Dharma Q/A: How Do I Work with Jealousy?

What can we do when we notice that we have stepped away from the connectedness that we know is true and are instead suddenly faced with feeling separate, protective, or threatened by the other, for instance, in the case of jealousy? 

The most powerful response we have towards any mind state is to mindfully befriend this “birth” that is coming into being. Only then can we look deeply into its source. If we resist and judge, we add suffering on suffering. This doesn’t mean giving into the impulse or believing the thoughts generated from this mindspace, it is more like caring for an upset child whom you love unconditionally while also recognizing this reactive state for what it is.

Daily practice in zazen helps us develop this habit that we call upon in emotionally charged situations – to let go of solving or fixing the unwelcomed state of mind. Letting go of our thoughts about what is happening, we can connect with the felt sense in the body of this mind state with compassion and curiosity. Fundamentally, the “truth” of feeling states like jealousy is not in opposition to the truth of connectedness. Fundamentally, you are still as connected as you were in the moment before jealous arose – true connectedness is not dependent upon your “knowing” it or not. It is not the emotion of jealousy that is often destructive, it is the motion that comes from this – what we do with what is emerging. If we proceed with compassion, we have already reconnected with at least one heart – our own.

If I can befriend any state, I can look more deeply and see what there is to learn here. In the case of jealousy or envy, I can notice how I have reduced to world to a single lacking object that someone has “out there” and I lack “in here.” Compelling as this is, it completely misses the truth of reality in all its glorious ungraspable presence of who you are. There is a brilliant sea of clouds says our precept commentary. We can ask ourselves, how is it this person has or appears to be taking from me what I lack? How is this condition here to teach me? What is it I lack? This is a most excellent koan.

We should thank the people who bring out jealousy or envy in us so that we can explore our full functioning buddhanature and clarify what really matters in life. All of our ego attempts to achieve wholeness fail at some point in the misguided agenda to gather objects or qualities that will finally make us complete and at peace. Mahayana Buddhism says we can experience this now in this flawed limited human life as it is. We should not be too quick to get rid of all the flaws – if you ask your loved ones, our limitations are often some of the ways in which we’re endeared to them and they hold the key to humility, liberation and unshakable peace.

With palms together,


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