Jealousy is an emotion we have all encountered in our lives, both experiencing the repercussions from someone else who feels jealous, or living with the uncomfortable feeling ourselves. If someone were to ask you ‘how many times have you felt jealous?’ it would be an impossible question to answer. Even if as adults we don’t suffer with strong jealousy, there are countless times we experienced it in the past and there are always future opportunities for this mind to arise, even in the most subtle of ways. So why is it so shameful to admit our jealousy and begin the simple journey to relieving ourselves of its poisonous burden?
I have pondered over this blog post for an exceptionally long time. Jealousy is everywhere in our human world, and of course this includes the emotional minefield of the baby loss world. My intention here is not to alienate anyone or judge someone’s personal grief journey and all the deeply painful trauma that comes with the death of your child. But I also know – having naturally experienced it myself – that jealousy is hugely painful and of great burden to us as humans, and having received Buddhist teachings on ways to ease it I feel like I would like to post this for anyone suffering and wanting to find ways to escape the suffocating clutches of the green-eyed monster.
Firstly, I want to make a few things clear. My life is not devoid of jealousy, I am a human, one who has suffered the loss of her child shortly after he was born and has lived with the subsequent sting of pregnancy and birth announcements. I’m not pointing the finger and rolling my eyes at you, or anyone, and I believe wholeheartedly that some level of jealous feelings are entirely natural when your baby dies and others live. There is inevitably the feeling that after so much raw pain we have to at times protect our own heart and I am not suggesting anyone denies themselves that privilege, but rather I want to pass on some helpful relief. To begin I would like to share with you a personal moment when I felt the rages of jealousy. I had just suffered my second miscarriage following the sudden death of my newborn son and we were in the run up to his first birthday and angelversay. I was heartbroken and losing hope when a close friend of mine announced – quite out of the blue – that she was expecting a baby. She sent me a beautiful and well-considered text and I’ve no doubt she was aware that the news would bring with it a level of pain for me. But despite knowing all that, I read the message and my chest burned, I felt angry, I went straight to bed and cried a river, my mind said ‘why can she have a baby so easily but I can’t?!’ and it took me until later that day to reply to her message. After some crying and resting, to help regain my perspective I looked through my teaching notes and meditated with a mind focused on eliminating my jealousy. I did not suppress the feeling, I did not beat myself up for it, I simply challenged why I felt that way and used practical reasoning to slowly overcome it. It isn’t magic, it’s just changing your thinking.
Firstly, if we know someone is feeling jealous then we should also know that this requires great compassion. Jealousy is so often hurled as an insult, and with it comes a huge amount of personal attack and negative insinuation. But if we all think about a moment when we have felt jealous, then we can easily realise just how ugly it feels. When we are jealous we are angry, ashamed and most likely comparing our personal value to the value of others. It is such a consuming emotion that it is quickly out of our control, and many crimes of passion have been committed by someone who feels jealous. Whilst it doesn’t always mean we are going to turn into a murderer… it can lead us to cut contact with friends and family and say and do tremendously hurtful and regretful things. There is never any good that comes from a feeling of jealousy, and it feels painful and poisonous. No one has ever said ‘I love feeling jealous, it’s so wonderful!’ and those around us who feel jealous are suffering great mental pain. When we do retaliate in jealousy, it feels good for a short time but it is quickly chased by feelings of shame and guilt. If we know how this feels, then we can realise that those around us suffering from jealousy do not require shaming and mocking, but actually they require great compassion to relieve them of such a terrible feeling. And not in a patronising and sarcastic way with an underlying intent to embarrass or shame them, but in a way that truly comes from a compassionate intention – that is the most important point.
So why do we feel jealous? From a Buddhist perspective, jealousy is a negative mind that arises when we feel like our own needs are not met. This mind comes from our deep-rooted self cherishing, the mind that all humans possess that puts themselves as their number one priority and most important person. We don’t need to be ashamed to admit that we have this mindset, we all do, it is our greatest flaw as humans, and it leads to all our minds of anger, attachment, jealousy etc, and is the mind that subsequently leads humans into division, war and other disastrous situations. To give an example of this mind, we can use an analogy; Imagine you are walking down your street and you notice that all the houses have smashed windows. Our mind instantly thinks ‘Oh wow, I hope my house hasn’t had its windows smashed’. Whilst of course we may feel natural compassion for our friends and neighbours, we are ultimately relieved that our house is ok. Now imagine that you are told that only one house on your street has been broken into, our mind of self cherishing leaps in again and says ‘I hope it’s not my house!’. Self cherishing is the mind that values my things greater than it values others, whether that be my house, my car, my family, my idea, my religion or my country. It is not to be confused with selfishness, but is rather a natural arising mind that promotes strong attachment to ‘me, my, our’. As Buddhists we are always working to eliminate this mind – with wisdom from other practical teachings. It is the mind that is the root of all our daily problems and our one true enemy. Jealousy arises from our self cherishing mind. When my friend announced her pregnancy, it was my self cherishing mind that instantly screamed ‘what about me? Why couldn’t my baby live? Why can’t I get pregnant?’. Before I thought of my friends happiness, I thought of my own sadness, and jealousy tightened its grip.
There have been many times on this infant loss path that I have wished I had a greater skill at reducing my jealous feelings, and luckily for me (and anyone else who is hoping to reduce this suffering) Buddha provided us with some wonderful and practical advice. I don’t think it is an instant cure without great practice – and devoted bodhisattvas and monks are training their minds tirelessly for many years to eliminate their mind of self cherishing, the root cause of all our problems and suffering. But with some simple perspective and contemplation, we can at least begin to ease our jealousy and relieve our personal suffering whilst rejoicing in the happiness of others.
The first thing I always consider is this – jealousy is a wasted and pointless mind. By feeling jealous of someone else’s happiness or success, it doesn’t make me feel better and it doesn’t stop them feeling happy or being successful. In that sense it is a double loss; I feel worse, they are still happy. If our jealous mind is hoping for the other person to stop feeling happy (which is sadly what this mindset promotes) then we will never be successful in that. Our jealousy simply leaves us feeling even more miserable, whilst the other person continues in their happiness. As we realise how empty and worthless the mental pain of jealousy is, we can make a rational and firm commitment to dispose of it.
The next thing I do is I remember what jealousy is. It is just a mind that says ‘my wish not to suffer is more important than your happiness’. To put it brutally, when I read the announcement I was thinking about my pain rather than my friends happiness. I put my pain first, it was more important than the fact that my friend had just discovered that she was about to become a mother and was overjoyed at such a life changing moment. I instantly thought ‘I want that’ rather than ‘she deserves that happiness’. Grief is complicated and we must allow ourselves to engage in self-care and be gentle on our hearts, but we must also remember that we are just one single person whilst others are countless, and everyone around us deserves happiness. It doesn’t mean we don’t find these situations painful and want to crawl into a corner and lick our wounds, but it also means that we can accept that the happiness of others is as important as our expectations of respect for our own grief. I realised ultimately that I didn’t want my friend – or anyone – to feel guilty for her happiness, I didn’t want her pregnancy and motherhood to be tainted by my personal pain, she was happy and why shouldn’t she be, I remembered the feeling from my first carefree pregnancy and what a wonderful gift it was for her to experience and celebrate that.
Another point to contemplate – at the risk of sounding like a total hippie – is that we are all on our own journeys. But really, we are… if my friend falls pregnant, has that robbed me of my own chance? Absolutely not. Her – and anyone else’s happiness – is not related to mine in that sense. And so, does it really make any sense to not feel happy for her? Actually, another healthy baby has an opportunity at life, and that doesn’t make or break my own chance at motherhood. The same goes for any situation, our lives are all dependent upon circumstances arising, and so we can celebrate the happiness of others as if it were a success of our own. We can remember that another person feeling happy doesn’t mean that we can’t, nobody is capable of stealing your happiness simply by adding to their own. Often when we feel jealous we discover that this feeling vanishes when we achieve our own happiness, if this is the case then we can see that jealousy is simply dependent upon our own mind in that moment and therefore we have the ability to make it vanish ourselves, with some guided training and effort. Just because we feel jealous in that moment, doesn’t mean we will always feel this way, our mind shifts and changes constantly and we can make the decision as to which direction we point it, after all it is our mind, we own it.
There are other countless things to consider. For example, a stranger who sees me pass by with my now 6 month baby bump, may look at me and feel jealous that they do not have a baby. But of course, they don’t know my journey to this point. The fact is that we rarely know a persons full background and history. Nine months ago as I stood in the shop queue, empty womb and heartbroken, behind a heavily pregnant lady, I looked at her as if she had the whole world. I thought ‘I want that’. But of course, everyone suffers in life, mentally, physically, emotionally. Was the woman in front of me happy? Who knows. Perhaps she faces redundancy from her job, no longer loves her partner, or suffers from anxiety. It’s easy to compare suffering and feel as though ours is worse, and of course I can agree that child loss is severely cruel, but suffering is suffering, and no one escapes it for a lifetime, no one. When I looked at her as if she had the whole world, there are others looking at me and thinking the same. We only have to turn on the news and witness the devastation that exists alongside us in this world to see that we – in our safe-roofed, cosy-warm, war-free, full-bellied worlds – are objects of jealousy too.
It took several hours for me to overcome my instant and writhing jealousy in my own situation, but after contemplating Buddha’s teachings and giving myself a little time to breathe and regain perspective, I felt relaxed and confident enough to send a heartfelt congratulations. And the greatest things happen from those moments, I relieved myself of the added and wasted suffering of jealousy at a time when I already feel the relentless grip of grief, and I celebrated my friends happiness. It’s not always easy, and I’m certainly far, far from a pure enlightened being, but as long as we have a mind it is possible to enhance our positive virtues and reduce our negative minds that bring with them so much destruction and pain, jealousy included.
I want to end by sending lots of love to all my fellow angel mother friends who walk this cruel path so courageously and with the greatest of grace, even during our messiest, most confused and vulnerable moments.
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