I’ve noticed a peculiar set of coincidences that frequently occur regarding my interactions with thrift stores. In particular, whenever I drop off a sizeable batch of belongings at the Goodwill, I later go into the store to browse, and discover something nice that I can actually use. For instance, I donated a stack of blue jeans and slogan t shirts; then afterwards while browsing the racks, I stumbled across a new Polo shirt with hangtags in my size. It was priced at less than $5, so I bought it.
So I got rid of clutter and received a practical, stylish reward in return. This might be explained by cognition or expectations, but this phenomenon happens nearly every time I donate a trunk load of items to Goodwill. I don’t know how many other people experience this because I have not formally interviewed anyone about this type of circumstance. I do know that my friend Shelly has noticed this type of “Karma” happen to her, too.
Whether these incidents occur due to supernatural forces or simply as a result of coincidence is up for popular debate. I believe this happens to me because of expectations and paying closer attention to the post-donation shopping trip. Regardless of cause, it is a delightful experience. At the very least, it seems to demonstrate a primary law of life–give and take.
Regarding practical, social matters, to accept people’s favors and generosity, yet not return the gestures in meaningful ways, can be interpreted by others as greed or selfishness. To act hostile and vegeful towards others even though they did nothing to deserve it causes others to react defensively. To give credence to casual rumors one hears about others is to give credence to hearsay. Basing actions and speech upon these is heartless and cruel. Such toxicity leads to personal disputes and in a larger sense it is at the heart of bigotry, prejudice and other forms of social discord.
At the very least, in the positive sense, our lives involve give and take. We can feel gratitude and give thanks while taking nothing for granted. The popular belief is “what goes around comes around”. Many people call it the Golden Rule, others say it is Karma. These are comforting sayings because we want to believe that justice happens regardless of whether it is good or bad. The belief is disproven when incredibly good things happen to people who commit evil and when senseless tragedy happens to profoundly good people.
There is a popular misconception about Karma–that it is a cosmic, universal force that institutes reward and punishment. It is often thought of as some sort of binary, dualistic supernatural force. When in reality, it is simply a belief in order. Good things and terrible things happen to us regardless of our beliefs, thoughts, and behavior.
A tornado leaves a swath of destruction and tragedy through a town regardless of the nature of the town’s residents’ behavior. Likewise, the rest of the town is left untouched regardless of the citizens’ beliefs and behaviors. A tornado is a meteorological phenomenon that occurs whether or not we “deserve” it. We increase our chances of survival by taking measures to find shelter against the storm.
However, while the nature of give and take or Karma is not a reward or punishiment system, it is often a way to teach us wisdom. Karma does not have to dictate our fate. If we pay attention, give and take teaches us to exercise compassion in our dealings with others and ourselves. We create our own Karma and we can tweak the after effects of our actions with balance and discernment. How we habitually think and behave is what we allow ourselves to become. This is nothing new, it has been understood since ancient times.
All things considered, every person is solely responsible for her or his actions. Each action will leave an impression in the mind. The impression becomes the seed of a possible habit. This is why mindfulness is so important. When we pay close attention to the activity, we are better able to choose whether or not to repeat that activity in the future. Doing this reminds us that we are ultimately responsible for our actions, our speech, and our fate.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Leonardo da Vinci. “Learn to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”