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Typically when I hear the word karma images of a birth and death cycle come to mind.  Actions, speech and thought performed in this life have direct implications on the next one.  While this larger cycle may be true, a much tighter karmic cycle is happening constantly.  The way that we interact with the world has direct and sometimes immediate impact on us.  This may be a future debt that we know is coming due or it may be an instant feeling we get as soon as the harm is inflicted.

The tight cycle still represents the birth and death of our selves.  The birth and death of our ego.  How we treat others,  including our environment, has direct implication on what the ego thinks it is.  Action kills the ego and it is then reborn with whatever karmic debt was created in the last cycle.  It is best not to judge the ego since its life is so short.