Happy spring to all of you. I hope that you are having a chance to enjoy the beautiful warm sunny weather. I certainly am.
This morning, during my sitting meditation, I had an interesting train of thoughts. The first thought was that my husband was away on business… this led to the thought about what a great husband he is… then to the thought about how nice it feels to be in a good place in our relationship where we are getting along and really enjoying each other… which somehow led me to start thinking how much better my marriage was than a particular friend of mine and start some inner gloating over the fact that my relationship is better than hers. Luckily, I noticed an icky feeling arising at that moment, and was able to stop the chain of thoughts and notice that I had moved into the familiar territory of comparison mind.
Comparison mind, a term that I think I made up, refers to a tenacious habit that I have of comparing myself to everyone around me. It arises most often when I am feeling really anxious or stressed, or when I am feeling really elated. Whatever the reason for comparison mind, it inevitably leads to suffering for myself and, depending on whether I act on my thoughts, suffering for others as well. When I’m feeling anxious or uncomfortable, say in a group of people I don’t know well, my mind immediately starts to compare myself with each person in the group. In a yoga class, for example, when feeling insecure, I might tell myself, “OK, well your Trikonasana is much better than hers.” Or, “Hmm, that guy is sitting so still during centering, he is a better meditator than I am!”
When comparing myself, I end up thinking I’m either better than someone, worse than someone, or equal to someone. In every case, I lose. If I decide that I am worse than the other person, I feel bad. If I decide that I’m better than they are, I feel good for a moment, but that deflates as my mind quickly finds another aspect to compare myself to them. And even when I determine that I am equal to them, I still don’t feel great. No matter whether I decide that I am better than, less than, or equal to another person, the act of comparison automatically separates me from them, and I feel disconnected and alone. I call this feeling my comparison hangover.
The comparisons are endless. “I should be more like so-and-so. She practices yoga every day.” “I’m a better manager than he is.” “Am I as thin as she is?” With each comparison, we move further away from our true nature, and we continue to build our separate selves, creating separate structures that we then have to live in. The less we compare ourselves and others, the more we bring down the walls between us.
As Sri Chinmoy, a well-loved spiritual leader, says so beautifully:
The mind creates division, and division is another name for devastating pain.
The heart creates oneness, and oneness is another name for spontaneous joy.
This morning, when I realized that my comparison mind was erecting a barrier between my friend and myself, and causing me to suffer, I was able to let the comparison go. And what arose in it’s place was as beautiful as the crocuses and daffodils that are popping up everywhere. What arose was a spontaneous outpouring of metta – loving kindness – for my friend, and I offered a genuine wish for her and her marriage to be healed. As soon as I released the comparison, my heart was opened and I was able to respond with my deepest longing for her, and everyone else, to enjoy a loving relationship. And it felt great. No comparison hangover. I was able to feel genuinely happy about my own relationship and at the same time have compassion for my friend. My spontaneous wish for her drew me closer to her, closer to the reality that we are not separate. It dismantled my structure of separateness, and I was free. It was truly a gift from my practice.
Just for fun, next time that you are in yoga class, or anywhere else, notice when your own comparison mind arises. When it does, and I guarantee it will, I invite you to just notice it without judging it or engaging in it. You might notice that when it arises, you are feeling anxious or insecure, and just feel that and hold that. Then, if you can let go of the comparison just for a moment, you might find a bud of loving-kindness just waiting to bloom there for yourself and the other person, and glimpse what Thich Nhat Hanh calls the inter-being of everything.
with love on this journey together,