Ordinary Karma


If we are able to monitor emotional states such as anxiety and motivation throughout the day, we can also build up, from experience, knowledge of the sets of actions that influence the buildup of such emotions later in the day, e.g. reducing anxiety or increasing anxiety; and so on for other sets of actions that influence other emotional states.

For instance, if I organise my TO-DO list earlier in the day and then finish off a couple of actions straight from that list; or I sit down and read fifty pages of a book I had been meaning to read; or I watch a difficult video lecture on a topic I’ve been meaning to learn (perhaps not as a way to put off something more urgent); and I can see, later in that day, that that specific action earlier in the day has resulted in me feeling less anxious and more motivated – this will give me a repertoire of ‘skilful or wholesome actions’ (in Buddhist terms) that I should be doing to improve my condition vis-a-vis emotional states like anxiety and motivation.

And likewise for actions that build anxiety and decrease motivation; after having performed them and experienced the negative state; and acknowledging the connection between the action and the consequent state, I can recognise the action as ‘unskilful or unwholesome’ and might perform that action less often in future.

This is management of positive and negative emotions via actions and learning the inevitable consequences of those actions; not via meditation; not via drugs; not via doing something out of the stream of ordinary actions, to improve our condition with presence of mind.

It seems especially valuable because, inevitably, ordinary life is such actions. Not performing an action is also an action, in this sense. So there is no alternative; some action must be chosen, and we might as well learn to recognise what suits us best.