Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Things or qualities that we value can easily become sources of envy, dividing us from others who have them to a greater degree than we do. Envy arises from identifying with a thing or quality, or rather with our desire for that thing or quality. Envy closes our world down, narrowing our perceptions to the sliver of life that concerns the object we feel we lack and that others have.

To envy someone for their wealth, charisma, beauty, fame, attainment, or other quality can cause several things to happen. If I actually know the person, an impenetrable barrier may descend between us as I inwardly push them away or withdraw from them. I cannot relate just as person-to-person, as equals. I look for faults in them or avoid them or even become obsequious toward them, while inwardly squirming. They become my enemy, a symbol of my failure or lack. If I do not know the person, then the envy may simply color my perception of them and the world. Either way, my mind makes excuses, trying to convince myself that I am not really a loser, that my lack does not matter, and then it proceeds to dwell on my inadequacy. An unhealthy form of self-doubt may descend on me.

Envy may lead us to its close cousin: competition. That may not be all bad, since competition is part of nature’s way (the other corresponding part being cooperation). Competition might lead me to achieve more than I would otherwise. But if I stake my self-worth on the competition, on overcoming my lack by filling it, on surpassing those I envy, then I adopt a precarious position indeed. My assessment of my life then depends on comparison with others. I can never come to real peace because there is always someone who has or is more.

As the dominant values of our time, our culture enshrines the competition to acquire more things and to have a more beautiful body. Our educational system teaches skills for external success, as it should. But where are our schools of wisdom. Our modern media forms a prodigious, mesmerizing machinery geared toward disseminating envy-inducing images. In response we squander our souls by chasing an ever-widening array of things we do not need. But no one has it all, leaving all to envy those who have more. So the economic forces of modern culture conspire to promote the envy on which it is based.

Of course envy also afflicts spiritual circles, where we vie for positions of leadership and tokens of respect. The extent to which envy drives our spiritual work is the extent to which that work goes awry.

It is not so easy to escape from this culture of envy, so deeply ingrained in the fabric of our social environment and in the patterns of our personality. Indeed, we might ask: why should we escape? Because envy keeps our focus and our energies turned toward the external and ephemeral, while we neglect eternal values.

If you look back on your life, you might find that the highlights have nothing to do with the things that envy drives you toward. If you look forward toward your future, you may want to stop wasting time and energy on envy and all its baggage. If you look to the present, you may see how envy divides you from others, saps your being, and diminishes your presence.

Our hope lies in the clear seeing that loosens our bonds. Toward that, we work to see how envy operates within us. When we notice one of its many manifestations, we take a long, full view.


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