Finding Happiness For Others: Choosing Joy Over Jealousy

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.

If anyone is interested in reading further about Buddhism or visiting a centre close to you where anyone is welcome for teachings, meditation or a friendly cup of tea, then please visit Tharpa.com

More dharma, less drama; A brief intro to Buddhism

The word ‘Buddhism’ conjours up many images and feelings in our mind.  In this modern world we often associate it with orange robed monks sat in Tibetan caves, heads shaved, feet bare, sat in deep meditation.  We can picture giant Buddhist temples in the far flung lands of Thailand and China.  Its feels like a floaty word, perhaps a bit hippie and daydreamish.  It is a word that we relate with wisdom and peace, so much so that we can head into any home mega store and pick up a small Buddhist statue for our mantelpiece or garden, without even mildly associating ourselves with the teachings of Buddha.  Buddhism feels like something we would like to invite into our homes, into our lives, but it seems too complicated and out of our reach to ever fully invest in and understand.  Or so we may think.  But in fact, Modern Buddhism is not only a growing faith within the western world, but it is also becoming more and more accessible, mainly thanks to a Tibetan monk named Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who has, with supreme kindness, translated Buddhas teachings and made them relative to our modern daily lives without polluting them or altering them from their original lineage that dates right back to Buddha himself.  This tradition of Buddhism that I follow is Kadampa Buddhism, with centres rising around the UK, meditation classes, open talks, book study classes, and the opportunity for westerners to meet pure Buddha dharma.  There’s no mountainside caves to be retreated to, no foreign scrolls to decipher, and certainly no need to shave your head.

Buddha himself gave around 80,000 teachings and so this brief blog post aims to be just a  quick toe dip into the vast and deep ocean of Buddhism, a little taste of the nectar. The general basis of Buddhism is that our experience of the world depends upon our mind.  To give a simple example, let’s say that you and a friend go to the cinema to watch a film, and one of you enjoys the film and other person dislikes it.  What is the difference here?  The film is the same, the cinema setting is the same, but the two minds that viewed the film have a different experience.  The same can be said for our day to day lives.  Two people living the exact same lives, same jobs, same relationship status, same living arrangements, could record very different experiences based on their individual mind.

Imagine our mind is like a cup of pure water.  That is our pure Buddha mind. It is peaceful and calm.  It is full only of ‘good’ virtuous minds such as patience and compassion.  Now we add in the minds that pollute the water, ‘negative’ non-virtuous minds such as anger, jealousy, greed, self importance and aversion.  This is the current state of our mind.  As long as our mind is contaminated by these non virtuous minds, our life will never be peaceful and happy.  Buddhism incorporates ancient teachings and meditations to slowly reduce and eventually eliminate these minds, so we can have a mind like a fresh and crispy clean glass of water, rather than a cloudy and polluted bog.

So why is it so important for us to eliminate these minds?  It seems a little selfish doesn’t it, to just spend time working on our own minds? How is sitting meditating going to create positive change in he world?

Well first, lets have a think about the bigger picture, our world.  It is full of problems, we can all agree on that.  There certainly is no such thing currently as world peace.  When we examine the reasons for war, poverty and crime, we can easily realise that non-virtuous minds have all played a huge part in the destruction and suffering.  Greed for oil, land, money, and material possessions, anger for those who do not conform to a religion and aversion for opposing faiths, a self important need for power, a dismissive mind of those who are in need of compassion.  World leaders, governments, citizens, me and you, anyone who is in possession of a non virtuous mind is capable of causing harm and suffering, whether it is a hurtful comment made to a co-worker out of jealousy, or a man with funny hair ruling a whole country.  Can we imagine a world where Hitler had a pure and peaceful mind free from anger, jealousy, greed and a thirst for power? Now imagine a world where no one possess these minds. The world will never know peace until every human has a pure Buddha mind free from these non virtuous minds. It seems like a big task, how can we encourage everyone – of any religion, race and background – to work on creating a peaceful mind?  Because of course, whilst Buddhism is a religion in itself with belief systems, prayers and rituals, we don’t all need to convert to Buddhism to work on our mind, it can be a practice that works alongside other beliefs.  The answer is to simply learn and understand the teachings, put them into practice in our daily life, see the positive changes it brings, set an example, be an ambassador.  Buddha himself encouraged people to not just believe what he taught, but to try it and see for themselves.

If we have a pure and peaceful mind, we will have pure and peaceful intentions, and with pure and peaceful intentions we will inevitably have pure and peaceful speech and actions.  In this way we are promoting a pure and peaceful world.  We cannot expect world peace if we cannot live peacefully with our neighbours, family and work collegues, so we have to make a start somewhere.

So why meditate?  This is another often misunderstood practice.  It is quite often believed that meditation involves completely emptying the mind or imagining yourself relaxing on a beach.  Whist the latter is a fantastic way to relax and help with falling asleep, the former is pretty much impossible, and neither are related to traditional meditation.  The Buddhist practice of training the mind incorporates our own imagination to improve our viruous minds.  Now, I know its easy to scoff at that, imagination is for children, right?  But as adults we constantly use our imagination.  The computer you are reading this on, the clothes you are wearing, the house you are sat in, they all began in one persons imagination.  With effort, their imagination became reality.  How many times have we imagined a work meeting or a doctors appointment going terribly wrong before they even began?  Or imagined our future family with the first positive pregnancy test?  Our imagination outgrows our physical lives.  Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a jungle, on a mountain, on the moon!  It’s possible because our imagination is so powerful it surpasses time and place.  Briefly and simply put, Buddhist practice harnesses that power, by taking the time to soley focus our imagination on compassion, patience, the suffering of others etc, with the aim to enhance our virtuous minds.  It’s not easy, our mind is pulled continuously out of our control – what shall I make for dinner, did I leave the oven on, I must remember to send that email tomorrow – and that is why it takes continued practice. But we mustn’t be discouraged. Remember the Tibetan monk Geshe Kelsang Gyatso?  Well his advice is simple ‘Just try!’, and we can all do that.

One thing I often consider – and this is kind of off topic a little – is if people will read about Buddhism and wonder if it means you have to become boring?  I mean, practising being pure and peaceful all the time sounds a little dull doesn’t it?  But I hear the teachings, I study the books, I attend classes, I make huge efforts to put them into practice in my daily life, and guess what?  I’m not boring!  I enjoy a drink with friends, I colour my hair, I travel the world, I swear, I’m a normal human being doing normal human being things.  The teachings are incredibly life transforming, very scientific and really quite interesting to learn, training my mind and becoming a Buddhist has improved my quality of life immeasurably, and it has certainly not dulled it.  My life has simply become less complicated and more meaningful. ‘Dharma’ is a word used to describe Buddha’s teachings, and the light hearted saying goes ‘More dharma, less drama!’. We refer to the teachings as having an inner protection, a dharma shield.  I’m more able to process my own painful moments and suffering because my mind of compassion has grown and my non virtuous minds are gradually (not always, we are all just learners) becoming less like the untamed wild elephants that they can be.  My suggestion would be to just be aware of your mind over the next few hours / days / weeks and see just how little control we actually have.  No judgement, simply noticing.

I will continue blogging about Buddhism – it is a huge subject that I love to write about.  In the meantime if anyone has any desire to look further into Buddhism then I can happily guide you to  http://www.tharpa.com  where there is a wealth of books and meditations for your enjoyment.

Love from Pea x