When we embark on the spiritual journey and begin to pay attention to the habitual patterns and core stories that have such a powerful hold over us, we discover that we’re endowed with a unique set of issues and circumstances that we don’t necessarily share with others. Some of us have health or relationship problems, others have difficulty with money and career. Many struggle with feelings of unworthiness, others with anger, aggression, entitlement, and a competitive drive to dominate. Whatever form they may take, these patterns are inevitably not our own creations, though we may consciously perpetuate them. Rather, they’re somehow handed to us through some combination of childhood conditioning and genetic endowment and then reinforced or modified by the experiences we encounter as adults.
This collection of tendencies, beliefs, and behavioral patterns, which was passed along to us without our conscious consent, I like to call our karmic bundle. We didn’t choose it and are certainly not to blame for it, though we may mistakenly believe it’s our fault. In the end, however, we are ultimately responsible for coming to terms with it and, if we’re on the path of awakening, releasing its hold over us. Often it’s passed like a hot potato from one generation to the next—unquestioned patterns, issues, and tendencies shared by family members down through the ages— until one person has the courage and tenacity to face it, unravel it, and move beyond it.
In the deepest sense, our karmic bundle is our most demanding teacher, uniquely suited to provoke our reactivity and cause suffering and stress, which in turn forces us to look for a deeper ground and identity beyond the personal. At one level, the karmic bundle is another name for ego, and as with ego it’s best not to struggle with it—after all, the only thing that can struggle with ego is more ego!—but rather to welcome it as it is without resistance but also without identification and allow it to release on its own in the light of awareness. It’s not actually personal, though it usually feels that way, and it doesn’t define us; it’s not a being but a mechanism that runs on autopilot and lacks the fluidity and adaptability of awareness that is genuinely present and responsive to the way things are. The more we see this bundle not as what defines me, but as an object in the awareness that I am, the more easily we can set it down once and for all.
More broadly speaking, our karmic bundle also contains talents and skills, emotional sensitivities and psychological strengths, that serve us well in this human life and make us wiser, more successful, and more compassionate human beings. But these too are not our personal creations, but the gifts we receive, which, like the burdens we carry, do not really belong to or define who we really are. You are not your karmic bundle, whether so-called positive or negative, but the ground of awareness, spirit, or consciousness, which is beyond limitation or definition and undisturbed by the difficulties and dramas the mind creates.