Lojong Practice Journal: Don't be jealous

The 59 slogans through a social justice lens

The 57th Lojong slogan is another one with wildly varying translations. The Lojong card deck I have uses the translation “Don’t be jealous”, but the majority of translations I found read don’t be ill-tempered, don’t be angry, or don’t be impulsive with your emotions. These differences are worth considering, as it might change how we practice with this slogan, but I will come back to that.

On a surface level, ‘Don’t be jealous’, much like ‘Don’t wallow in self-pity’ before it, is about how we relate to the ego. Our experiences of jealousy are so personal and how we understand it often comes down to the context in which jealousy arises.

When I experience jealousy, it’s often towards someone who is doing really well in an area that I want to succeed at. For example, I feel jealousy about the book Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. I wrote a similar book (not as well) in my teen years, that I was very proud of but have not (yet) had published, as it requires a lot of revision. My jealousy around this isn’t a wish that Mathieu hadn’t published Moxie and that I had instead (Only she could have written that particular book at that particular time) nor that the book wasn’t published at all (It’s super fabulous, I love it, I am so glad it exists for teenagers of all genders to discover, you should read it), but that I too could be a published YA author.

In Buddhism we are taught the antidote to jealousy is to cultivate sympathetic joy, which is the feeling of rejoicing in the good fortune and positive occurrences in the lives of others.’ While this definitely has its place, I don’t lack for sympathetic joy when I see someone succeeding in an area where my own passion and creativity lies. I’m super happy for Mathieu and I still feel this pang of jealous (perhaps envy is the better word?) because my jealousy isn’t about wishing she wasn’t a published author and I was, but that we could both be published.

And here is where I’ve found another antidote, which I’ve discovered through relating to the kind of jealousy I describe above. When I feel jealousy about the achievements of others, it’s a sign-post for where I should be putting my energy, but am neglecting to do so.

This brings me to the alternative translations of this slogan, that use terms like ‘ill-tempered’ and ‘angry.’ Emotions are not ethereal things. They happen within our bodies and involve the release of various hormones. Emotions are strong physical responses, which our bodies developed for a purpose. Because of patriarchy and white supremacy, we are often taught that strong emotions are irrational, illogical things. How many times have you heard the whole flight, flight, freeze story and how your body just ‘can’t tell if it’s a bear or it’s a past due bill’? As if a past due bill isn’t a very real and legitimate cause for concern. As if our modern context has rendered our emotional responses as invalid.

It is valid to feel anxious about global warming.
It is valid to feel angry about police brutality, white supremacy and the existence of billionaires.
It is valid to feel depressed in seeing the growing number of unhoused humans and the rising, impossible-to-afford-unless-you-are-super-ultra-rich cost of housing.

Understanding what any strong emotion is communicating for us is actually super important, even necessary. This slogan, and many others, starts with “Don’t be…” As in, do not let your identity become a strong emotion. Remember, no feeling is permanent or constant, nor definitive of who you are, but that doesn’t mean ‘Don’t listen to your strong emotions’ or ‘Get rid of your strong emotions’.

Relating to my anxiety as something I experience rather than who I am as a person was a huge and powerful shift for me. It stopped being a personality trait, inherent and inborn (which I knew it wasn’t because I wasn’t born feeling anxious) and began to be something I could relate to with curiosity. If I’m not just “an anxious person,” but a human being experiencing anxiety (as humans do in response to things both external and internal) then what was anxiety telling me? What is any strong emotion telling me? How do I listen to my gut?

I apply this wisdom to all intense emotions: When I feel jealous, angry, anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed and so on, rather than thinking “I’m a jealous/angry/anxious person,” I pause and wonder what the strong emotion has to offer me. What is the lesson to be learned by being with it? Is it that I am putting my energy where it shouldn’t go? Or that a boundary has been violated? Or that an injustice is happening and needs to be addressed?

If I identify with jealousy, I risk not actually changing my circumstances, adjusting my attention to focus on what matters to me (writing) and instead risk getting stuck in wallowing in self-pity, or spiralling out into hopelessness, or feeding my Imposter Syndrome Demon. But when I pause and relate to the jealousy (or any intense, uncomfortable emotion), give it space and consider what it is telling me, I can choose a different course. With reflection and deliberation, I am not suppressing or denying how I feel, but honouring it and learning to listen to what it has to offer. With this approach, any strong emotion can become a friend, a guidepost, a reminder of our purpose and and invitation to (re)align ourselves to that purpose.

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Originally published on Medium.

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