There we are quickly buttoning, zipping, brushing, opening, closing, and rushing. So much to do. So little time. As we continue to rush, our blood boils, our veins tense, our hearts race, and our breath becomes labored. We look through our glass windshields almost through the cars in front of us, as if we could magically propel them forward. Our minds race with the day’s obligations, and we wonder how many things we can cut out of our day to accomplish these tasks. We gaze up at the rear view mirror only to see a zombie-ish impression of our well-rested selves, pale and somewhat bewildered.
Then, it happens. We see some well coiffed passerby, looking well-rested, and casually talking to a friend or walking their dog. Envy seizes the moment. How great would it be to be that person? Must be nice. What a difficult life they must live. If only I could park my car, and join them. Of course, I probably wouldn’t waste all of that time walking my dog or talking to someone. I’d be on a boat somewhere with the sun on my back, and the wind in my face.
Envy is smug, and lives on a make believe mountain of power. Envy thinks that speaking condescendingly about others clearly demonstrates superiority and a nature more deserving than others. To save itself from the harm of acknowledging displeasure with its current state, it focuses on how others are wasting their good fortune.
Somewhere hidden in this stance is the profound suffering that occurs when someone who is suffering notices someone who is not. Then, secretly suspects that they are the cause of this suffering: pain that feels it might go on like this for some time. The fantasy is that using envy makes it easier to accept the success of others given your current dearth of good fortune, and that the universe will somehow hear your rhetoric and reward you for being the first to know that you deserve better than your present condition.
The Mindfulness View of Envy
According to Mindfulness practice, we would say that remaining in a state of envy is akin to dwelling in an illusory state, which increases your suffering by diminishing the resources you have to deal with present challenges. The longer you stay, the greater the story you create around your experience. The greater the story, the more difficult is it so remain present, and allow difficult feeling states to pass on to more neutral or positive feeling states. The more time you spend holding on to this feeling state, the greater the build up of unprocessed experience, which leaves the mind preoccupied when it is called upon to plan, problem solve, or act effectively in the present.
If envy is so bad for us, why do we find ourselves engaged in it? We use envy, when we are feeling too exhausted and stressed to manage our current experience, and are pessimistic about our future. The body and mind grow concerned that they are not able to resolve current dilemmas, and the mind resolves this conflict between desire and behavior by changing its outlook. We call this resolution through cognitive dissonance.
Basically, Leon Festinger’s research on Cognitive Dissonance revealed that when someones’s behavior was in conflict with their needs, they were more likely to change their attitude than their behavior. The simple example would be someone who desires to lose weight, but is too stressed by taking care of their children and working a full time job to do anything about it. So instead of changing eating habits, they say that they never really wanted to lose the weight. None of us are immune to cognitive dissonance. The best of us change our attitudes rather than our behaviors even when a behavioral change would be much more effective.
Self-Compassion for Envy
The first mistake most people make when addressing envy is to shame themselves. Why am I so envious? Envy is weak. Envy is cruel. Envy is for haters. I’m such a hater. Envy does not dislike this. It feels validated and appreciated like the bad guy you love to hate. Envy is so glad that you are bringing it shame because it seems like a welcome invitation to return in the future. It knows that what we shame, we give fame. Paying more attention to a quality in extreme ways gives it dimension and importance. Our mind will always come back to what we give importance, especially if it is really bad or really good. Your unconscious mind does not decipher between good or bad, it merely acknowledges the “reallys.”
To begin your self-compassion practice, you must acknowledge that all people experience envy. Envy shows up to protect you. Just because envy does not succeed does not mean that your mind’s intentions in summoning envy are bad. Wanting to be safe is a good thing.
When envy comes up, notice your mind’s intentions to keep you safe, acknowledge envy without judgment, name it, and make space for it. Most of envy’s diatribes are so far out there that they can be kind of funny. Be comfortable at laughing at how far envy goes to protect you, and how wildly inappropriate it can be. Honor your suffering, and allow envy to pass.
To truly practice self-compassion, you must have emotional states that do not serve you, so you have the opportunity to acknowledge that suffering and accept all of your parts. Envy is perfect for this. Envy can be almost ghoulish sometimes. If you can accept envy, you can accept most things.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
I once knew a little boy named Kyle whose favorite color was green, but he never wore anything green because his mother said it made his skin look very pale. Kyle was self-conscious, and heeded his mother’s words of advice, but he hated every one who wore green. He would go on these long tangents about how people who wore green were full of themselves, looked like leprechauns, or bags of grass. When people wore green shirts and brown pants, he referred to them as trees after overhearing his mother make this comment once.
One day he noticed I had a green watch. In anticipation of the envious talk to follow, I told him how great I felt to look like Kermit the Frog or Gumby’s taller, older brother. He agreed with me, and asked me if I was embarrassed. I told him that I was never too embarrassed to wear one of my favorite colors. I let him try on the watch at his request, and two weeks later he came back with a Polo Rugby shirt emblazoned with the Irish flag. I admired it, and he said that his grandmother had purchased it for him. She thought it looked on him. When I asked him how he could stand it, he said, “I love green. I mean. I saw it, and how could I resist.” Kyle had befriended his envious side, and given himself self-compassion by wearing it anyway.
Putting It All Together
When envy comes up, remember that it is here to protect you. Befriend it. Like an old friend or family member, let it get its talking out of the way without judgment. Your friends and relatives love you; they just talk funny sometimes. Acknowledge the suffering that is driving envy, and make space for it. Engage your sense of humor and laugh, if you can, at envy’s more inappropriate comments. Then, let envy pass to make room for a clear mind and well-being. Accepting envy may just pick your ticket to stellar self-compassion and acceptance. These two qualities, alone, are almost all you need to live a healthy, meaningful, satisfying life.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 69. In the Books.