Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of July 18, 2011

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(Obstacles on the Way: Part 7 of 9)

Envy weakens us. If we look at some quality or object that another person possesses and we wish it were our possession, then we are inherently devaluing ourselves, admitting that in our own eyes we are not good enough. Envy is thus an opposite of self-respect. It is almost tantamount to wanting to be that other person rather than be ourselves. But the set of qualities, talents and shortcomings, assets and liabilities, that we have been given, our individuality, defines our challenge and our responsibility, our sacred duty to make of ourselves what we can, to fulfill our destiny. Another person’s destiny is irrelevant, having no bearing on our own. One opposite of envy is self-acceptance, to honor ourselves and our situation as is, to take this as our starting point for our efforts to become more, to transform our being, to do what we need to do.

Now perhaps we admire certain qualities in outstanding people and rightly strive to emulate those qualities, to hold such people up as shining examples of what we might become or achieve. But within that is our willingness to work to develop or earn those qualities or achievements. That does not mean wanting to acquire what the other person has in the cheap way that envy does. If it were morally acceptable, envy would have us steal those qualities or possessions rather than earn them. Envy is a kind of inner theft, in our heart taking or wishing to take what does not belong to us.

Envy’s sibling is jealousy, the hyper-awareness of and reaction to a real or imagined threat to our ownership of some thing or to our relationship with a person. Jealousy is self-destructive because it poisons our relationships and makes ownership a burden, sources not of joy but of worry.

The source of envy, as with greed, is our inner lack, the hole at our center that erupts into feelings of inadequacy and self-rejection. That hole can only be filled from within, by the spirit. And a prime road toward that consists of spiritual practice: presence, meditation, and contemplative prayer. So envy turns out to be a misplaced response to that inner need, a response that assumes that by having what someone else has, we can be made whole. But in the end, all externals prove insufficient to that need. Understanding this, in experience, leads to the transformation of envy into wish, into the wish for being.

For this week, notice envy at work in your own inner world. Question its premises and goals. See what’s behind it.


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