Envy is a kind of out-of-body experience. You look to another and wish you had what he or she has – whether talent or beauty or money or recognition or or or or. Now, you are floating outside of you, with your energy taken up by wanting, wishing, and resenting. Not only does the response not take into account what you do have but it also magnifies the sense of deficit by accepting only one playing field, someone else’s.
Of course, the truth is that the initial perception may be accurate: it may be that I do not have her level of talent or his measure of beauty or her amount of money or his degree of recognition. It is not the observation but my response that colors what’s next. What is the main difference between these internal statements?:
“Wow, my friend was just nominated for an important recognition in our field, how inspiring!”
“I cannot believe she is being nominated! I wish I had those kinds of connections!”
The first response is grounding, keeps gratitude on my compass, and allows me to imagine how I might pursue my next goal, not to mention even recognize it when I see it. I stay with myself and look out from my sphere at the other (and others all around). Generosity of spirit is protected within the parameters of my own self-love. And my own self-love is fueled by the good feelings of generosity of spirit. I see you. I see that you have done well. I know that I am not excluded from success, and I am pleased that you have lit a path. I might or might not take that same direction. No matter, I am happy for the fulfillment you have found.
In the second response, something else happens. First, I leave the ground, my chest becomes contracted, and I neither see the other nor myself any longer. Instead of feeling the fresh air touching my skin as I consider next steps, I can hardly breathe as I grasp at ideas about how to outpace you by far or at least catch up. My spirit is stingy, with you and ultimately with me. Success is not attracted. Of course, it doesn’t matter, as I likely wouldn’t know it if I met it and wouldn’t savor it sweetly if I did.
Envy feels to me an old sensation belonging to a powerless young person who could not easily rise up into her own lovely particularities. Instead she must have been thoroughly convinced, by those whom she depended on for everything, of the value of what she did not possess. They did not necessarily even mean to impart this message, but fear and competition and an adult’s own unresolved envy can have unintended consequences. So the young one learned to take satisfaction in what is deeply and relentlessly unsatisfying … the bitter taste of envy and its companion resentment.
If I could rise up now though, for the little one, but as an adult, right in this moment, perhaps I could keep myself from flying off, from leaving my body. Perhaps I could say – even out loud – wow, you have done something I have always dreamed of, how inspiring! Here, the chest opens up, the eyes soften, my spirit feels generous and free, and energy fills the body and mind. You are there. I see you. And I am here, in exactly the right place to imagine my next steps.