Convert Envy into Personal Insight

Birds Nest Centerpiece

Have you ever met someone (either in person or on web) and had a jealousy attack? Maybe you felt yourself hyperventilating a little bit, kind of leaning forward on your toes, both drawn to this person and annoyed that they seem to have something figured out which you, well, don’t? Or at least not yet?

So here is my take on that. First off—let’s make a little space for our humanity. I am all for trying to be a good person but in the realm of spiritual development/personal growth we can run into some pitfalls trying to be perfect. Truthfully the journey is much more about unlearning and releasing what we “know” than it is about setting up enlightenment as a goal to achieve.

Secondly in trying to deny that sensation (turn it off/push the spiritual bypass button to pretend we are somehow more evolved) we actually might miss out on a soul lesson knocking on our door. I think envy/jealousy can be an invitation to notice a deep desire which we are not yet owning or living into fully. Current case study out of my own life—author envy. This week I’m enjoying listening to powerful interviews from the daily love extravaganza and when these spiritual guides, teachers and writers mention their new and upcoming books I get it—a pang in the heart.

Now when I feel that envy pang I can go a couple of directions. One is to flip on critical mind. Critical mind notices things about their teachings I’m not sure I agree with 100%. Or inquires into their training or credentials. While I’m grateful for this part of my brain and it can be really fun to sink my teeth into a good heady argument — in this moment it is not helpful. Critical mind is actually my ego kicking in gear and defending my sense of self worth which ironically makes me feel worse not better.

How do I know that it is the ego? Well, that voice is just trying a little too hard. I love listening to, attending trainings with, and reading heart-opening teachers — like a fabulous training I just went to in Austin on somatic awareness and the enneagram.  (A couple of favorite authors if you need a juicy summer read: sarah sentilles, sharon salzberg and Sarah McLean — author of the Soul-Centered meditation guide we are using this summer. But I digress…)

And one thing that is true in every context with a high quality spiritual teacher: When they say something true, it is not so much that they are “teaching me” a lesson as giving me a framework for recognizing a truth I already carry within.

So rather than critical mind, what is Option Number 2 when you feel the envy pang?

Cultivate Sympathetic Joy or mudita

Mudita is a word in Buddhist and yoga philosophy which can be translated as “sympathetic joy.” It is a rare and beautiful quality in our world. The opposite of the much more common “schadenfreude” or delight in another’s misfortune.

Celebrating another’s success dial’s down the ego’s voice and sends up a beautiful reminder that there is an endless supply of happiness in the world and it is available to us too.

How to Cultivate Sympathetic Joy?

First off—if you feel an envy pang upon learning about another’s happiness or success… take note of the pang. Make room for it and get curious about it. Is there something you want to do, have or be that you are not acknowledging to yourself? You don’t have to know how to fix it to honor it –often soul prompts aren’t things we can really see our way into yet. As you make space for the envy pang, notice how this reaction feels in your body. You might even locate a specific area where you hold this constriction—maybe in the throat, heart, or gut. Sometimes this simple noticing is enough to shift it and create space for compassion– including compassion for yourself.

So for me with the book ache—I nod to it. I try to take that moment to recommit to my practice to blog regularly, and check in with myself for how I am making space for my desire to write—like scheduling my first writers retreat with a friend in January!

Making space for the envy pang helps me notice that it is actually not in any way directed at other people but really a clue held in my body and consciousness for me! As I allow this emotion to ride through my body it often resolves itself and leaves space within which organically fills with gratitude for the very author I was critical about only moments before.

This, unlike critical mind, feels good — like a grace-filled package delivered to my heart’s door. Mudita. 

I wasn’t quite sure what image to pair with this post but the blooming nest my four year old recently crafted seemed somehow to correspond. When I make space for the envy to run its course something more beautiful– an awareness of gratitude, our connection and capacities to inspire each other, can bloom in its place.

Please don’t take my word for it… try it when jealousy next strikes and let me know how it goes!

In addition to the Mudita meditation which you can practice at any time– what else is on the Menu for Week 5 of the Summer of Meditation Challenge:

A mantra meditation: For this practice the sounds of the inhale and exhale are linguistically represented as the words: ham (prounounded like “hum”) and sah. Say “ham” as you inhale and “sah” as you exhale.

Because I am a big nerd I had to research what these words mean in Sanskrit and discovered that Hamsa means “white swan” and Ham means “I Am That I Am’. Poetic.

This mantra predates Hinduism and Buddhism and some people believe that Buddha used this mantra for his own realization. “Yah” and “Weh” from the Judeo-Christian tradition would be another nice mantra option and historically has served much the same purpose… a way of naming and living into the breath.

The meaning of the words is not really the focus so much as their power to quiet the mind and drop us into the silence which undergirds our thinking. Say them silently to yourself while meditating. It is almost like you are listening to them rather than saying them yourself– and this process can disrupt and quiet the inner monologue.

Week Five: Suggested Daily Practices from our Soul-Centered Meditation Guide

AM Self-Inquiry: Who am I? 3 Minutes. Sitting Meditation 12 Minutes

PM Walking with Awareness: 5 Minutes. Mantra Meditation: 10 Minutes

The Who am I? practice is also an interesting one. Just ask yourself this simple question for a few minutes at the beginning of the session. Don’t generate or force an answer…just listen. An answer may bubble up for you later in the meditation or at another moment in the day.

So I am curious… have you had any envy attacks lately?

I’d love to hear about them and how you responded in the comments section below.



PS Are you frustrated because you have been wanting to meditate but haven’t yet started? Don’t worry the train has not left the station. Simply commit to a certain amount of time, like 5-15 minutes, and experiment with it today. I’d love to hear what happens…

3 thoughts on “Convert Envy into Personal Insight”

  1. I feel like celebrating by looking back on what I have accomplished since starting to meditate. My life has always been good but with meditation it’s as if the colors of the world have become brilliant and everything is just better so I wanted to make a list of the improvements that I have seen in me since I have been made meditating…
    I am more patient and compassionate with coworkers, myself and others. When I first started meditating I asked myself, why am I so annoyed with these two coworkers? Now I have chosen to see them with compassion. I realized that some of the characteristics that I find annoying in them are the same characteristics found in friends. I now listen to them with presence because I realized what it looks like to have someone be annoyed with you, like I was annoyed with them.
    I am more present. This filters into so many things for example, I appreciate beautiful moments more, I appreciate good people more and I am not always waiting to go there or do that. This has made life in general more joyous.
    I talk to people more. I use to feel self-conscious to speak to people I did not know. I would muster up the confidence to speak but only if I had to.
    I do not feel as insecure. I still question myself for example I ask myself “Are you really doing the right thing? How will people see you? You may lose a friend because of these changes.” But then I want to respond with, let him go and finally I am listening to my inner guide who has been forcing me to feel things throughout the years but now I abide by those feelings like I always should have been.
    I do not feel as self-conscious. I use to feel like I was a walking obnoxious light that I just wanted to hide from. Today, that feeling has left me.
    I speak from within more often and my words are now authentic. When I stop and ask myself/ my inner guide, what am I really saying or what do I really want? The thoughts that come out seem truer than if I thought them or analyzed them in my head.
    I am Calmer. I use to be so nervous that my hands shook during uncomfortable situations.
    My relationships with people have evolved and because I feel a sense of self-worth, I am stating my standards and requirements. This has been my hardest journey. This also filters into I don’t react to people’s thoughts of me or what I think they think of me. I see them as reflections. I say to myself “That is me when I’m insecure and stressed.” “That is me when I’m annoyed.” Also, I now see who people are clearer and I can choose if I want to be available to them or not. I now know it depends on me.
    My emotions do not debilitate me anymore. I still feel my emotions in my body but I don’t hang on to them and dwell on them so that I feel I cannot, or it takes a long time to move past them.
    This has been such a fantastic journey in self-discovery. I have learned more about myself through meditation in 8 weeks than I have in 7 years. I feel that I can finally face the drudge that lurks below the surface of who I am and accept and love it as well as the good.

    1. Wow Tiffany– so many riches in your comment. It sounds like you are really tapping into deep inner reserves. One of the things I have been thinking about alot lately is resiliency. And how when I meditation I feel more able to watch my reactions to life (emotions, judgements etc) but not ride them. This feels really freeing… Like I have somewhere more stable to be within myself. I loved what you wrote and am grateful for your musings. xxo Courtney

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