I had dinner with an old college friend over the weekend. He’s been going through a rough patch for a bit — actually, it’s more than a “bit,” he’s been having challenges for years. A bad divorce, his kids are assholes and treat him badly, his career evaporated and he’s stuck working at a grocery store. He describes himself as “miserable all the time” and having the worst karma ever.

Another friend and I have been trying hard to support him, but it’s tough. He’s just marinating in “miserable.” As we dug into our pasta, he commented that the reason he’s having such a hard time is because he must’ve done something bad in a past life is now paying for it with no way out. Kinda like being strapped into a speeding car headed for a brick wall.

I dropped my fork into my plate of penne alla vodka.

“That’s not exactly the way Karma works, dude.” And I started to talk.

Karma is that belief that we experience a reaction to our actions — both good and bad — in order for us to experience the way we impact others over our many lifetimes. Karmic lessons let us see things from “their” point of view, experience the hurt inflicted from our actions. In this way, we (hopefully) grow.

Yes, you can carry things over from a past life. Let’s say that you were a wealthy landlord in the 19th century and you were cruel to your poor tenants, kicking them out in the snow if they couldn’t make rent. In THIS life, you might experience the anxiety of not having enough money to survive — just to balance out the scales. That’s a very simple explanation of a complex subject.

However, just because you “did something wrong” in a past life, as my friend believes, that does NOT mean that you have to take the ride without some off-ramps.

Working out your “karma” is a practice — not an inevitable punishment. During the life you have now, you are presented with challenges. They may be related to past actions, but many are related to the choices and decisions you are making at this moment.

At any time, you can take a different trajectory. Think of the classic Christmas tale about Ebenezer Scrooge. He’d spent a lifetime pursuing greed at the expense of being a decent human. After seeing a glimpse of his lonely death from the Ghost of Christmas Future, he had an epiphany and lived the rest of his life as a generous, caring citizen and wiped out years of bad karma towards his fellow Londoners.

The main lesson of any lifetime is that we have Free Will. Yes, we may need to deal with certain lessons carried over, but it’s how we respond that can change the game. Unfortunately, my friend is convinced that he’s stuck on a miserable ride with no way to get off. Truthfully, I think it’s just easier for him to believe that. It’s a familiar comfort zone.

Times have been hard for everyone these last few years. Lots of things have risen to the surface, making us reevaluate or look at “old stuff” we’d kept hidden, sometimes for years. It would be super-easy to just sit down in a Pity Puddle and blame stuff that happened in a past life.

But you still have Power. This is the point I’m trying to make; at every moment, you have the power to make a different decision or choice. Not only can better decisions chip away at that Karmic Lesson a lot faster (like making extra payments to get your mortgage paid off faster), it can make the day-to-day much easier. Let your karma be a sort of GPS, not a boat anchor around your ankle.

If you need some help sorting out your particular challenges, I’m here to help.

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