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Epigenetics and Karma: Can our present be determined by our past or the past of our family?

After much insistence from some friends, I have decided to write a book.  Do I believe it is because they find me to be such a talented writer or that I have amazing enlightening life philosophies? No.  I assert that it is in response to the insane and often sadly entertaining melodramas that have perpetually played out throughout my 30 years of existence.  At times I have felt like Ron Livingston’s character in Office Space, doing nothing would be a welcome vacation.  My life if crammed into the confines of 12o minutes would be more like Four Rooms, several unbelievable vignettes that somehow collide to form a cohesive yet disturbing and hilarious story.  Initially when I sat down to contemplate the best course of action in order to effectively express the lunacy that I have experienced in a fascinating format, I was totally lost.  It felt overwhelming and far too complicated. How on God’s green Earth will it be possible to cover that much ground and communicate all the elements of my life that have created and molded me into who I am now?  It is too much.  But then I figured that I would use my infamous logic to come up with some sort of game plan and I arrived at this:  I have often wondered how Karma and other stimuli affect the causation of certain experiences that we go through, throughout the journey of our lives?

Being a Buddhist, I believe in Karma and reincarnation which to some may appear ridiculous and too “new wave” but oh well.  My inquiries into the subject are vast and numerous but the most recent relate to whether or not my Karma is also a result of that of my parents or their parents before them.  And perhaps Karma is too much a definitive term than what I am attempting to describe but it works in a general sense.  I am more speculating as to how the circumstances and experiences of our parents can lead to the actual determination of our own experiences and destinies.  This got me to pondering evolutionary theory and Darwin’s assertions on Nature versus Nurture and such. Which as an aside has always been quite thought-provoking to me because based on the fundamentals of Nature versus Nurture, my brother and I DESTROY the concept. More on that later…… Understanding that my knowledge on such subjects is limited, I jubilantly took to the internet and stumbled across Epigenetics.

Epigenetics

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In biology, and specifically genetics, epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence – hence the name epi- (Greek: επί– over, above, outer) genetics. It refers to functionally relevant modifications to the genome that do not involve a change in the nucleotide sequence. Examples of such changes are DNA methylation and histone deacetylation, both of which serve to suppress gene expression without altering the sequence of the silenced genes.

I also came across this amazing article in TIME http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1952313-1,00.html

What does this have to do with my book? Back to my brother and me…. We share the same DNA.  We were brought up by the same people, attended the same schools and lived in the same house and yet you could not have created too more differing human beings.  So how is this possible?  And the mystery extends beyond us and into our parents as well.  In fact if you were to meet the four of us, individually, other than some shared physical traits and intellects, you would most likely never conclude that we are related.  This would seem to negate the theory of Epigenetics as well but I allege that it actually affirms it.

As I have aged, I have been more interested in learning more about my parents’ lives and even the lives of my grandparents and I have discovered that my psychological make up and even neuroses have direct relation to their experiences, either literally or in direct opposition.  By this I mean that there exist the notion that those abused will either become abusers themselves or they will react in an opposite fashion perhaps taking a highly adamant and vocal stance against abuse.  I, of course, am not speaking of abuse within my own experience, I just used that as a commonly known assertion.  During my delve into my own psyche lately, I have concluded that my main psychological malfunction is that I have issues with abandonment.  It is unfortunately a theme that has reared its ugly head several times throughout my life’s narration.  Karmically(made up word) speaking, I would assume that I either have had a pattern of being abandoned and that my lesson is to overcome it or that I myself have been the abandoner and must learn how destructive it is.  In this life, I am guessing that I need to learn to get over it 😉 Oddly and coincidentally enough though, while researching my parents, I have stumbled across the same theme.  Both have at some point been abandoned by their parents, either emotionally or physically.  And going farther back into the lives of my grandparents, the same theme is present as well.  Is it possible that even before we are born we are predetermined to have issues with certain life occurrences? And if it is possible are our reactions to these issues truly demonstrative of our inherent personalities or are they merely the result of awakened cells within our DNA structures caused by the accumulation of experiences and environments of those before us?

Abandonment is certainly not the only similarity that I have uncovered as well.  We have all lead exciting and wholly unbelievable lives.  Never a dull moment.  Never ruled by convention.  Ours are the lives that movies are made of and that are inconceivable and frightening to others.  Is this genetic?  Is it Karmic?  Were we reincarnated into this family unit BECAUSE we were already struggling with the same issues? I am excited to begin researching this project and to hopefully uncover the answers to these questions while telling the tales of several intriguing players.  We have laughed. We have cried. We have struggled. We have overcome. We have survived. We have lived.

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Does it pay to be Good?

I just got off the phone with one of my closest friends and I am left questioning whether or not it pays off to be a good person.  Being a Buddhist, part of the belief structure is that not only does Karma exist but even if it did not we should still all strive to be good and right.  Even in Christianity and Judaism, in fact most religions are based upon some construct involving this same tenant.  Do good and act right or face the consequences.  But is this really practical? Does it actually work out this way in reality?.  I am not so sure anymore.

My friend is an awesome person. He is kind, loving, talented, attractive and amazingly considerate.  He would much rather hurt himself than hurt someone else.  I find all of these qualities amazing and unique but he is still fighting depression and a lack of self-esteem and self-worth.  As I have been struggling with the same thing, we have had many conversations of this nature but this one left me particularly despondent.  He told me that he no longer believed in Karma or even that people got what they deserved whether it be good or bad.  That from what he had learned over the years bad people got away with hurting good people and that they were happier despite their actions.  He believed that no matter how much good we do or how well we try to act inevitably we will still be hurt and most likely be screwed over by all the bad people in the world. His question to me being, so what is the point? Yikes.

I wanted to say something deep, profound, poignant and wise but I was rendered temporarily speechless.  For once I could not honestly argue the point.  I suddenly recalled a conversation that I had with my brother several months ago.  I had called my brother, who lives in the Cayman Islands, distraught.  It was shortly after my break up and I was asking him whether or not I had deserved what was happening to me.  I had chosen my brother to question about this because the nature of our relationship would lend itself to brutal honesty and I wanted an unbiased opinion.  Given that my brother waits for me to make mistakes so that he can point them out, I knew I would get the unadulterated truth.  The conversation that ensued was nothing short of a typical conversation with my brother, all logic and no emotions.  His wise words were something to the effect that bad people do bad things to good people because that is what they do. He said that there was no way that I deserved what was happening but that was beside the point. I was involved with a bad person and he did a bad thing.  That was it.  Nothing deep and profound just you got screwed by someone because they are lacking, not you.  I guess it made me feel better?

It seemed that I had been a frog.  http://allaboutfrogs.org/stories/scorpion.html

As I tried to gather my thoughts in order to tell my friend something positive, I recalled all the situations in which I had witnessed Karma.  I recounted as many as I could to him so that perhaps he would have some faith that all his good deeds and kind behaviour would eventually be rewarded.  As I attempted to demonstrate this, I felt somewhat fake.  Given all my recent experiences I had a very hard time convincing someone that being good IS the point.  After all, I had been destroyed by someone’s actions and he is not effected in the slightest.  I have not even received an apology and he was supported by his entire immediate family in his actions.  He left the country and is apparently quite happy in South Korea.  He does not miss his animals, he does not think about the children we could have had, nothing.  So the question still remained, does it really pay to be good?  Is there a point to always acting appropriately and kindly?  Or are we just fooling ourselves?

My friend also said that he would rather be blissfully ignorant right now than knowledgable and miserable.  He said that maybe all these people who are living in denial and delusion are better off than we are.  It has become such a hard topic for me to argue.  I used to think that being intelligent and self-aware were blessings.  I used to think that Karma was a universal law.  You get back whatever you put out. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  But in a world where people can hurt each other so deeply and commit such heinous crimes against one another, all the while never having to face the consequences is this universal law obsolete?  And if it is what IS the point? Does it really pay to be good?

I hope that it does.  I HAVE to believe that it does.

“A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching.” – Buddha