Sometimes jealousy is my greatest teacher
A few days ago, as I scanned my Facebook feed, I realized that a great number of people I know and love were busy making their way toward interesting gatherings in four places around the US – Portland, Phoenix, Nags Head, and Minneapolis. I was genuinely happy for my friends who were having great opportunities to connect, co-create, stretch themselves, and be refreshed, but underneath the happiness, something else started bubbling up…
Jealousy. Not-enoughness. Self-pity.
The whispers were quiet at first, but then they got louder.
“They’re all busy having a much more interesting life than you have.”
“You don’t really deserve to be at any of those gatherings.”
“They’re connecting with people who are much more interesting than you.”
“The last retreat you tried to host had to be canceled because not enough people signed up. You’re just not interesting enough to draw in the kinds of people that these events draw in.”
“Maybe if you published a book, or did more significant work, people would start paying more attention to your work.”
“Your life is kind of boring and ordinary, isn’t it? While they’re all out having a great time in beautiful locations, you’ll be shopping at Costco, cleaning your house, and driving your kids to all of the places they need to go.”
By now you might be thinking “But Heather… you just had an amazing trip and you were at two really cool events in beautiful places. What right do you have to be jealous of anyone else when you’ve had such great opportunities lately?”
Unfortunately, jealousy has a really short memory, especially when it comes to the good things in our lives. In fact, you can be in the middle of the most beautiful day you’ve ever had, and jealousy can STILL remind you that someone else out there has it just a little bit easier and that the sun shines just a little bit brighter on their house than yours.
Fortunately, I’ve gotten to know jealousy over the years, and I’ve discovered something interesting about it.
When I allow it to be, jealousy can be one of my greatest teachers.
“Teacher?” you’re probably asking. “Shouldn’t I try to banish jealousy rather than invite it in to serve as my teacher?
Well, here’s the thing that I’ve discovered… honouring jealousy as my teacher takes away its power to harm me.
Here’s what I do when jealousy shows up to torment me:
1. Inquire into what it’s trying to teach me about myself. When I’m jealous of someone, it usually means that they have something that I feel I’m lacking. Why is that lack showing up in my life? Does it mean that I genuinely want that particular thing (fame, money, friends, a published book, etc.), or does it mean that I’m carrying a story about myself that I would feel more complete if I had that thing? Would I REALLY feel more complete if I had that thing, or would I simply start looking for the next thing that would fill the empty space in my life?
2. Fill the lack in my life with gratitude. Jealousy can not co-exist in the same space with gratitude. When I start to genuinely honour what is good in my life by naming that which I am grateful for, jealousy loses its power. Suddenly it can’t convince me to believe any stories of lack because my life is full. Today, for example, as I stood looking down at a sink full of dirty dishes that seemed dismally mundane compared to the glamorous things other people were doing, I turned my heart toward gratitude, thanking God for the food that I’d had the pleasure of eating from those plates and the loved ones who’d sat with me while I ate. My life was abundant after all.
3. Set intentions to seek out more of those things that jealousy is pointing me toward. If, in my truth-seeking, I discover that my heart really is longing for something that another person has, then I ask myself what it will take to attain that thing. If I want more opportunities to host retreats or speak at conferences, for example, what can I do to make that happen in a way that is authentic to me? If I want to grow my work, what courage will it take to get there?
4. Offer blessings to those people who have the things that I seek or are doing the work that I long to do. Just like jealousy and gratitude cannot co-exist, jealousy and blessings cannot co-exist. Whenever I can, I try to extend either a silent or spoken blessing toward whoever triggered my jealousy. This is especially important if I recognize that the people I am envious of are doing really important work in the world – the kind of work I want to do more off. In this case, I really want all of the people gathering in these four places to do beautiful work together, because I believe that their work is leading to more conscious living and deeper connection in the world – two things that I deeply value. I want to be connected to good work like theirs, and so I send out a blessing that their work will spread, and that mine will spread too, and that more people will live with intention, integrity, connection, love, and courage. When I begin to look at it like that, I realize that their success is in correlation with my success rather than in competition with it.
5. Be honest and vulnerable in the relationships where I need to be. Often, there is surprising value in being vulnerable with the person who triggers my jealousy. Several years ago, I found myself dealing with a lot of jealousy toward a friend who seemed to breeze through life much more easily than I did. Because we lived in close quarters and I brushed up against this shadow often, I knew I needed to address it. When I told her what was going on, she broke down and admitted that she’d always been jealous of me too, convinced that I made friends more easily than she did. What resulted was a deep and lasting friendship, built on our shared vulnerability.
There is still much for me to learn from jealousy, and so I suspect it will continue to show up in my life to teach me. In the meantime, I offer this blessing to all of those who are gathering in meaningful circles and doing good work in the world:
May this time together be one of healing and deep connection.
May your hearts be broken wide open as you sense into what wants to emerge in this circle.
May you step courageously into the light and may you carry that light with you into the world.
May you hold in your hearts all of the people who are being drawn into this work and may you feel their love from all over the world.
May each of you honour the wisdom you bring into the circle and may you have the courage and discernment to share it generously.
May you also know when silence is the best course of action.
May you know deep trust, both in yourselves and in the others who have gathered.
May your words be full of grace and love and may your questions be full of truth and openheartedness.
May this time you spend together send a ripple of love and healing into communities all over the world and into the earth itself.