Like the river beds and lakes here, I have found myself yearning to be filled up.
It has been a very hot, dry summer in New England. Farm fields are now dust clouds when the tractors pass through. Streams have become rock beds snaking through woods. Many trees already stand half-bare, having strewn their leaves in brown circles around their trunks, as if in surrender.
It is profound to allow ourselves to notice when we miss something, and in so doing to realize that what we treasure we often take for granted. An appreciation for rain, often rare for summer-lovers, is rampant here now. Where there once were showers, a deluge of longing fills the air.
Lately my internal landscape has matched the landscape outside; much of the summer I have felt vaguely “dry.” Not dry in a sense of being bored or “flat,” but dry in the sense of having worked too much, leaving me feeling depleted, and wanting. With a big event and meeting this summer, my penchant for focusing on work to the exclusion of other things got the best of me, and I now understand anew the metaphor of feeling “burnt out.” Like the earth, I feel parched, lacking in a particular nourishment – one that saturates and enriches, making the ground fertile for new growth. Like the river beds and lakes here, I have found myself yearning to be filled up.
It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but sometimes when I get like this, I cannot tell exactly what it is I am yearning for, or how to actually make a shift to a new way of being. In the face of a world in deep need, self-care can seem indulgent, and my exhaustion can leave me stuck and unimaginative. When my internal reserves are too depleted to “look within” for a remedy, I turn to look outside myself. I scan the lives of those around me and follow the clues to see what triggers my longing. It is an unusual and humbling process, but I actually let envy become my guide.
Envy is painful IF we leave it as unexamined covetousness, and do not see it as carrying abundant wisdom about our longings and belonging.
Envy being very different than jealousy – there is no part of me that does not want the other person to have what brings them happiness – it helps me understand what I want or need when I see it as a lived experience in someone else’s life. It becomes animated in my awareness when I see the impact on a life – not just a one-dimensional depiction of the thing itself. “Oh,” I can feel myself sensing, “that is a way I would love to feel too.” Rested, creative, invigorated, connected, inspired, challenged, relaxed…any of these feeling states, and many more, have strong appeal. Once I recognize a state of being I desire enlivened by someone else’s example, I can much more readily see the pathways there. And so I scan, and I let myself “pine,” and I listen closely to what my “wanting mind” and envy have to teach me.
In this practice, envy has become a powerful “pointer” of sorts – like a dowsing rod for my soul. I can feel the quiver when I am close to something that may be a welcome source of nourishment and replenishment. For example, I do not think of myself as a very “creative” person, but I feel envy when I am around people who have the telltale gratification that artisanship brings. Big clue: try something new, or pick up an old hobby. I also never go camping anymore, but I have found myself feeling the lovely, rough edges of envy when hearing about people’s camping adventures. Big lesson: crack out a tent. The calm from yoga: do it. The freedoms of simplicity: get rid of things. The meaning in service: help others. The joys of spontaneity: leave space in the schedule. The peace of nature: Go. And perhaps my biggest envy: the deep rest of good sleep? Get to bed earlier.
I need to acknowledge that envy can be some very tricky terrain to navigate. It is full of slippery slopes and sinkholes. Without taking action to address what we learn, it can easily pick up the steam of resentment and the spoils of self-pity. Unaddressed, it can make us smaller, rather than make our lives bigger. It can also incite an intense sense of separation from those who “have” what we want, as opposed to a source of connection. Envy is painful IF we leave it as unexamined covetousness, do not see it as carrying abundant wisdom about our longings and belonging, and do not allow it to connect us more deeply with others.
If we can cultivate gratitude for the enlightening roots of envy, perhaps we can notice better where our own lives feel lacking, and find inspiration and momentum toward greater aliveness for ourselves and the world.
If we can cultivate what the Buddhists call “empathetic joy,” then we bless, learn from, and connect with the source of our envy. If we can let envy emanate from humility and vulnerability, we can discover what stirs our souls. If we can cultivate gratitude for the enlightening roots of envy, perhaps we can notice better where our own lives feel lacking, and find inspiration and momentum toward greater action on behalf of ourselves, others, and the world. I, for one, am grateful that there are so many amazing people around me who live their lives in ways that move me, and I am truly grateful when I have the motivation, ability, and privilege to try to heed their example.
My plan this week: Clear my schedule, crack out a sleeping bag, grab some colored pencils and paper, get myself to a vista, salute the sun, help a friend, and let my well and my well-being fill up. Thanks to envy for helping me make my plan. And thanks to grateful living, which always reminds me to stop, to look around, to notice opportunities available to me, and then to GO and do something about it. So…humbled once again, off I go!
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Catching up on my inbox after a spell of what feels like depression and want to express my gratitude for this reflection. You really hit the nail on the head, Kristi, and caught me in the nick of time, it seems. “Incessant resentment” had crept up on me gradually over the past few months and was starting to really take root. Ugh! Thank you so very much for your thoughtful insights on envy and what it can teach us. I’m actually feeling a bit energized about doing the work of discovering what I need and want during this difficult time in my life.
Thank you dear Kristi.
I read your article just when I needed, isn’t it a strange coincidence? Sometimes I am confused, because when some of my friends tell their opinions, I feel a great envy for what they’re saying, for the way they express their ideas, while on the opposite I find hard to say what I really believe. During my vacations I felt this in a such a strong way, that it caused a pain inside me. The reason for the pain comes from this sequence of moods: while I am feeling envy, I would like to be the only one that says right things, but soon, as I realize this is a bad thought I roll down in a sadness valley, believing I have nothing to share, nothing intelligent to say.
You are offering me a key to transform this envy. I will pay more attention to what happens in those circumstances, and I will try to change.
With a great gratefulness for your work, the “hard work” that has inspired your article!
Blessings to you Anna. I am so glad for you to write about this challenge with speaking up that sometimes takes you to the “sadness valley.” One of my favorite sayings is. “don’t believe everything you think.” This is great advice when we are thinking poorly of ourselves. You are an inspiration. Kristi
Thank you for this more enlightened and positive way of seeing an emotion which is traditionally thought of as negative, something we would not want to admit, but is there anyway . . . I have had that arid feeling all summer as well, especially when I hear of the wonderful vacations so many people around me have had. After reading this, it immediately occurred to me that “envy” is pointing me to my innate love of adventure and need to experience beauty and newness in my surroundings, which I have ignored for some time. Envy is a good thing now — a dowsing rod for my soul. Thank you for this new perspective.
Thank you Lisa. Your understanding is meaningful to me. I too had not taken any time off work this summer and was feeling uncomfortably resentful. When I switched up my attitude to take other people’s wonderful stories of time off as inspiration – with a commitment to figure out how to heed it – I got more ease around it and more clear that I HAVE to take care of myself if I don’t want to settle for incessant resentments. This is a redirect that makes a difference for me. Hope you take some time for yourself soon! In support, K
Kristi, Your writing has touched me so deeply. You have summarized so much of what I have been feeling lately. An emptiness that I couldn’t really understand. I like the differences between envy and jealousy. I feel inspired to release shame around this feeling I have so often latley, and motivate toward creating moments of having what I see others having! Thank you for your eloquent words!
Annie – Thank you so much for writing. I could not be happier than to have articulated something which is resonant for you and others, and to lift up shared human experiences out of shame and into compassionate consideration. Let’s learn together to be gentle with ourselves and one another, gratefully. K
Thank you Kristi. Your reflections resonate deeply with me. I have come to recognize and understand envy as the ‘passion’ of my Enneagram type. In my experience, unexamined envy is a source of crippling shame. I am grateful for your insights and hope to be more deliberate about mining the envy, and its heart of longing, for the wisdom it holds.
Thank YOU Seeker. It is challenging to bring these kinds of internal experiences to the public domain, but it feels important. Your words help me to know why it matters that we do so. May you continue to mine your life for these kinds of meaningful insights that you share.
Deep and honest awareness about one’s state and vulnerability is a wonderful gift. Being objective about our personal situation is critical and must be done in humility. Often times, solutions are found in the lives or action of others. The concept of healthy envy strikes a cord. Of course it does run the risk of self-absorption rather the healing. Understanding these pitfalls and being able to harness the positive is a unique view. I do believe that gratefulness is the source that allows for this to occur. Thanks for sharing yourself, this is at the heart of the connectedness that is our reason for being.
Thank you Drew for your thoughtful note which expands some on what I have said in my blog, and all of which I agree with. I hope that lifting up these kinds of hidden conversations to public discourse can allow them to provoke, inform, inspire, and heal. Thank you for being a beautiful part of our world.