Sunday, July 19, 2009

Envy Is

A child can always teach an adult 3 things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires. Paulo Coelho

This article is inspired by a comment a reader left after my post last week.

Colleen was at a workshop where the instructor was preparing to leave for a week-long trip to Italy. Someone else in the class said, “You are so spoiled to get to go there.” And Colleen replied, "No. She is not spoiled: she is creating and living her dream - manifesting it."

If you’re like me you probably heard some envy behind the “spoiled” remark. I interpreted it to mean that this classmate wished she could be on her way to a really cool trip to Italy.

I mean, who wouldn’t?

Of course, I know that “envy” has a negative connotation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, we could learn to embrace envy – to pay attention to it as a strong signal from our deepest selves. Envy is simply desire clouded by the belief that we can’t have what we want.

But we can have it. If we think of envy as a gift we haven’t opened yet, we can learn to open it and see the thing we really want.

Back in February 2001, I wrote in my journal that I envied someone with whom I worked. She had spent years of her life working as a medical missionary in Haiti and I envied the circumstances that seemed to make the travel and service possible for her.

At the time I thought that a medical mission would be impossible for me because it would be irresponsible to leave my good job– with no guarantee that another job would be waiting for me when I got back – to do volunteer work in another country.

But then I had an epiphany: The envy I felt for my colleague helped me focus my desire on living and working abroad. I decided to commit to my dream, and as you know from my last article, providence moved and supported me every step of the way.

What I learned is that envy is a form of ignorance. It comes from an ignorance of ourselves and our ability to achieve any outcome we want if we just set our minds to it. Envy reveals something that we don’t know about ourselves and need to know in order to achieve our own perfect happiness.

At its heart, envy is desire – a sign pointing in the direction of our dreams, a sign we need to pay attention to on our journey. It may not always point us in the direction of Italy, but it always directs us toward any great big dream that we think is unattainable, but really isn’t.

When I wrote Colleen back and asked if she thought there was an element of envy in the statement “You’re so spoiled…” she agreed. She also added that there was no malice in the statement, just wistfulness. And I believe the sense of wistfulness – really, powerlessness – associated with our desires is another misunderstanding.

Envy is a form of power. I want us to see envy as a manifestation of our desire - of wanting something - and associate that feeling with power. Rather than feel wistful about what you want, get excited. Be like the child and demand with all your might that which you desire.

This week I'm rejoicing in the delicious anticipation I feel when I know there is something I want. Want to know the current object of my desire? My husband calls it Prius Envy.


colleen said...

I love this. Funny, we have a little bit of Prius Envy here, too! Working on it!

Angela Barton said...

Nice quote, great post. I hadn't thought of envy in that way, but it's true. When you feel envious, pay attention because it's something you desire.

Stacey said...

@Colleen - Whew! Glad to know I'm not the only one. :)

@Angela - I'm glad you appreciated the insight, too! Shifting my focus in this way has helped me be so much happier.