Cause and effect (karma) is a spiritual idea that is much talked about. We understand it in terms of how our actions and even our thoughts have consequences. We reference the laws of physics, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” It’s basic science 101. We then call this a universal law – meaning it applies to the physical and spiritual worlds. It’s all well and good when we push on a door and it opens – cause and effect – but it gets a little more theoretical when we talk about the consequences of a selfish action or a cruel word. Can there possibly be measurable effects for gossip? It starts to sound less scientific and a lot more debatable, right?
Kabbalists teach that any action, kind or unkind, sets in motion a chain of reaction of effects – what we put out in the universe we in essence get back. But here’s the thing, it doesn’t, for the most part, happen right away. The effect is delayed from the cause whether it’s a good deed or a negative deed. This space in between cause and effect is time, which is what creates the illusion of randomness, when in fact there is order. The reason time is such an important factor in the cause and effect equation is so we can establish and exercise our own free will. Free will is what allows us to make the choices we do, without immediate recourse.
A new field of epigenetics is explaining the laws of cause and effect in never before imagined ways. Our DNA is not our destiny; our genetics are not hardwired like we have been taught. Our actions and our choices are actually written on our bodies, altering the way our DNA behaves and not just OURS, but often creating alterations that last generations. In fact, like a switch, they can be turned on and off depending on our environment and our experiences. Scientists and Journalists refer to the “on/off” gene switches as “tags” or “marks”. Imagine making a decision now that will be written into the code of your great grandchildren? It calls into question the whole element of time and postponed consequences, doesn’t it? Suddenly the idea that actions have far reaching consequences feels much more immediate – urgent even.
Are we aware of the switches?
Think about this: parents caution their kids not to smoke, because “It’s bad for you!” Instead, what if you told them, “If you smoke, your children (MY GRANDCHILDREN) will be overweight, prone to heart disease and – God forbid – die 10 years younger than their peers.” That should get their attention, and it also happens to be true. The consequence of smoking at this age differs for boys and girls because this is a critical developmental time for male reproductive systems, whereas girls are born with all of the eggs they will ever have.
It’s not just physical or environmental factors that affect our epigenetics – abuse in young children causes epigenetic changes in how they cope with stress for the rest of their lives, and probably that of their children. It is through epigenetic marks that environmental factors like prenatal nutrition, diet, and stress can make an imprint on genes that are passed from one generation to the next. Countless papers and studies over the past twenty years have proven that if a pregnant woman eats poorly, her child will be affected by those choices. Poor nutrition during pregnancy results in a significantly higher than average risk for cardiovascular disease when the child becomes an adult.
When pregnant, there is a vast array of do-eats and do-not-even-think-of-eating information out there: no sushi, no alcohol, no unpasteurized cheese, limited caffeine … your lifestyle shifts to ensure the health and happiness of your child. The information we have access to now is astonishing. For instance:
· Baby lotions containing peanut oil might be partly responsible for the rise in peanut allergies.
· High maternal anxiety during pregnancy is now being associated with the development of asthma in children.
· Children scored slightly lower on I.Q. tests if their mother was overweight going into their pregnancy.
· Studies indicate that moderate exercise during pregnancy slightly lowers birth weight and can have long-term benefits by lowering the risk of obesity later in life.
The facts out there are astounding.
The great news is that through epigenetics we are learning how to modify our genetic tags through lifestyle choices. For years people have suffered with the fear of their own DNA – there’s a feeling that if you find out you have the breast cancer gene, or that heart disease runs in your family then somehow you are DOOMED. But with this knowledge, we can empower ourselves by making better lifestyle choices for ourselves, our children, and their children down the road. We can remove the environmental pressures like stress, bad eating habits, and smoking from our lives, and live longer, healthier and happier lives.
The physical world we live in is a world of effects, and the cause always lies with our choices and our actions. Rav Berg taught that we can be the cause of our own revelations in this life. In fact, it’s our purpose to do so. In order to be the cause in our own lives, and not merely the effect, we need to view cause and effect as two parts of a single entity, and not two separate and unrelated entities. Once we understand that everything is innately connected to a whole – the Light of the Creator – and integrate them as one, we can start to restore and heal ourselves, our environment and even the world.
The Zohar, the main kabbalistic text, states, “…a man is disconnected from the Light of the Creator, enslaved to the will of his ego, ruled by the anger and hostility borne of rash behavior, this and nothing else, is the root cause of all illness, for it causes darkness on the spiritual level and dysfuntion on a physical level. The foods we eat are merely an effect and not the ultimate causative factors behind heart disease and other illnesses. They are simply the tools used by the negative forces to physically manifest the spiritual darkness caused by our wrongful and insensitive behavior.”
Kabbalistic teachings and years of scientific research are teaching us exactly the same thing – the answer we seek lies beyond both nature and nurture, beyond our genetics and our experiences. It is these epigenetic “marks” that tell your genes to switch on or off. However, what you have inherited can be reversed. Be mindful of what you eat, take care of your body, find ways to manage your stress. Make better choices that give you and your loved ones a healthier life, but don’t neglect the spiritual aspect of your health. The Zohar explains that our behavior towards others, our manner of living, be it spiritual or physical, is the ultimate determining factor that decides between health and sickness. We have the power to change the most fundamental aspects of ourselves, down to our very cells.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION:
Start to really look after yourself and others. Make positive choices physically and spiritually. Flip the switch today.