Untangling the mystery of Karma
Sat cold, soggy and miserable, as the heavy rain poured down the steamed up van windows, I turned to Chris with tears streaming down my face.
“What are we going to do?”
He told me not to worry. That everything would work out, that things have a way. But it was hard to believe. I was due to start my new job in a couple of days and we had no clean clothes, nowhere to live, nowhere to shower and it seemed like our new dream life in New Zealand was over before it had even started. My staff accommodation had fallen through, Chris no longer had a job and we had nowhere to go but back Otto McDonalds conservation campsite where we had been living for the past week. I didn’t know it, but my faith in Karma was about to be ignited.
A few years ago, my husband and I were fed up with our 9-5 office based jobs. We wanted an adventure; something new and exciting, something different. One day Chris told me he'd had enough.
"Let's just go somewhere" he said. I didn't take much convincing! Little more than a month after this conversation, we had given up our rented flat, sold all of our things, packed a bag and used the money to book a one way ticket abroad.
After traveling around South East Asia for a few months, I found my dream job in New Zealand. I would be working as a massage therapist in a luxurious 5 star rainforest retreat hotel in Franz Josef, a tiny township on the South Island. We were so excited! Franz Josef is one of the few places in the world where you have beaches, mountains, rainforests, glaciers and lakes all in one location. It is breathtakingly beautiful. And with only 400 permanent residents, it promised tranquillity away from the noise and bustle of the busy city we’d been living in for the past few years.
We arrived in New Zealand in December just as the weather was starting to get warm, bought a converted campervan and set off on our journey to the South Island. I would be starting my new job just before Christmas. Kiwis are notoriously laid-back, easy going people and the friendliest I’ve ever met. We had a blast making friends and meeting new people and arrived in Franz Josef full of energy and excitement.
Tourist season begins around September in New Zealand and by the time we reached the tiny little township, the limited accommodation available had already been allocated to the workers there for the tourist season. Luckily, Chris was able to secure us a one bedroom apartment through a job he took at one of the hotels. We thought everything would be great. However, after 4 days in a row of 14 hour shifts, exhausted, down-trodden and with blisters on the soles of his feet, Chris had been told that he was expected to work 70 hour weeks for the rest of the tourist season. Giving up the job, meant giving up the apartment but we knew we hadn’t travelled half way across the world for Chris to spend 70 hours a week cleaning rooms in a hotel. He quit the job and we moved back into our van.
Ever the optimist, “Something will come along” I told him. But a week later, after exhausting all options, hope started to fade and sitting in the van with nowhere to go, eventually I broke down in tears.
After a good cry and a few "everything happens for a reason" moments, we decided to head back to the campsite for the evening. Driving back from town, we saw 2 bedraggled looking hitchhikers on the side of the road. Standing thumbs out in their scraggly worn clothes with soggy backpacks with pans and shoes strapped on, dangling and clanging together in the rain, they looked in need of some help.
We offered them a lift back with us. Turns out, Dom and Olly were on the Kiwi Experience tour bus which travels the whole of New Zealand visiting key places, doing extreme activities and partying every night. But having used up all of their money in the first 2 weeks, Dom and Olly could no longer afford to stay in hostels and now, using donated equipment from various people they'd met on their travels, they were camping instead.
Their bus ticket, which was already paid for, was the only way they could get back to Auckland, where they would be able to stay for free with a relative until their flight home. Only trouble was, the bus was not direct. It was due to stop at every town up and down the South and then North Island on the way. So each night, when the bus arrived in a new location, they parted from their fellow travellers who checked into warm cosy hostels and partied in the local bars, and hitchhiked to the nearest campsite where they set up their leaky tent and slept together with one fleece blanket someone had given to them. They had a little handheld video camera that they were using to make a ‘documentary’ about their travels!
We cooked a curry on our little campstove and got a couple of beers out. Dom and Olly were playing catch with a hard stale old bagel. As he reached for the catch, we heard a loud rip.
Olly had ripped a massive hole in the crotch of his only pair of trousers. Staring down at the devastating situation, they both burst out in fits of laughter. They were truly inspirational people. No matter how bad a situation they were in, no matter how cold, wet, tired or hungry, they treated everything as a new experience that they could laugh about. Their sense of humour never tired and they were so upbeat, positive and thankful for their good experiences, that the bad ones didn’t matter. What a great perspective!
They told us they’d run out of food so we shared our curry and beers with them and I have honestly never seen such appreciation in my life! They literally counted and split each piece of onion or mushroom in the pot to make sure it was fair and savoured every bite and sip. We donated all of our tinned goods to them and a couple more beers. It was nothing to us but it made their day.
The next morning we heard more exclamations of “Oh noooo!” as it turned out that the tent had leaked through the night and all of their clothes and books had gotten wet.
“Not ’84!” Olly exclaimed before they both erupted in fits of laughter. It was impossible not to be infected by their upbeat positive vibes.
We shared breakfast before dropping them off in town. They still had one more night before the bus left for the next destination but they told us they planned to set up their tent and shelter in the bushes by the road so they were sure not to miss the bus when it left early the next morning.
Dom and Olly had inspired us with their positive attitude and I felt optimistic again. In town, we decided to look up and old friend of Chris’ from school whose facebook profile said she lived in the town. We had tried a few days earlier but she had gone away for the weekend. Knocking on the door I felt nervous. Were we intruding? What if she didn’t want to be bothered? Then I thought, what would Dom and Olly do? Surely they'd knock and if it didn't work out it would be another part of their story to laugh about.
I could hear movement behind the door, someone coming. I started to fidget. Suddenly the door swung open and we were greeted by a huge smile!
“Oh my god! Come in!” She said.
I’d never met Kerry and her partner, Adam, before and Chris hadn’t seen Kerry since school but even so, she was thrilled to see someone from ‘home’. They made us a cup of tea and we spent all afternoon chatting, catching up and getting to know each other. It turned out that we had loads in common. We talked about home, about people Kerry and Chris knew from school and about how it was living in Franz Josef, our jobs and the trouble we’d had in the past week and all about the inspirational hitchhikers we had met.
Adam told us he knew of a job opening at a hostel up the road that Chris might like. As evening approached, they asked us to stay for tea, offered us beer and bought us a pizza! They had been living in Franz Josef for the past 3 years and were managing a hostel there. Just as it was no big deal for us to give away our tinned food from the supermarket to Dom and Olly, Kerry assured us that it was no big deal for them to buy us a pizza.
“Stay here tonight!” Kerry said.
She offered us a free motel room with a double bed and a shower. It was absolute HEAVEN!!!! That night I cried again, this time tears of absolute happiness and gratitude. How amazing that 2 people who we barely knew, had done so much to help us out. The parallels between how we helped out Dom and Olly and how Adam and Kerry helped us played on my mind. Was this karma? The next day Chris got the job at the hostel up the road and we were offered a room in a beautiful shared house with a lovely garden, just up the road. By the time my first day at work came around I was well rested, showered, wearing clean clothes and ready to go.
I believe that this was karma. We didn’t help Dom and Olly because we thought it would make someone else help us. We did it because they needed help and we could. But the impact of us doing a kind thing for someone else was that we were infused with their positive optimistic energy. Perhaps that's what Adam and Kerry felt? Had we been feeling defeated and low that next day, maybe we wouldn’t have knocked on Kerry’s door and none of the positive things that came from that would have happened. Who knows? Buy maybe, just maybe karma was at play there.
I always try to be kind, help people, do nice things and stay optimistic and positive because now I really believe that putting out positivity will spread optimism and happiness out in to the world where we can all enjoy it.
Karma is one of those words we see and hear a lot in popular culture usually in reference to seeing someone get their comeuppance for having done something mean. There are tons of YouTube videos entitled “instant karma” in which, in trying to do something mean to another person or animal, a person ends up hurting themselves. Sometimes there's this mystical hippie vibe around Karma, used as an explanation for bad things that happen in the world. But to me both of these seem to be slightly twisted perceptions of a very old and pretty simple concept.
Karma is a Sanskrit word which, in ancient Vedic texts, originally held the meaning of sacrificial work or deeds to be carried out in the hopes of future rewards. Over the years as different people interpreted the Vedic texts, concepts and religion, it began to take on a more ethically related meaning. In religious terms, Karma is the ethical element to rebirth; the idea that your actions and intentions in this current life will have a direct impact on your future in this life and the next.
More simply put, and without religious connections, Karma is just cause and effect. It’s the idea that your actions and intentions will positively or negatively influence future events for you depending on whether they are good or bad. And that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s not pretentious or mystical – just common sense. Be nice to people and usually they’ll be nice back to you. Help someone out when they’re in need others will probably be willing to help you out if you’re ever in need. Be positive, and those around you will feel more positive too.
I’m not saying that you should only do nice things in anticipation of being rewarded with nice things back. What I mean is that if you’re the kind of person who genuinely cares about and helps others, people will act positively towards you. Think about the people you like. You probably like them because they’re good people: they make you smile, give you advice when you’re in need, cheer you up when you’re down, listen when you need to talk. And you’re nice to them, not because you feel you owe them something back for all the ‘good deeds’ they’ve done for you, but because, quite simply, they’re nice people.