Understanding Karma: The Air-Hockey Game of Life

I was on a yoga retreat in Tuscany Italy a few years ago and I realized that Karma is really just like a big game of air hockey. After a week of yoga, a few of us sat around chatting into the late hours in this amazing 11th century farmhouse. Now you have to understand when you’re doing yoga and meditating alot, particularly with Kundalini Yoga, people can be strange, because a lot of stuff comes out of you when you meditate. It’s actually a lot like that old Bill Cosby joke:

I said to a guy, “Tell me, what is it about cocaine that makes it so wonderful,” and he said, “Because it intensifies your personality.” I said, “Yes, but what if you’re an asshole?”

yogastudio400w1Oddly enough, there’s a similar effect from doing Kundalini yoga or any other intense spiritual practice. It intensifies whatever you’ve got going on inside, at the time.

Don’t cause a cause for which you are not willing to have the effect. Sequence shall lead to consequence, so don’t build that sequence whose consequence you are not willing to face. –Yogi Bhajan

There was one girl on the trip who was, how shall I put it… a bitch. She was pretty and seemingly unassuming, but she made everyone feel weird. Although in her thirties, she had this habit of drawing people in and then pushing them away– exactly like an insecure schoolgirl would. She did this to the men mostly, even the married men. Mind you, she wasn’t coming on to anyone. She would just be open and inviting as a person and when you engaged her fully, albeit harmlessly, she would turn cold and you could practically hear her thinking: “Oh my God, he likes me, he’s got the wrong idea.” As I said, she did this to everyone and by the middle of the week all the guys on the trip had figured it out and most of started steering clear of her.

Well on this last night, a few of us decided to have some amazing Italian wine and hang out, balancing all the good, healthy things we’d been practicing all week. : )

(As an aside, Kundalini Yoga is so powerful that usually serious practitioners don’t drink alcohol. At that time it was early on in my practice and I still drank some… and the wine was quite good, so I have no regrets. I’m not fanatic, but I basically don’t drink alcohol anymore. The high I get off the yoga pales in comparison to anything alcohol could provide and truthfully I loathe even the tiniest obstruction to the blissful highs that I now get. )

It was a lot of fun, as you can imagine, drinking this wine in an old farmhouse after an amazing week of yoga, meditation and travel. We chatted, the four or five of us and I learned that this girl had grown up with pretty strict parents and really hadn’t traveled much. Her behavior made perfect sense. She was acting like a repressed teenager because that’s essentially what she was. As we started feeling the effects of the wine, she got a little flirtatious and started going for shock value in the things she was saying. I was pretty much observing, taking it all in. Then out of the blue she turns to me and says something really bitchy-nasty (which I won’t repeat.)

It was a complete non-sequitur, out of left field. For some reason I just nodded and smiled a bit of a wry smile, as if to say, Thanks for the info, but who asked you, $#@&! ? It was a completely random comment, but for some reason I didn’t reply. I just let it drop.


The next morning I was writing and going over the previous night’s events when I remembered what she’d said. Immediately I got pissed at myself.

Why didn’t I dust her off? I’d done stand-up for many years. I could’ve crushed her like a random drunk heckler. I could’ve made her cry. I could’ve nuked her.

Then the answer came to me as I wrote the next sentence. It was as if some divine presence had been moving through me and prevented me from retaliating the night before. It was very unlike me not to fire back and this made me really wonder why the whole thing had happened. Then a thought came to me: This is the essence of ‘turn the other cheek.’

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Luke 6:27-31. NIV)

Suddenly, I realized all at once that Karma is really just like a game of Air Hockey. In air hockey you’ve got this plastic puck that floats on a bed of air. This allows the puck to move very fast. One player hits the puck toward their opponent’s goal and the puck flies like mad, bouncing off all four sides of the table. The other player tries to intercept the puck and hit it back. Each time a player hits the puck it flies at great speed and bounces around, berserk. This goes back and forth until someone scores and then they start it all over again.

This is exactly how Karma works. Karma is purely Issac Newton’s third law of motion:

“To every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.”

Another way of looking at karma is: Everything you do, you do to yourself. If you can get past the apparent differences and illusions of separation and remember that all energy is the same stuff in its basic elemental form, you realize that the sum total of the energy that makes up your being is the exact same stuff that makes up your opponent, whoever they may be. So, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, because basically, doing unto others is inevitably doing unto yourself.

When someone does or says something to you, you have a choice to react or not to react. If you react, then it’s just like an air hockey game: you react to the puck and it goes crazy, back and forth, the game continues and the cycle of karma goes on and on. However, if as Yogi Bhajan has often said, you “just don’t react,” then the puck eventually glides to rest and the game is over.

It’s the same thing with the commotions in your life. You can choose to react or not react to them. Obviously, there are instances where you have to react. You’re engaged in this life and unless you’re a monk who’s renounced everything for an austere spiritual path, then you have to participate somewhat. However, you have the free will to pick and choose your battles. You don’t have to react to everything. You don’t have to road-rage on the guy who cut you off in traffic and throw him the finger. If you look at everything as an exchange of energy, each commotion in your life becomes a unit of your energy that you can either waste on some jerk or you can save it for something more important. When you realize that, it becomes easy to stop reacting to the crap in your life and begin taking the higher road. Each time you make a higher choice you conserve and build your energy. You add to your grace and subtlety and thus grow closer to your soul. In this way you can save all your energy for the important battles in your life. In this way you become calmer and more centered and can focus on creating the type of life you truly want to project.

What I realized that night, by some divine guidance, was that this girl wasn’t worth my energy. I was really grateful for this lesson. It was a big milestone for me. I tell it to my students all the time.

When you take the high road, it takes you higher. For the most part jerks don’t live at this altitude. They can’t breathe the air up there. Once you take the high road often enough, people like that simply stop happening to you and going higher becomes a habit. By the law of attraction, if you’re not focused on people and experiences like that, then those people and experiences just don’t show up. I’m making this sound easier said than done, but don’t be fooled. It is a daily struggle for even the most saintly on the path. Because after all, every human is either a man or woman first, even before they are god-like. The temptation to give in is always there. You’ve got to make tough choices in life and follow through.

One of the mantras I learned as a cadet at West Point was: “Choose the harder right over the easier wrong.” Walking a spiritual path is all about choosing the harder over the easier. After all, the high road is very likely going to be uphill… at least part of the way.

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  1. LOVE IT.


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