in traffic, focus on how you can help ensure that others have a pleasant, safe ride home. And you'll find that people are smiling at you, waving at you in thanks. You'll generate POSITIVE karma. Again -- the only difference is in your mind. The universe is no different. But your focus is now completely different.
In fact, the Buddhists say that karma is the inevitable result of self. That to lose self is to become "transparent" to karma. I firmly believe this, but then again, since I'm still firmly mired in the self, I have no experiential framework for this. I believe it to be true, but I don't understand what that might "be like." So at the very least, I can try for positive karma rather than negative karma.
No matter where you go, there you are. The quality of your thoughts and actions determines what your experience of life will be like. Karma!