Sometimes things just do not turn out the way we had planned, or even dared to hope. The often-quoted phrase “Compare and despair.” is a valuable reminder to me that when I compare myself and my life to others, despair is usually the only result. Needless suffering. The thought-version of eating “empty calories.”
The media bases its work on enticing us to compare. Advertising in magazines, on-line and on tv is grounded in us comparing our life to that of the person in a carefully crafted image – that person with that particular thing (a car, a home, a set of dishes, a cruise, a partner, a vest, a job, a status…the list goes on.)
A sudden trauma in my own life woke me up to this reality – that I can just be me. I awoke after a train accident suddenly able to see lies for what they were. It was like when the Bible talks of scales falling from eyes. I could see. I chose a new life as a result, and I have never looked back. But being human in our society still has its temptations. “Why does he have that partner and not me? Why does she have that house and not me? Why does he have that car, that vacation, that body, that vase; and not me?”
I thought the problem of envy would end when I gave up watching tv, surfing the net and leafing through magazines. It did not end. It was reduced. Profoundly. Indeed, by choosing a way of life which limits media advertising, I was able to reduce the stimuli substantially, but still, things pop up in my life – things others have that I do not have – things which cause me envy – and suddenly my inner Smeagol begins whispering “…my preciousssss…” and my longing for the One Ring (in the form of this or that) begins to grow inside me like curdled longing.
And of course, I never see or hear the inner thoughts of the people who envy me or envy something or some ability I may possess. And this just further isolates one into the despair of longing.
So what’s the answer? What does one do when one is disappointed with having one thing and wanting something else; be it a new mug or a new life?
A couple of antidotes come to mind for envy.
First, I find that gratitude-practice will show up to envy as a form of antibiotic. The simple act of listing what I DO have will disincline me from longing for what I do not have.
Secondly, I find that acceptance-practice will sweeten the acidic envy-thoughts. “Ok…I do not have that…Ok…I want that, but do not have that…Ok, I understand why I want that, but I neither need it nor have it…so, I will simply accept that I am without that, and move on. Sounds simple, I know. But it’s not. It is hard, inner emotional intelligence.
And that is why gratitude and acceptance are paired, even hyphenated with the word “practice.”
Yesterday, I made a series of chawan tea bowls on the potter’s wheel (seen above). The last one went wrong. The rim was too thin and collapsed into a braid of clay…so I reformed the bowl into a small vase. It will be bright, cobalt blue and the “accidental failure” of the collapsed rim will be covered in gold leaf.
I remember sitting that the wheel thinking “No….I don’t want this thing…it’s not what I wanted and its not like the others!” But in time, I accepted it – the accidental vase instead of the planned bowl. And in more time, after a good night’s sleep, some spooning with Kai-the-dog and some cereal, I now quite like the new little vase – the accident – the mistake – the not-like-the-others new little pot.
When we believe our anxious thoughts, we do so to our peril. When we fight with what appears in life we are pushing against a mountain. I am grateful for this new little, odd pot. I accept it. I could google “chawan tea bowls” only to spend a wasted hour wishing I had THOSE. I could compare my pot to those and feel the grief of not being good enough or of a mistake. I could compare, and I would despair.
The art of letting life unfold gratefully and without judgment is a powerful form of sabbath-rest – of peace.