The woman next to me has legs up to her throat.
While I manipulate my curvy Slavic body in the head-to-knee pose, she glides into position with the precision of a well-oiled machine.
My mind races to feelings of inadequacy—I should have let it go and been more meditative. Yet, I can’t help it. I am dedicated to my yoga practice, to heal this cranky back of mine. Meditative will have to wait-for now; I am a distinctly non-yogic hot mess of jealousy. Ashamed of my unabashedly snarky frame of mind, I create my own little mental narrative:
I am sure this woman next to me can eat whatever she likes without gaining weight.
She probably eats correctly, nary a potato chip in sight. Her work is always satisfying and important.
The woman next to me lives in a house that is spectacular, swathed in designer chic. Her closets are big, and her feet and waist are small. I do not like her.
Imaginations run wild when we have the little sprite of comparison stoking the fire. The person who tells me that they do not do this is not telling the truth. Wearing a cloak of, “I don’t need to do that; I am above that” is in itself a study in comparison and competition.
The holier-than-thou crowd lives in an encapsulated world of kumbaya niceness. That is, until their version of “the woman next to me” stands next to them. The beatific smiles fade when they are bested. How easy it is to feel sanctimonious until it hits home.
What if the woman next to me has a good friend who is suffering from cancer? A cheating spouse? A profound learning disability? It takes a concerted effort to realize that, in this wonderful stew that we call life, everyone has some funk. The seemingly flawless exterior of one good day on the visage of a person may mask a month of sleepless nights over unemployment. The cat puked up hairballs on her new shoes, her toddler has a fever—life happens.
The one-person pity party always has a seat at the table open and ready. This is an enticing siren call to the archetypal mother of self-indulgence; her arms envelop us in our pouty little moments of need. Gas prices are too high, my hair is wrong, the guy in front of me cut in line, and on and on. It takes a concerted effort to shut this useless melody off. Inertia is borne of crippling self-analysis. Any traces of empathy are silenced by “I have it worse.” Fits and starts of “I don’t care” cross the mental threshold of annoyance.
The woman next to me tells me her name. She is becoming human. Or am I? If we are smart enough to listen, we can learn. Beneath the tough person persona lays a very scared individual fighting an addiction. The perfect mom has a drinking problem; too many nights out with “the girls”—and even they have stopped calling. The snotty next door neighbor with the expensive car has melanoma. The imaginary glossy veneer of the fabulous lives of everyone else is fiction.
I reject the overt “love thy neighbor.” Sounds too church-y and antiquated.
What makes more sense is to realize that we are all on this small blue planet, just trying to get along. These musings pop into my head in the most everyday of places; a yoga mat is not always necessary for reflective thought. It is human nature to wonder about the other guy. Women are especially adept at the comparison game. Politically incorrect to state that? Let’s be real. The posturing and preening is a fact of life, as we all compete for that person, that job, or that thing.
There is an undulating quality to life. Some days are stellar; productivity and satisfaction soar along with mood. Other days are mediocre, and then there are those days that make mediocre look like gold. The funky grey of mood does not last forever; this is the human condition. So, using logic in an illogical construct—human relationships—isn’t it safe to assume that the person whose life you are imagining to be “so easy” is experiencing the same slippery life experience, the same up and down teeter-totter of challenge and reward-that you are? The woman next to me is real, indeed. Her fantasy life is not real—it is a little diversion for me on my yoga mat of the right now. Right now is all we have, correct?
Funk may be around the corner—better perfect that pose in the meantime.
Author: Stephanie Vlahov
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Tucker Sherman