Let’s consider in depth the first of those daily commitments in relation to an especially tricky form of suffering, envy:
1) Notice that our minds continuously judge us and the people and situations in our lives.
This is a daily commitment because our negative judgments are slippery fish. It might seem that they’d be easy to spot, but that’s not necessarily the case. If we’ve been doing personal growth and spirituality for a little while, our minds stop coming at us with their flat-out, direct attacks. We may have already learned to let go of really explicit self-judgements (“I’m so stupid! I’ll never be able to do this!”), but might still be vulnerable to more subtle forms of judgment like envy, comparison and resentment.
My envy, for example, is a wicked beast. In fact, sometimes I wish that someone gave contests to recognize very finely twisted malevolent inner qualities, because if so, my exquisitely crafted envy would win the blue ribbon every year.
It’s not that I consciously cultivate my envy (to the contrary! I spend plenty of time practicing rejoicing in other people’s success—and that practice has helped a lot—otherwise I would have had to jump off a bridge by now). It’s that the envy just prances out, sashaying its little gremlin ass, digging its pointy little dagger-claws into my heart.
Envy is a judgment both against me and the world.
Against me it says:
“Look at you—you’re not good enough! You’re just an ordinary person—and that person over there—they’ve achieved so much! So many things you’ve dreamed of achieving! What were you doing, slacking all those years watching funny cat videos?! Loser!”
Against the world it says:
“You’re a cold, cruel place that’s advanced other people and left me in the dry dust.”
This kind of quiet, persistent, ever-available suffering that my envy generates (there’s a huge supply of people to envy—opportunities are afforded hourly via Facebook, Twitter, and every magazine on the planet!), constitutes a global rejection of myself and my life. When I’m in it, it saps all my energy and leaves me unable to be fully present and helpful to my friends.
And the thing is, my mind just does it, on auto-pilot, without me making a conscious decision to do it.
Of course, not all negative judgment takes the form of envy. For you, the flavor of your poison might be a little different. Maybe your mind likes to come at you with good old-fashioned resentment and hostility. Perhaps you find your thoughts drifting repeatedly to the wrong that some person or institution has done to you. Maybe you just wake up in the morning and everything looks kind of grey and pointless. While shopping at the grocery store it could occur to you that everyone and everything there is irritating and ugly.
Just start by noticing that your mind plays this rejection game, whatever flavor it takes. Notice how often you’re finding fault, taking stock of the potential for ruinous failure, feeling hopeless or dispirited.
If you’re like me, you might begin to realize that this rejection, this judgment is just something your mind does automatically—and since it’s automatic, it’s meaningless. It doesn’t actually reflect the truth about the value of you, other people, the world, your life. It’s not a valid, intelligent response. It’s a program, a mechanism. It’s just an ingrained habit.
When we start to realize that we could be living in paradise and our minds would still find a way to make us miserable, we come a little closer to freedom. We come a little closer to realizing that the trouble is not our essential selves, but just within our thoughts. And that’s really good news, because that means we have the power to end that suffering.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta.
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