Mind

The human mind, the brain ego, is a curious thing. It never stops. It is capable of amazing ingenuity to push the world in new directions (Shakespeare, Einstein, Galileo, da Vinci, Mozart). Or it can languish in a dark place of circular logic, negative thoughts, and imaginary dragons—until the human it’s attached to is convinced of defeat and gives up.

Some people are blessed with a Rolls Royce mind that just gets things: processing data and weighing options without emotional attachment to come to the best conclusion, given the circumstances. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes is a metaphor for that type of superhuman. Then there’s the rest of us, muddling along, overwhelmed with all that brain static.

Exercises to calm the mind are helpful. I’ve tried them all. Self-help books. Yoga. Meditation. Journaling. Spirituality. Philosophy. Altered states. Sleep (yay sleep!). Talk therapy (it’s fun to pay to drive people crazy, haha!). Any of these can work, with persistence and openness and patience. But you can’t really change deeply until your heart tells you it’s time.

A breakthrough for me came a few years back when a friend told me to personify that ego voice inside me, that organizer that tells me what I should/n’t do, could/n’t do, would/n’t do. Did you know that the English language specializes in these conditional tenses? When I asked a Parisian how to translate “I would do this” to French, he huffed that the French language had no such thing. English, he added, was la langue du diable.

Anyway, I was asked to personify this creature, this inner voice who always brings up conditions and limitations and defeats. I was asked to give it a name. I called it Igor. Yeah, the mad scientist’s assistant, not so original. Then they told me to shoe Igor away. Poor Igor, I thought.

The first chapter of Untethered Soul (Michael A. Singer) does a nice job of helping us understand our inner voice, what Singer calls the inner roommate. If Igor were my roommate, I wouldn’t tolerate his droning on for more than three minutes. But I can’t shoe Igor away, we are too attached.

I’ve even come to appreciate Igor. He can get annoying, but he’s the one who tells me to stop for traffic lights, pay my taxes, get my deadlines done, stay out of trouble. I need him to navigate the complicated human world, to keep me safe, to edit my words and thoughts. So I’ve accepted Igor as my inseparable roommate. I just try to make him relax when I don’t need him. I love you Igor, now go take a nap.

Envy

CN Tower in fog

It’s a human trait to torture ourselves with what we aren’t. Let’s call it envy. And I confess that I work really hard to suppress envy. It still creeps up on me when I compare myself to others and find myself wanting.

It goes like this: I wasn’t old enough (then too old). Not rich enough. Not forceful enough to be a high-powered Master of the Universe (and if we aren’t a Master of the Universe, then what are we?) I wasn’t muscly enough, then too muscled to be in fashion, back when skinny arms were a thing but maybe muscles are back in style again so am I OK now? You get the picture. I won’t go on … I don’t want to share ALL of my insecurities and I’m sure you don’t want to listen. 🙂

Then along came Instagram, and for a while my envy got even worse. That platform is designed to be a giant envy machine. If you feel remotely good about yourself, just go there and it’s guaranteed there will be somebody more ripped than you, certainly younger than you, traveling to gorgeous places, eating wonderful meals, and wearing all the right clothes. In short, it’s really easy now to feel crappy every day by envying other people’s images. Social media is designed this way and has created a whole new set of people called “Influencers” to do this to us.

And yet, maybe this whole Influencer overload was a good thing for me. Maybe through sheer overexposure it’s helped me understand that I don’t have the energy to compare myself to others all day and stay true to myself. Maybe I have finally learned simply to say, “That’s nice. But it’s not about me.” I can still admire people for their accomplishments. Why not? Influencers work really hard. But admiration doesn’t have to be envy.

Techniques

If you admit to a wee bit of envy here and there, read on. Here are some things that help me overcome envy (on my good days).

Know yourself. Love yourself. See my previous posts. If you become your own best friend, you won’t be beating yourself up comparing yourself to others. If you are comfortable in your own skin, envy can’t take hold. It isn’t easy. It’s something to work on all the time. There are so many built-in traps against self-acceptance. But when you catch yourself envying others, stop and be gentle on yourself and remind yourself it’s their life, not yours.

Empathy. Everyone out there is trying to put on a good show. If you recognize that and feel for their efforts, if you humanize them, it’s way easier to see that their path is not your path, and their path indeed may be just as difficult (or more difficult) than yours. Six pack abs, when you’re no longer 28, take a lot of work and probably mean you’ve given up something else. Same with most successful people: they have made sacrifices to get there, and you chose a different path. If you try to understand a bit of what is motivating others, you may become more aware of what is (or isn’t) motivating you.

Laugh. Laughter is more fun than envy. So don’t take life too seriously. I don’t mean being cruel to people and making jokes at their expense (see empathy above), but we have to acknowledge that people go to some pretty hilarious levels to impress others. Whether it be $10,000 Gucci purses, or 0% body fat, or outrageous bear-baiting statements for the lolz, or hanging out of moving trains to take selfies … you gotta shake your head at some of the antics people use to get noticed. You don’t need to go there. Just have a chuckle over it.

Get busy doing what YOU want to do. I’m now busy chasing my own dreams, so have way less time to envy. Start doing the things you want to do and the things you are proud of doing, and you won’t have the time to envy others. You may not even have the time to hang out on social media for hours feeding your own insecurities. It’s working for me!

You may be one of the fortunate ones who is comfortable in your skin and never envied others. But if you’re still reading this, I bet you’re in my recovery camp. Whichever camp you are in, it pays to beware Envy. It will sneak up on you at any time. It may no longer be considered a sin, but it does mess with your mind and take away from your dreams.