I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little bit of a Valentine’s Day hangover. This is not the kind where you drank too much the night before because you either a) felt sorry for yourself or b) were having too much fun. I’m talking about an emotional hangover where you still feel the residue the next day.
I really don’t enjoy Valentine’s Day as a single person. Usually, I’m just hunky-dory about being single, but not on Valentine’s Day. It’s not that I don’t like love, being in love, expressing love, intimacy, affection, and all the things that Valentine’s Day represents. I just don’t want it rubbed in my face that I am excluded from the party. But more than that, I feel bad about myself because I don’t have a Valentine. I understand that the cause of this stems from my own feeling of lack, of not feeling worthy, and from plain old loneliness. And I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. I should feel some comfort and solace in the fact that I share these feelings with millions of people. But instead I get caught up in it; swept away in my self-pity. This feeling bad about myself somehow finds a way to saturate me and overflow out into the world. It’s not that I actively scowl at lovers or curse them, but there is some small bit of negativity that I feel toward them.
I’m all for other people being happy. I’m even for coupled people being happy when I’m not coupled. At least I told myself that yesterday when I saw happy couples everywhere. But then I began to question whether I really was happy for them. After a few minutes of reflection, I realized that I wasn’t happy for them and I didn’t want them to be happy, at least not blissfully happy. A further realization dawned on me that the name for this is jealousy. When I made this connection I immediately felt like a 5 year-old in a sandbox not wanting my playmate to have their toy because I wanted it, and if I couldn’t have it, well, they shouldn’t either.
I don’t consider myself a jealous person, but there it was staring me in the face.
Fortunately, instead of having to stew in it, I have a very specific tool to work with this emotion. This tool was given in my “Way of Shambhala: Joy in Everyday Life” class this week. It is a form of maitri practice specific to joy. Maitri, or loving-kindness meditations are very simple. Although, sometimes they are not so easy to practice. They all have a seven step formula where you wish for something, in this case joy, applying it first to yourself and radiating outward until you wish it for all sentient beings everywhere. In this practice you actively wish this for specific persons in your life and then broaden your scope until it becomes universal.
It helps to calm the mind for a few minutes before beginning the practice. And it goes like this:
May I not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
May (someone I love) not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
May (a friend) not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
May (someone I feel neutral toward) not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
May (someone that challenges me) not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
May (all of the above) not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
May all beings in the universe not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
You might not resonate with the wording “separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering” and spend all your time just contemplating the meaning of these phrases. Don’t do that. You can easily substitute a sentence or two that allows you to connect with the feeling of wishing others joy, or sentences that are particularly relevant to the emotion you are feeling. For jealousy, try these sentences on for size: “May everyone have success in their relationships,” and “May my ex-lover’s relationship flourish and deepen, and may it be of benefit to many beings.”
Each step should be contemplated for a minute or so, then to finish, drop the contemplation and just sit for a few minutes. A really great explanation of this practice can be found in Pema Chodron’s Book The Places That Scare You.
The residue of jealousy today feels a little bit bitter. But I know that if I practice wishing joy for all beings I’ll feel a little bit better, because I get to wish it for myself first.