Strategies for Deconstructing Jealousy
Session One: Overview
Buddhism speaks a lot about disturbing emotions and disturbing attitudes, and these are defined a state of mind or heart, however we want to look at it, that when we develop them causes us to lose our peace of mind and they incapacitate us so that we lose self control. And so when we’re feeling, let’s say, attachment or anger or jealousy, we certainly don’t have peace of mind, do we? And also we lose self-control in the sense that all sorts of really crazy urges come up in our mind to say something and act in a certain way that usually we regret very much later on. And so it causes us to act in a way that’s either really destructive to somebody else, you know, we hurt them, or in addition – it’s not an either/ or situation – it’s very self-destructive, we’re the losers in the end.
And when we look at different cultures we find that emotions… this is a huge big range of feelings, and different cultures are going to define and specify emotions differently. It’s like cutting a pie; we can cut a pie in many different ways, the same pie, in many different pieces, make different size pieces. And so, for instance, in Tibetan, coming from Buddhist definitions from India, we speak about jealousy, but in the West we have jealousy and we have envy.
And so when we analyze a little bit more closely what’s going on, we find that the remedies that Buddhism suggests are remedies of just a small part of a larger problem. And so we need to look more carefully at what each culture is talking about, because we might have to apply other methods from Buddhism that don’t come under their category of jealousy to deal with the larger problems that we are talking about when we talk about jealousy and envy.
Buddhism defines jealousy as a part of hostility; it’s an aspect of hostility. It focuses on other people’s accomplishments – their good qualities, their possessions, their success, their family, their position in life, something like that – and it’s unable to bear these accomplishments. It’s unable to bear, it can’t stand that they’ve accomplished these things and they have these things, due to being quite attached to our own situation. So, focusing on somebody else’s or in general on other people’s good qualities. You know, their intelligence, these sorts of things, on their good looks, their possessions, their success, that they had a son, a male child, and our family didn’t have one, and it’s unable to stand that, it can’t bear that. And the strongest emotional element in it is resentment, resent that the other person got them. Because we’re very attached to our own situation, we’re feeling sorry for ourselves basically.
And the opposite of it is rejoicing in the success of the other person. This is what Buddhism is talking about when it talks about jealousy. Obviously, our experience of jealousy is much broader than that, although this is a part. So if we say “Okay, this is one type of jealousy, let’s think of other types of jealousy,” then what you have to add to this, in order to get what we call “envy,” is what Buddhism calls another disturbing emotion, which is covetousness. And this is defined as the inordinate desire, really, you know, excessive desire for something that somebody else possesses.
So, if you look up in a dictionary what the word “envy” means, at least an English dictionary, it’s a painful and resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by someone else, joined with the desire to enjoy that same advantage. So, it adds to this inability to bear other people’s accomplishments. Envy is the wish to have these things ourselves and often – although not necessarily – it entails something a little bit more nasty as well, which is a further wish for others to be deprived of them. They don’t deserve this. “Get it away from them; I deserve to get the job, not them!” Doesn’t it? So that’s a different disturbing emotion according to Buddhism, we have to look in a different category in order to find how to deal with that.
So, when we are experiencing some sort of disturbing emotion, that we call “jealousy,” well, we have to analyze a little bit more closely what are the ingredients of it in order to come up with some strategy of how to deal with it, to overcome it. In other words, our word it’s a little too big, it covers so many things, and you’ll see it covers even more.
Envy, as a combination of jealousy and covetousness, often leads to competitiveness. For instance, many of you are familiar with Trungpa Rinpoche’s presentation of things, as Maitri Space program, and he discusses jealousy as the disturbing emotion that drives us to become highly competitive and to work fanatically to outdo others or ourselves. And it’s connected with forceful action, you know, the karma family.
Alright, so because of being jealous and envious of what others have accomplished, we push ourselves or we push others under us to do more and more. Like with extreme competition in business or in sports – very strong in sports. Buddhism does acknowledge this aspect that is there although it would discuss competitiveness differently, but is uses the horse to represent jealousy. If you think about a horse, a horse races against other horses because of jealousy, it can’t bear that the other horse is running faster. The Buddhist thing would connect it more with resentment; it resents that the other horse is going faster; it doesn’t really speak in terms of really competition, “Why should this horse run faster? I’ve got to run faster.” That’s why they race.
So, it’s true that in Buddhism jealousy is closely related to competitiveness, but jealousy doesn’t necessarily lead to competition. So we have to think, are we competing with this other woman or this other man to get to the one that we want? What’s involved here? For instance, somebody could be jealous of others but with low self-esteem, not even try to compete. This would be the attitude of, “Well, I can’t possibly find somebody who would love me so why even try; I can’t possibly get a good job so why even try.” But of course you’re jealous of the people that do have good jobs.
On the other side we could be competitive but without necessarily having jealousy behind it; some people like to compete in a sport just to have fun and enjoy the sport, because they glorify the art of the sport or something like that, but they don’t keep score. They’re not competing with anyone. But often we do associate the two – jealousy and competitiveness – but if we look to what Buddhism has to say about that, then we find that they put the two together quite differently from what we might normally think of.
We look at the great Indian master Shantideva, he put together in one discussion jealousy toward those who are in a higher position, competition with equals, and arrogance toward those in a lower status. And the whole discussion is in terms of the context of learning to view everybody equally. That’s the whole issue that’s here, that we regard everybody equally. Quite different from how we would approach the thing, isn’t it?
So, if we look at the problem behind this, now we get to this other aspect that we wanted to speak about in these lectures, the connection with our concept of “me.” And here that problem that Buddhism is really pointing at is this feeling that “I’m special.” Either I’m better than everybody or I’m worse than everybody. Or other people think that I’m worse than everybody and they’re not right. This whole inequality thing is here, because “I am special in the sense of not the same as everybody; they’re not the same as me.”
For example, let’s look in terms of jealousy. We think and feel that “I’m the only one who can do a certain task well or correctly, by teaching our friend to drive a car,” and we become jealous if anybody else teaches him or her. Or in a class, we feel, “I’m the only one who can answer the question.” And we are very jealous and hurt if somebody else does what we wanted to do. That’s because we feel that we are special. We should do it, not anybody else. So, that doesn’t necessarily lead to competitiveness, does it?
But you can have another example, when we think and feel that “I’m the only one who should do a specific thing,” like get ahead in life, “I’m the one who should win, I’m the one that should be rich,” and we’re envious if somebody else succeeds, then we become competitive. So we have to outdo the other person even if we’re already moderately successful. There’s a big difference here, first we have to analyze it ourselves. When we don’t have anything and the other person has it, then we’re jealous. That’s slightly different in terms of how you would go about dealing with it, then when “I already have a certain amount, but I’m jealous that you have more.” There’s greed here as well. Then you have competition.
So, you would have a different strategy for dealing with it because you have to pull apart what are the elements of what’s really the disturbing thought behind this. In any case, behind all of this is a strong feeling of “me” and a strong preoccupation with me alone. We don’t consider others in the same way as we do ourselves, we’re special.
So, the remedy that Buddhism offers here, the strategy for all of these things – for jealousy, for competitiveness, for arrogance – is to see that everybody is equal. There’s nothing special about me here. Everybody has the same basic abilities, in the sense that everybody has the same Buddha nature, we speak about in Buddhism. The way that they speak about it in Buddhism, they speak about it as everybody has the same wish to be happy and to succeed, and the same with not to be unhappy or fail. And everybody has the same right to be happy and to succeed, and everybody has the same right not to unhappy or to fail. There’s nothing special about me in terms of these things.
All of this is connected with what Buddhism calls “love.” It’s the way to overcome this type of jealousy, which is the wish for everybody equally to be happy, to have the causes for happiness. So when we learn that everybody is equal in terms of this Buddha nature and love, then we’re open to see how to relate to all these different people, whether they succeeded more than we have, or haven’t succeeded, this sort of things.
So, Buddhism teaches – Shantideva speaks a lot about this – is… Somebody is successful. Even if they’re more successful than we are, if we wish for everybody to be happy, we would rejoice and be happy that they are successful. And we try to help our equals also succeed rather than competing with them. You help all the students in the class study for the exam, not just try to steal the books from the library for ourselves so they can’t read them. And toward those who are less successful than we are, we try to help them succeed rather gloat and arrogantly feel we’re better than they are.
Now, these Buddhist methods are very advanced, and they’re especially difficult to apply. Because, you see, there are two forms of disturbing emotions. There’s the automatically arising form that everybody experiences. Even dogs experience them – a new baby comes into the house and the dog is jealous. But then, there’s what’s called “doctrinally based” disturbing emotions. That means it’s based on learning from some sort of system, some sort of doctrinal system, basically propaganda from either religion or culture or something in society that teaches us to be jealous. It teaches a certain way of looking at the world that brings out more jealousy and makes jealousy even stronger.
And if you look at what’s automatically arising, almost all children automatically like to win, and they cry when they lose. So that’s almost automatically in all cultures. But, in the West, that’s very difficult for us, you know, because jealousy and competitiveness are reinforced, strengthened and even rewarded by many of our Western cultural values. Very interesting to take a look at it. Our Western cultures teach capitalism as a naturally best form of a democratic society. This infects our way of thinking even in approaching personal relationships as well. Underlying it is a theory that we assume is absolutely correct and we don’t even question it, which is the survival of the fittest, which sets competition as the basic driving force of life, rather than, for instance, Buddhism saying love and affection is the basic driving force of life. Our Western culture puts competition, survival of the fittest.
This Western cultural emphasis on survival of the fittest reinforces the importance of success and wining. And it reinforces that obsession of success and wining with an obsession about competitive sports as glorification of the best athletes and the richest people in the world. All this lists – you know, richest people and the athletes, the Olympic Games – goes way, way back in our culture. That pervades every level of society, doesn’t it? Obsession for football – those are our heroes; it’s really funny. Buddha isn’t our hero; a sports person is a hero. It’s funny if you think about it, heavy weight champion, boxing champion of the world, you don’t have compassion champion of the world. We have boxing champion of the world. World cup of compassion, that would be an interesting one.
And in addition to this, I mean it’s even more insidious if we look at our culture, the Western system – democracy and voting – is based on jealousy and competition, selling oneself as a candidate by publicizing how much better we are than our rival candidates. And it’s seen as praise worthy: “This is good, the whole world should have this.”
It’s interesting, Tibetan society on the other hand, what happens when you try to transpose these values on Tibetan society for instance? Tibetan society looks down on anybody who says that they’re better than somebody else. This is considered a very, very bad character trait. So democracy and campaigning for votes is totally alien, and doesn’t work in that society. Anybody who goes out and says “I’m better than the other one,” nobody will ever vote for him. You have to say “I’m not qualified, I’m not good,” be humble. It’s really very, very different, isn’t it? That underlines how culturally specific our values are. They’re not universal. You hear the Dalai Lama, you know, “Well, I’m just a simple monk, I don’t know anything.” It’s the Dalai Lama saying that.
So when jealousy and competition and the orientation toward success is so strongly pushed by the propaganda of our culture – going back to ancient Greeks – then it’s very difficult to just instantly go to the Buddhist methods of rejoicing in the victories of others. Or they say in the mind training teachings, give the victory to others and accept the defeat on ourselves. That’s a very difficult pill for us Westerners to swallow, a little bit too strong a treatment for most of us.
I think as Westerners we need to first reevaluate the validity of our cultural values, these doctrinally based forms of jealousy and competition. Because as I say, if we really analyze deeply, we see that it infects our personal relationships, how we deal with people. Competition, we have to succeed, we have to get the most beautiful, wonderful prince or princess on a white horse. And then everyone will admire us, won’t they? Think about it, how many of our parents would be really happy if we married somebody who is very rich. If we said, “Well, I married somebody who doesn’t have any money at all, but is really a nice person…” Welcome to the West.
So I think for us, you’re jealous that somebody got a rich marriage partner, and the parents are specially jealous if other families whose children got a rich partner. So what we really need to do first in approaching these things is to reevaluate our cultural values. Are these things that I really want to accept or are they just propaganda? Very old propaganda.
An example that may help us to see the relativity of our culturally based jealousy and competition is an Indian market, Indian bazaar. In India and in many places, you know, the Middle East and so on – and it was like this in the older times in the West as well – there’s cloth markets, jewelry markets, vegetable markets, and so on. And each of them has row after row after row of stores and stalls that sell exactly the same things. And they’re all next to each other. You have to think about the mentality that’s behind it. And the shopkeepers are mostly friendly with each other. They sit and drink tea and chat all day long, and their mentality is that it’s up to karma whether or not they do well. This is your karma, if you do well, you do well; if you don’t do well, well, that’s your karma.
So, they’re not, “Oh, how can I outdo the other one” and all of that, that’s a culturally based thing. We were discussing this before, but there’s actually a German law that you can’t put a shop right next to another one that sells exactly the same thing. You can sue you landlord for renting the other space in your building to exactly the same type of store. So all of this is very, very culturally relative – a very impotent insight to get. It’s not necessarily so, but [we think] “This is the way that the rest of the world is or that it has to be, or that we have to be.”
Of course, we all experience this type of jealousy in terms of jealousy at work and this sort of things. But in the West we talk about a slightly different form of jealousy, and for most of us it’s this other form of jealousy that gives us the most suffering. And it’s interesting, if you look up “jealousy” in the dictionary – at least the English dictionary – this is the definition that it gives, which is “an intolerance of rivalry or of unfaithfulness.” For example, we feel jealous if our partners flirt with other men or women or spend a lot of time with others. Our partner wants to go to some yoga school or something like that, and you know, the husband is jealous and wants them to stay at home. There’s an intolerance of you, “You’re being unfaithful and you’re going to somebody else.” There’s a rival.
This is the one that we see as an example of the dog when the new baby arrives in the house, the rival for the attention of the master. The master is going to throw the bones to the baby and not to the dog… Like jealousy in Buddhism, this has an element of resentment, but in addition it has a strong element of insecurity and mistrust. A whole other discussion from Buddhism, how to deal with insecurity.
So, if we’re insecure, then when a friend or partner is with somebody else, we’re jealous. We’re insecure about ourselves; we’re insecure of their love for us, or jealous, aren’t we? Insecure of our self-worth, insecure of the other person’s love for me – me, me, me! So we don’t trust our friend; we fear that I, the big “me,” is going to be abandoned. To deal with this type of jealousy, we also need to learn the equality of everyone, but in a slightly different way here. And I think this is a little bit more easy to deal with, for us Westerners, because it’s not so much culturally reinforced; it’s an automatically arising type of thing. So we don’t have to deal with the cultural baggage on top of it. Nobody has to teach us to feel insecure.
Although, we could have a big long discussion about that in terms of our child raising practices – a baby that is constantly strapped to the mother’s side or back like in Asia feels far more secure than a baby that is just left by itself to lay in a crib, and be by itself. Did you ever think about what it’s like to be a baby in a baby carriage, and rather than viewing the traffic when you’re crossing the street – when the mother is crossing the street – from behind the mother, strapped to the mother’s back, you’re there in front. What does the baby see? It doesn’t see the mother; the baby sees all these cars going by, which are much bigger than it, and that baby is supposed to feel secure? So certainly natural insecurity is reinforced by many things that our culture has. Anyway, that’s a whole discussion.
Anyway, when we think in terms of the equality of everybody here, what we have to think is about another aspect of Buddha-nature, which is that the heart has the capacity to love everybody. That helps us very much, I think, in terms of dealing with jealousy in these situations, because our friend, our partner as well, does have the capacity that’s perfectly natural to love and be very friendly toward many people, not just one person. You think that again this is “me,” special, one, exclusive. And if the other person has no room in their heart for me and now they’re with somebody else and left me or whatever… then in many ways we need to develop compassion, because they don’t realize their Buddha-nature capacity to be friendly and warm to everybody.
And this is an interesting thing. I first learned this insight from astrology, I must say. We’re always out there looking for the special one, and you look and see the astrology charts match, and which planets make, let’s say, a good aspect to your Venus. Now, if you think about that, there must be millions and millions of that, you know, hundreds of millions of people whose Venus makes a good aspect to your Venus. So what’s so special about one? And why is there only the one prince or princess out there, who’s going to be, Mister or Miss Perfect, the only one that we could love or who could love me?
So, it’s very important to learn to have our hearts open to everyone. And if our partner isn’t like that, then compassion for them, they need to learn that. But if we open up our hearts, then this one person that we’re so jealous of somebody else, they become much smaller in our lives, and they’re not the only one in the world that we could love. With an open heart we can have love for a friend, for a partner, child, for a pet, for our parents. You can love your country, your people, nature, love God, love your hobby, love your job. We can love a lot of things, can’t we?
So, we can deal with and relate to all these objects of our love. The heart is big enough for all of them. And we would express our love – and this is an important point – express our love to each of them in an appropriate way. We don’t express our love to our dog in the same way as we express it to our wife or husband, or to our parents. You never know, but we usually don’t have sexual relations with all of them. But let’s leave aside the issue of sexual unfaithfulness, that’s a much more complex issue and brings in many other issues. But in any case, if our sexual partner, especially in a marriage, is unfaithful, or even if they don’t have a sexual relation with somebody else, if they spend all their time out of the house, with other friends, with other people, it’s never a helpful emotional response to feel jealous, to feel possessive. It doesn’t help the situation.
And we have to also see that these responses – when we do respond to that with jealousy and possessiveness – that in part, that is culturally influenced. If you think of a traditional Japanese wife, and the traditional Western wife, faced with the situation that the husband goes out with other men from the office, they would experience it emotionally very, very differently. Culture is different. Again we need to see how much of our emotional response is from our culture; how much of it is a natural automatic thing. That’s especially important in marriages of mixed cultures where the two people come from different cultures. Often we tend to downplay the cultural influences in our emotions. And it’s not only when the two partners come from different cultures, it’s also when they come from two generations. There are often partnerships in which one is much older than the other and the values of that generation are often quite different.
When we think that love, and having a close friendship, can only be with one person exclusively, and if they have friendship with another person there’s no room for me, this is jealousy. We need to see that all of this is based on a feeling of a solid “me,” who must be special. But if you think of an example of, for instance, a Buddha, what’s a Buddha like, who would be all loving equally to everybody?
When a Buddha’s focused on one person or is with one person, the Buddha is a hundred percent concentrated on that person. And when you’re with the Dalai Lama, if you think of the Dalai Lama, His Holiness is with so many, so many people every year. He certainly is a fantastic example of love for absolutely everybody equally. When you’re with him – everybody expresses this feeling with him – that he’s a hundred percent concentrated on you and not in one of these intense staring ways, but his heart is just totally, a hundred percent with you. And even if he just looks around in the audience and looks at someone, you have somehow the feeling of “Wow,” it almost makes you feel special, but not in a weird, egocentric way. But it’s because he’s a hundred percent focused with his heart on each person at a time. It’s not diluted because there are many, many people. That’s where we’re aiming for. You feel almost zapped with some energy of love when His Holiness looks at you even.
This is one of the really most important points. His Holiness always emphasizes this, how you get over these things like jealousy, you know “I resent that you are loved by somebody else and I’m not loved by them,” and so on – compassion, opening up your heart. But it’s difficult to go from opening it up to just one person that we’re insecure that they’re going to hurt us, so we don’t open up too much, to open it up to all beings of the universe. That’s a bit much to go from, between those two. But if we slowly open up and realize that there’s nothing to afraid of, we could love more than just one person, then the pain that this one person over there doesn’t love me back is not so bad. Not everyone loved Buddha Shakyamuni, so what do we expect, everybody’s going to love us? That’s a very good example, by the way.
I find that example of Buddha Shakyamuni very helpful. There are all these stories about his cousin who always hated him, he was always jealous of the Buddha, and trying to harm him. That’s very good, if somebody doesn’t like me or criticizes me, well, what do you expect? Look at His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Chinese, I mean, imagine having a whole nation, a whole government, propaganda over the world, hating. So, it’s not a big deal if this person doesn’t like me. Or if this person has gone off with somebody else. Put things relatively. When you see the relativity of it, it’s not the end of the world. And our heart is open, it can be open to many, many other people. An expression in English: “Not the only fish in the ocean.”
So, there’s really nothing to fear, if we open our hearts to many people that our personal relationships will be less intense or less fulfilling. We may be less clinging and less dependent on any one relation to be all satisfying, and we may spend less time with each individual, but it’s a full involvement. It’s the same thing if our friend, in terms of, let’s say, the other person’s love toward us. No reason to think that if they have other friends that it means that their love is going necessarily to be diluted toward us. Why shouldn’t people have a lot of friends? It doesn’t mean that there’s going to be less for me, like give out all the food from the refrigerator and there’s not going to be anything left for me. Love isn’t quite like that.
And actually, again we come to a cultural thing. It’s a myth and an unrealistic expectation that any one person is going to be the special, perfect match, like our other half who’s going to complement us in all ways, and that we going to be able to share every aspect of our lives. That’s a myth. Unrealistic. Yes, it comes from Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, in which he said that originally we were all wholes. And at some point everybody was cut in half and so the thing in life it to find your other half who’s going to be the perfect match, and then you’re whole again. And this myth is behind our entire Western history of romanticism. This is our myth: that somewhere out there is going to be the other half, the special one, the only one. And if we find that perfect other half, you better hang on and we will be whole again, “I will be whole again. This person will complement me in all ways.” Myth, unfortunately, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. It’s Prince Charming on the white horse. I mean, that’s the Western concept of romanticism. It’s not the same in other cultures. It’s funny, if you think about it, it’s comic.
What happens is that we project the expectation, the hope that this other person is going to be our other half. And then, when they don’t merge with us, spend all their time with us, and share every secret, every tiny little thing with us, then we’re jealous. It’s connected with resentment, we resent that and we get angry. When they are sharing some aspects of their life with somebody else and not with us, we’re very jealous. If we think about it, it really is quite unreasonable to expect that we’re going to be able to share every aspect of our lives with just one person. Much more realistic is to find there’s a certain group that I can share my interest in sports; why should I expect my wife to share my interest in football? That’s stupid. Or I can share my interest in babies with somebody, but not everybody is interested in babies. I mean, there are so many different things. We can have a wonderful friend who’s not at all the same intellectual level or the same cultural background or anything. I mean, it’s more interesting when you don’t share, then you learn certain things. In that way, if we don’t have this myth as our expectation of what a relationship is supposed to be – all fulfilling, all satisfying, everything – then that very much lowers our susceptibility of jealousy.
There’s many, many more, I mean, I prepared little more stuff here about the analysis of jealousy, but I think that’s enough for this evening. Further topics dealing more deeply in terms of a misconception about “me” – that we can leave perhaps for the weekend because that gets into the whole topic of “You don’t deserve to get it, I deserve to get it. It’s not fair.” That gets into a whole other level of discussion. The world owes us something and it’s unfair when others get it instead. “I deserved it, you don’t deserve it.” That gets into a very heavy “me” trip, doesn’t it?
But in any case, we’ve seen here some ways to start to deconstruct our emotional problems. When we have a disturbing emotion, if we can start to see what it is rather than making a big solid thing – jealousy! – and then it becomes really heavy, as if it had a solid line around it – but when we can start to see that, well, actually it’s made up of many different parts: resentment, I’m greedy to get something more, or these unreasonable expectations from my culture, there’s competition there, low self-worth / self-esteem might be in there, insecurity might be in there, a lot of components. Well, we can start to deconstruct it. Then, it’s no longer so heavy; it’s not this big monster with a big solid line around it. And then we can start to apply different strategies for dealing with the different aspects that are involved here.
Of course, the understanding of how “I” exist and how “you” exist and the understanding of voidness, it’s called in Buddhism the strongest medicine to apply, but the other one which is extremely strong one that His Holiness emphasizes so much is this opening up your heart. As we were taking about, if you open up your heart and see that, “I have the capacity to love many, many people” – it doesn’t mean have sex with everybody, we’re talking about warm, friendly, open, fulfilling relationship with many, many people. Then, one particular relationship is not working out, okay, we can feel sad for that person, because they don’t realize that the heart can be opened to many. And our life becomes very, very fulfilling because in each relationship you’re fully there. Even though you might not be spending twenty-four hours a day with this person, sharing a toothbrush, as we say, with this person, that’s not necessary. An hour with somebody in which you’re totally there with your whole heart, much more fulfilling then a whole life with somebody in which your heart is closed, isn’t it?
We have a little bit of time for questions, if you have.
Question: How can we help a jealous person?
Alex: It depends if they are jealous with us, that we’re not giving them enough time, or if they’re jealous with somebody else. The general remedy for somebody who is jealous of us – like, “You never spend enough time with me, you’re always spending time with others” – as I said, it goes back to our remedy of having your full heart with this person. You say that, “Look, I have a lot of other things that I’m doing, but I will give you a certain time.” This is the way of saying “no,” but setting certain limits without them getting the feeling they’re being abandoned. And so you say, “Okay, I can’t spend all the time with you, that’s just not possible,” but if you’re married with somebody, we have breakfast together every day. I mean, that’s not very much, but what I’m saying is that you give them a period of time.
My sister is constantly asking me to call her all the time, and I don’t. I call her every Saturday at a certain time, and that she can count on. And I’m dependable to always call her then. And when I call her, I give her an hour, I mean, we talk for an hour. I like my sister; I’m fully with her for that hour, and even though every week she asks me, “Well, call during the week” and so on, I answer, “I’ll speak to you on Saturday.” And so she doesn’t have the feeling of being abandoned or rejected. And that’s really the way to deal with that, I found, that you give them a certain period that they can count on, you’re dependable, and during that period you’re not looking at your watch all the time, “When can I go, I’m busy.” But you’re a hundred percent with that person with your heart fully there. That helps very much. The key word is “this is our special time.” That usually gets them.
Question: In a situation where there’s competition, you don’t really want to have special time with that person, especially if I’ve been awarded something, or I’ve achieved something or I got somewhere, how do I deal with somebody who’s then jealous of what I’ve achieved?
Alex: I think that what’s important here is to deconstruct the identification of “you” with just this one thing. This is just one aspect: maybe you won an award for sport or for an intellectual thing or for something like that, but usually what I do is that I point out to somebody that well, they are a much better artists than I am, they are a much better writer or singer or… There’s always something that they can do better than me. Well, of course, I mean, there are a million different qualities, and of course it’s natural that one person is going to be better than another in one quality or another, but that’s not the only thing about me. “You know me. That’s not the only thing about me; there are many other things about me besides this one thing that I won the award for.”
Translator: But where there are snide comments…
Alex: Snide comments, because usually they have a feeling of low self-worth. So by pointing out areas in which they’re better than we are, it reinforces their self-worth. They’re putting us down because they feel attacked, that they’re worth nothing. Or you point out also the price that you had to pay in order to win this, in terms of, let’s say you had to put in it an unbelievable amount of training to win a sport event, or an unbelievable amount of study, or an unbelievable amount of work in your work, and you wish you would have time to do what they do. It’s not that you’re bragging about it, “Oh, look, I put in all the work and you didn’t.” I’m saying, “Look, it wasn’t that great. I paid a big price for that, sacrificed a lot, so it wasn’t that great to win.” You make it relative. You take it off of this high level of being so wonderful that you won; there were a lot of negative things about it. So if you show that you admire something in them that you don’t have, then that puts them more on an equal basis with you.
Participant: I find that a stronger argument than the sacrificial thing, turning yourself into a victim, “Oh, I’ve done all of these things in order to get this job…”
Alex: Yes, you can overplay, just think about the price that I made, and make yourself into a victim, “poor me.” That I don’t think is necessary in order to make the point, that there were positive things and negative things about it, and this is just realistic.
I’ll give you an example. This happened to me a number of times, which is that I’ve accomplished a great deal in life in terms of my studies and the type of work that I’ve done, and the travels that I’ve done. And often old friends, childhood friends and college friends, will say to me that, oh, they wish they could have done what I did, accomplish what I did. All they did was do a successful business and raise a family and stuff like that. And then I say to them, “Look at the price that I paid: I never married, I never had a family,” and they say “Well, you know, that’s not so important,” and I say, “Yes, hey, that is important in life.” And so, if you put all your energy into one thing, you aren’t able to put it into something else, and also I admire you that you’ve had this life experience. So I can share with you what I’ve learned, you can share with me what you’ve learned.
Then we get on an equal basis. And it’s not “poor me” that I’ve never married. I’m perfectly happy with my life. But by putting both of you on an equal level – I’ve achieved something, you’ve achieved something – then that jealousy and envy is diminished. You show that you respect them – that’s the key. It’s not that I’m a better person because of what I’ve done. It goes back to this point that we mentioned that Buddhism emphasizes here, which is seeing everybody as equal, so helping the other person to see the equality.
Participant: That’s also a healthy aspect of jealousy, which makes you work for something or which makes you question the way you did it before…
Alex: To say that there’s a healthy aspect of jealousy that causes you to work harder, competition type of thing, I suppose that could work with some people. I won’t deny that that could work with some people. But one has to be careful here because, you know the expression, “You’re playing with fire.” It could easily lead into a heavy competition trip of outdoing somebody else. You see, again I’m thinking of the example of competing against yourself, in which you’re constantly trying to do better than you did before, and this can drive you on to do better and better to reach my best. And I think that this is also very dangerous, because what it does is, it reinforces very, very strongly the sense of “me” – “I have to do better.” Why? Because of “me.”
Now, if you look at Buddhism, what Buddhism says is that there’s the aim to reach enlightenment, become a Buddha, the highest state of evolution possible; but never because, “I want to be the best that I could be.” That’s never the reason. The reason why you’re driven to improve is so that you are better able to help others, rather than in a sense jealous of yourself, competing with yourself to do better and better. This is much healthier; this leads to less disturbing emotions. And it gets rid of disturbing emotions rather than the other one, you know, “I should have done better, I didn’t do better,” and you punish yourself and you drive yourself and you don’t know when to take a rest and all these other things – that can be a very disturbing state of mind to work on improving yourself. There’s a great deal of wisdom, certainly in the whole Mahayana path of Buddhism, that you work for Buddhahood. Why? To be able to benefit others, not just because you want to reach the highest that’s possible, the top of Mount Olympus, challenge the gods. That’s Greek mythology, something else.
And it’s a very heavy emotional trip, “I’m not good enough, I should have done better,” tied up with guilt. To reach enlightenment to help others, it’s not a race. What’s helpful is having these structural ways of deconstructing our emotions, so that we can really see the emotional problems, really see what’s really involved here. But once we’ve done that, then it’s important not to lock ourselves into categories, but to just then deal with our lives.
Let me give you an example, share an example with you of a good friend of mine who is a psychiatrist. She lives in Philadelphia and she works with the absolute most violent young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, the most violent, violent cases in the most depressed part of Philadelphia. That’s her specialty and she is the most successful of anybody in being able to handle these people. And they love her, absolutely love her, these people, and they can’t wait to speak to her and be with her and really open to her help. And nobody else in Philadelphia is able to reach these people – the ones who are homeless and at eighteen already have three children and with heroin and prostitution and, as she said, you don’t even want to think about whether or not they are HIV-positive, forget about it, you know, even looking at that issue. This kind of people.
And so her colleagues of course are asking her, you know, what’s her secret, how is she successful with these young people? And what she says is, first of all, this thing that I was pointing out, which is that when she’s with them, she’s a hundred percent with them and gives them all her time; there’s no boundary on the time. These people get violent if you say, “Your time is up, you have to go,” then if they had a gun they would shoot you at that point, I mean, they really get violent. So hundred percent with that person, that’s the first rule. This is one of their big problems: nobody ever had time for us.
And the second thing which is also incredibly important is that she doesn’t fix them into categories. She says the whole system of psychiatry is all based on filling up the forms for the insurance company. And so you have to put down the category, the diagnosis – this person is schizophrenic, this person is this or that, and you have to put them into these categories. And when you start to think of them as categories that you’ve learned in school, although they’re helpful – not only for the insurance thing, but they’re helpful to give you guidelines of how to deal with this person – you have to forget about that and just deal with the person and be open to them and deal with their individual situation.
So, the same thing with dealing with your own emotional problems. We have a general analysis of what it is, we have a general strategy, but then deal with yourself as a human being. Don’t deal with yourself as category, you know, “Well, it’s category twenty-three, so I take this solution off the shelf for category twenty-three.” We’re human beings. Categories are just mental constructs which are helpful, but not the actual thing.
One last example is with alcoholics. Very important for an alcoholic to identify that, “This is my syndrome, I’m an alcoholic.” But then, often what happens is they become so locked into this identity of being an alcoholic that they become addicted to these alcoholic anonymous groups and they’re absolutely terrified to leave these groups and get on with their lives. And so they’re locked into this identity. So although it’s helpful for being able to stop drinking and may be helpful therapeutically to share with others in the beginning, eventually I have to realize that, “I’m a human being and there are many, many things about me” and go on with your life. Don’t get stuck in the category. Buddhism would say categories are not ultimate reality. So just live; deal with life.
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