person-centered practice


I believe in ghosts: karma and ahimsa

As a scientist by birth and training this is hard to admit: I believe in ghosts. 

Let me explain: as we move through the world, we leave parts of ourselves behind like the wake trailing a boat. Some of it is very literal: hair, skin cells, oils from our fingertips, and footsteps where we touched the ground. When we occupy a space we transform it, from the carbon dioxide that we expel on every exhale to the physical reordering of atoms in the air and on surfaces that we touch. If we live in the industrialized world, we likely leave behind a mountain of waste in our lifetimes, some in landfills, some recycled, some floating in the ocean far from where it was dumped. These are all our ghosts, signaling our passage through space and time and leaving a physical trace. Sometimes we attach value this passage of people through spaces, noting the site of a famous speech or battle or someone's slumber. 

We also leave ghosts of ourselves in our interactions with other people. Every interaction has an impact, large or small. We have all experienced this: how something nice and positive can turn around our day or how a negative interaction can transform how we feel about ourselves. Each of us have the power to transform others' experiences of the world through our actions. 

All of these actions and their effects are what we sometimes call karma. Karma isn't inherently positive or negative, but can be characterized as the waves that ripple out from each action that we take. We never know the final impact of our actions but we can do a lot to affect the amplitude of the wave and consider who's boats might be caught up in that wave 

We have a great impact on the world around us. How do we want that impact to take shape? 

Recently, I was asked what gets me out of bed in the morning. I really had to consider it, but ultimately it was the idea that I might have a net positive impact on the world. But that's a lofty goal that has a lot of mitigating circumstances (how many resources am I consuming? what about unintended consequences?) so I had to scale back to hoping to do no harm, practicing what yogis call ahimsa. We are trying not to make more ghosts -- unsettled energy that negative impacts others -- in the world. 

So how do I know that I am putting that intention into action every day? I have a meditation that I use in most of my classes and in my own personal practice:

  • What do I feel in my body?

  • What do I feel in my heart?

  • Where is my attention and energy being drawn?

  • How do all of these things impact how I interact with the world around me?

Give it a try and let me know how this works in your personal practice.

Alissa Nelson