Let’s just assume for the sake of this article that not every elephant journal reader has reached a state of enlightened bliss.
Let’s assume that some of us struggle with some very mundane human tendencies. For purposes of this article, let’s assume that from time to time, most of us are attacked by the little green monster. Still with me?
Ah, Jealousy and her twin brother Envy!
Not only is envy considered a sin by Christians and Jews around the world, it’s deemed by Catholics as a cardinal sin. That means that it’s a sort of gateway sin…once you start envying, who knows what sins you’ll be sinning next?
Would it be sinful to revisit this one? Is there any chance this writer could change some minds about this particular transgression?
I’m not saying envy is good as such, but I do think it’s quite natural, and rather than seeing it as “sinful,” perhaps we can turn it on its head and make it work for us. Maybe we can even use it as a springboard for becoming better people.
It certainly goes without saying that most often when we’re filled with an insatiable desire for what somebody else has, we don’t take into consideration a whole lot of variables. What are seemingly perfect relationships to the outside world are often couples who’ve become masters of public deception. Our apparently affluent neighbors just might be buried under mountains of debt. That yogini who can twist and turn any which way on her mat might find her only peace during her practice.
The fact is that we don’t know enough about (almost) anybody to make judgments about how green the grass is on their side of the fence.
But sometimes there are clear signals—things we can’t explain intellectually—that indicate somebody’s got a great thing going (incidentally, this can also happen with bad stuff). Call it intuitive empathy if you like—I call it “paying attention.” The glow of a couple newly in love, the confidence of someone doing a job they truly love and at which they excel, the aura of calm surrounding someone who has overcome this challenging life to find peace wherever they go. The stunning radiance of a really and truly healthy person.
That last one, I think it’s the best argument for using envy as a platform for self-improvement. First of all, it falls squarely in that first bit of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Nothing wrong and everything right with starting at the beginning.
The envy inspired by health and beauty is as much a reality for men as it is for women: shiny hair, perfect skin, amazing posture, endless energy. These are the characteristics of people who’ve been genetically lucky—sure. But the vast majority of us have the ability to look and feel pretty damn amazing too.
I subscribe to yoga for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that the yoga body is so profoundly varied. It is as much of a snowflake as the person within it.
But achieving optimal health takes work. We can equate health with a couple of characteristics; we often think of it strictly in terms of weight, but the reality is that there are a whole gamut of choices we make every single day that determine whether or not we will look and feel our best.
So let’s just say you’re met with a strikingly beautiful individual. You notice any number of features about their person (not to mention their confidence) that make you wish you had that je ne sais quoi they had. You wanted it bad—that spring to your every movement, that sheen to your tresses (or that gorgeously healthy skin atop your head), that twinkle of wellbeing in your eye.
What’re you gonna do, steal it? I don’t think so. But what if you could, and nobody’d get hurt?
Obviously, there’s a lot we can do to look and feel our best. But too often, we don’t. We feel paralyzed by our inability to get it together. I contend that this is only very partially our fault.
Consider this writer:
In the past couple of years, I have learned that two of my favorite things in the world are jogging and practicing yoga. I have learned that not only do I love eating healthy foods, I also love preparing them. I have learned that water is delicious, and coffee is a treat rather than a liquid without which I will crumble and die. I’ve learned a whole lot of other interesting things about what I put into my body by way of consumption, what I take out of my body by way of exercise, and how I appreciate my body as a result.
And it still seems impossible some days. Why!?
Why, when I know that I love jogging, and when I know how wonderful I’ll feel during and after the process, is the before sometimes so damn hard? Why, when I know that making an incredible salad out of all the raw stuff I personally love is rewarding and tastes amazing, and leaves my whole body feeling its best—why do I sometimes struggle to find the oomph to bring that salad to fruition?
Because these things take constant, always, everyday, forever-and-ever-amen effort. And there’s a part of our brain that still wants to believe the lies we’ve been told:
That we could somehow love ourselves without loving the vessel in which our true selves exist. That we could somehow have a great relationship with number one without any work, when we know fully well that good relationships take time, nurturing, and attention.
When we look at those radiantly healthy people (for those of you lovely readers too busy to click on my links, no worries, but let me be clear: healthy is the key word), we should be seeing them for all that they are doing and not doing every day to look that great. We should be envying that wonderful relationship they work so hard to keep up with their meat puppets (and often by consequence, with their selves).
We should be envying all of that, and then we should be figuring out how to make it our own.
Editor: Brianna Bemel