|Note the cunning little jars?|
What did I envy? Did I envy their jobs? Not exactly. They are so not me. But I envied their career success. Did I envy where they lived? Uh, hells to the yes. In a vibrant neighborhood outside Harvard Square. Just a couple of blocks from a neato retro shop where I bought a Swedish dish cloth, made of cellulose and cotton, dishwasher safe and biodegradable. Did I envy their Mies van der Rohe chairs and their renovated Victorian house? You betcha. Did I envy their homemade yogurt? Yes. Yes, I did. How could She have the great career, the great house, the great kids, and have time to make yogurt? Readers, this yogurt thing preyed on me. She had made it in these cunning little glass jars that she put on the table amongst the croissants and the fruit salad.
And where did all this envy get me? Into a funk, of course. Because I started to compare myself and my life, my town, my house, my professional success, my spouse to theirs. I confided my envy to my friend, let’s call her The Source of All Things, but I think she was perplexed that I would be so envious when I have so much good in my life. I confided my envy to another friend, let’s call her A. And she said, "OH Hope, you go into these downward spirals sometimes." Which is true. I do. And she spent a little time bucking me up. Spiraling me up, I suppose I should say. Talking about the things I know are true: that we all make different choices for different reasons, and one is not more valid than another. It’s not more valid to have an amazing professional career than it is to be a stay-at-home mother who fits in writing when she can. It’s not more valid to have a beautifully renovated Victorian house in Cambridge than a lovely home in the rather cloudy valley that is Albany County.
I also told my therapist, who said this was about whether I am enough. Which, let me tell you, depressed the hell out of me, because of course it is true, envy is about whether I am enough, and because it’s such an old story I thought maybe with all the seeking I've done behind me I might have reached the end of that one by now. And because I know the lesson, the rule, the central idea behind therapy and Buddhism and Judeo-Christian religions, is to accept myself, warts and all, as they say. You have to start where you are, as they say.
Fortuituously, a podcast on this very topic appeared on my phone, just in time. Gil Fronsdal spoke on contentment and discontent and stressed this very idea. Start where you are. Find a little something to feel good about. Maybe just that you have a few minutes to yourself to meditate. Maybe that you’re alive and breathing. Maybe that you have a full range of emotions to access. Accept them all, even the ugly ones. From acceptance springs contentment, or at least the opportunity for it. From this seat of self-acceptance you will then be able to assess the discontent you feel and decide if it is healthy or unhealthy. Are you discontented with your house or your job or your spouse for real reasons? If so, you will be much more able to act to change what doesn’t work if you do so from groundedness.
When I thought about the roots of my envy, I realized it was pointing me towards my work. I needed to focus on it more and move it towards a conclusion. So that was positive. Envy was a kick in the butt, in a way. I knew that if I focused on the work I was meant to do, I would reconnect with a central element of myself that brought contentment.
So when we returned from our visit to our amazing friends, I wrote a thank-you email. In it I asked for the yogurt recipe. My friend wrote back the next day. The yogurt, she said, is so easy. She bought a yogurt maker on Amazon for twenty-five dollars. She included the link, which I immediately clicked on, of course. There was this machine. There were the cunning little glass jars, included. So, Readers, I bought it. I haven’t yet used it, because I’ve been writing. When I get to it, I’ll let you know.
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