Many months ago, when Venerable Chodron asked for a volunteer to produce a series of 10-minute talks on “Working with Jealousy,” I put my hand up. The talks would be posted on Insight Timer, where we’ve been posting meditations led by Venerable Chodron and other Sravasti Abbey monastics for a couple of years now.
I’m glad I volunteered. Through preparing these talks, I have learned so much by looking into jealousy’s characteristics, some of its causes, its disadvantages, and its antidotes. I’d like to share some highlights.
Socrates said, “Jealousy is the ulcer of the soul.” We may think we know ourselves pretty well, but often we’re unaware of our thoughts and emotions and how they impact us, especially with jealousy. We may be so caught up in obsessing about the person we’re jealous of that we’re blind to what’s happening in our own mind.
Once we start to notice it, though, it can be easy to over-identify with jealousy: “Oh, I’m such a jealous person.” But our mind is constantly changing; states of mind come and go all day long. We’re not jealous 100% of the time. Notice how different it is to think, “Oh, jealousy is arising in my mind. I’m experiencing jealous thoughts and feelings.”
It’s hard to admit that we’re jealous because, at its core, jealousy arises from the painful belief that we are just not good enough. But admitting to jealousy can bring a sense of relief. It’s important to cultivate self-acceptance in meditation as an important step in overcoming the jealous mind.
To overcome jealous thoughts, we need a method and a goal. One short-term goal might be to have strong confidence in our own self-worth so that we can easily rejoice in the happiness, good fortune, and opportunity of others without any jealous feelings getting in our way.
The Disadvantages of Jealousy
One method we can use to let go of jealousy is to convince ourselves beyond the shadow of a doubt that jealousy is not in our best interest, and to know just how harmful and damaging it is. Then we’ll naturally move away from it.
Once we know the disadvantages of jealousy inside and out, that will motivate us to make the changes and inner transformation we’re looking for. Think about what happens to you physically when you feel jealous. What happens emotionally? How does it impact your relationships? What happens spiritually when we indulge in jealousy?
The First Dalai Lama was definitely on to the disadvantages of jealousy. In his verses on “Requesting Protection from the Eight Dangers” that are part of the Green Tara sadhana we use at Sravasti Abbey, he writes:
Lurking in its dark pit of ignorance,
Unable to bear the wealth and excellence of others,
It swiftly injects them with its cruel poison,
The snake of jealousy — please protect us from this danger!
Jealousy necessarily involves attachment, so it’s an afflicted and distorted point of view. We’re exaggerating the happiness we’d have from getting the object of our attachment, and convinced that we can’t be happy as long as someone else has something we want.
That “something” could be love, respect, admiration or affection from a particular person. It could be social standing, status, praise, followers on social media, or more tangible possessions like money, clothes, cars, diamond rings, and so on. With attachment, there is clinging.
Jealousy is also associated with anger or hostility—because we resent that someone else has what we want—whether that’s the attention of our boy/girlfriend, or some possession or quality that we want for ourselves.
We can’t bear that they have it and we don’t, which often leads to thoughts of wanting to deprive them of having the thing we want or destroying their happiness.
The Comparing Mind
Another thing that fuels our jealousy is the comparing mind. It seems pretty natural to compare ourselves with others. In the past, we might have compared ourselves to people around us in similar situations—those in our family or neighborhood, our classmates, and friends.
But in the age of social media, we can now compare ourselves to people from all over the world—famous movie stars, international super-models, world-class athletes, Ivy League entrepreneurs, and billionaires. No wonder we feel so inadequate and jealous!
Comparing ourselves with others starts early. Maybe we felt jealous of older siblings when they got to do things we couldn’t do, or jealous of a younger sibling who got special treatment from Mom and Dad or got away with anything. Mine did!
One of my first memories of jealousy is of my older sister having ice skates when I only had rubber boots to skid around in. “It was not fair!”
Venerable Chodron reminds us that those are some of the first words we first learned as kids. “It’s not fair! She got to stay up later than me!” “She got to sleep over at her friend’s house, and I didn’t. It’s not fair!”
We grow up with this mentality of “It’s not fair,” which we carry into adulthood, and even to the monastery. “Why does Venerable praise so-and-so, but not me?” “Why does so-and-so get to travel with Venerable, but not me? It’s not fair!”
Comparison can easily turn into jealousy, which can quickly turn into self-pity. “Why does everybody like them, but not me?” “Even if I try, I’ll never be as good as them. It’s not fair!”
Turning Self-Pity Around
Jealousy creates the conditions for self-pity to arise, and self-pity is so irresistible! It’s captivating, even addictive because it thinks, “Oh, poor me!” And once again, I’m the center of the universe.
“Oh, they’re better looking than me.” “They’re more talented than me.” “They’re more popular than me.” “They’re more skilled than me.” “People notice them. They don’t notice me.” We can spend our whole life creating a story like that in our mind.
It’s important to recognize that self-pity doesn’t help us, and in fact, keeps us stuck. It can be a little embarrassing to admit that we throw pity parties for ourselves, but recognition allows us to change and to do something about it.
Many different kinds of thoughts lie behind jealousy, so it’s very good to notice what those thoughts are. This is where a daily mindfulness practice can really help—whether it’s just five minutes or half an hour.
Meditation helps us to monitor our mind for what we’re thinking, doing and saying throughout the day. Then, we have a better chance at catching unskillful or destructive thoughts like self-pity that are lurking below our conscious awareness and influencing our behavior.
Every minute devoted to self-pity is 60 seconds devoted to misery instead of creating causes for the happiness we want! For example, we can practice gratitude instead.
It’s impossible to feel grateful and indulge in self-pity at the same time, so recognize all the things you have to be grateful for—everything from being alive to the fresh air we breathe and clean water we drink. Or get out and help others. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re busy helping those who are less fortunate.
Take the course on “Working with Jealousy” on Insight Timer here.