November 5, 2013

Hey, Jealousy: The “Been There” Chronicles, Part II.


Image: “Jealousy” by audrenlerioual on deviantART

I’m talking romantic jealousy, sexual jealousy, the kind that burns a white-hot whoosh of searing agony from your root chakra to your brain, leaving you shaking, panicked, and ashamed.

If there is pain worse than jealousy, I don’t know what it is. You know how you can think “right now, he’s probably with her, and they’re laughing and he’s looking into her eyes, and I am a forgotten, worthless, hideous person?” and you feel like you are slicing through a limb with a freshly sharpened knife? Yeah, neither do I.

I’m talking romantic jealousy, sexual jealousy, the kind that burns a white-hot whoosh of searing agony from your root chakra to your brain, leaving you shaking, panicked, and ashamed.

Because it is embarrassing, and un-cool. Nobody wants to be Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.”

Buddhist message (and I’m not just preaching, here—this stuff saved my life): jealousy is suffering that comes from attachment to another person. Ideally, we wouldn’t fear the loss of someone else’s presence, attention or ability to make us feel safe, beautiful and loved.

We would, at most, catch the feeling at its earliest stages, let it burn its way through our physical selves and refuse to entertain the stories that clamor for brain space. We would never, not for a moment believe that we were worthless due to the superior face, weight, or youth of someone new. We would not become silent, bitter or passive-aggressive. We would not cling for dear life, trying frantically to keep the good feelings going.

Because nobody, in the history of time, has ever said “you know, your jealousy really makes me want to be closer to you. I was, maybe, drifting away a bit, but when you send me incoherent passive-aggressive texts it totally turns me on.”


So assuming that you and I are generally mindful types, interested in reducing suffering and maintaining healthy relationships, what do we do with the green-eyed monster?

I can’t tell you how to make jealousy a great experience, mostly because my wish for you (and me) is to evolve to the point where it is no more annoying or threatening than a mosquito. Which is to say, briefly on the radar, but no reason to key anyone’s car or spend a month sobbing. (Or climb through someone’s window, strip naked and beg them to sleep with you. Which really happened to a friend of mine.

I can give you some suggestions, though. Tried-and-true, but not necessarily easy.

First, a reality check.

Be brave enough to ask the questions you need to ask, and love yourself enough to accept the answer. I have regretted every time that my intuition told me there was a problem, but I was terrified to say the words out loud. As if the asking, and the answer would make it more real than it already was.

You can’t “keep” someone, or “get them back” if they are already gone.

It’s a cliché, but if you completely release someone and they return your feelings of their own free will…that’s one of the great joys in life. And I promise you this:  you will never get or keep anything worth having by holding on for dear life. It’s hard. It’s counter-intuitive to let go just when your brain is insisting that you hang on, but it will ease your pain.

Practice Tonglen breathing.

I’m not going to explain it all here, particularly when it has been explained so well elsewhere. Basically, you settle your mind, and then breathe in slowly all of the pain of everyone in the world who is suffering the pangs of jealousy. On the exhale, you send peace, love, and comfort to all of those sufferers.

It’s centering, and it reminds you that you are far from alone in your pain, far from alone in this world. Sometimes, I’ve actually visualized people of different genders, ages and ethnicities feeling increasing lightness in the dark places and ease in the tight places as they let go of jealousy.

Love yourself lavishly.

If you haven’t tried Metta practice, this is the perfect time to start. Although there is a more traditional set of phrases, I made up my own:

  1. May I love myself as I am
  2. May I be at peace with what is
  3. May I see the joy in this life
  4. May I deal skillfully with my triggers

Try it, using the traditional phrases, or mine, or your own. Try it at the first sign of that “I’m not good enough and I am imagining them together” feeling. Mean it. If the Buddha knew we couldn’t love anyone else without loving ourselves, it’s got to be true. Right?

When you aren’t practicing Metta, love yourself in other ways. Wear the cashmere hoodie that makes you feel cocooned and cozy. Get a massage. Turn off the TV and read a totally absorbing, non-serious book. Seek out people who love you, always, and relax into the real, deep and un-dramatic joy of that kind of love. Take a long walk outside.

Read Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart.

My copy has loose pages, underlinings, and post-it notes.

When a wave of agony hits, sit with it.

Feel the feelings in your body, let your heart race, let your eyes fill, and resist the urge to tell stories about it. I learned this from Pema, who has been the greatest teacher I never met.

The pain is real, the stories are not. You don’t know, and can’t know anything except what you see and feel in this moment. There is nothing to be gained from rehearsing your theories about what happened, what should have happened, how unfair it is, how to fix it, how to make him sorry…and if you start spinning those tales in your head you are missing the glint of sun on a picture frame and the warm dog at your side. You are missing your life.

I hope this helps. I hope you can love yourself enough to swim against the current of a culture that promises “forever,” and glorifies drama from star-crossed longing to revenge.

You aren’t alone. You aren’t going to feel this way forever. You’re going to use your mad new skills and find peace. I promise.

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Ed: Bryonie Wise






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