What Comparing Yourself to Others Says About You

 

I’m sitting down to write about the tendency of comparing ourselves to others and then entering utter despair, but I just don’t feel like it. Actually I don’t feel like doing anything at all. But I’ve come all the way to a café so I am forcing myself in front of my laptop.  

I’ll just read my email first. I open a newsletter from a thoughtful friend and fall immediately into compare and despair. So now I’m here, actually writing about it and feeling how important it is to get to the root of it when we start telling ourselves how much better everyone else is. I hear this all the time in my practice, and in between my own ears.

 When compare and despair sets in I feel a heaviness. My cheekbones sink and my shoulders slouch. I hear some version of, “I’ll never have what they have because I’m not __________ enough”.  Overall it is a sense of loneliness and inadequacy and it is disempowering and saddening.  

While I think compare and despair has probably popped up in humans for a long time, it seems particularly virulent today, likely because of the highlight reel nature of social media. People post their beautiful experiences and moments of insight. We don’t see too much of the struggle of their lives. But sometimes we do and even those posts can cause compare and despair! “They’re so much more vulnerable than me,” or what have you.

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Compare and despair is exacerbated by social media, but the real reason it is so present in our lives is the abandonment of our longings.  Longing is a strange thing to make space for in a world that tells us to always seek for pleasure and to instantly gratify all desires. But not embracing our deeper longings has terrible consequences.

Longings are not only beautiful, but also necessary to human development. They show us where our growth edge is, what we are being called into, the mysterious visions of our soul. What we long for speaks volumes about us, our humanity, and what we bring to this world.

 Notice when compare and despair shows up - what is it that makes this person seem so wonderful? Maybe they get a lot of likes and so it seems they must feel really supported and valued in the world. Feeling supported and valued is a human need.

Longing for those feelings is a testament to your worth and humanity – you deserve to be supported and valued.  Longing for support and feelings of worthiness might inspire you to build deeper relationships and cultivate community, or to articulate the types of support that are important to you, or to define for yourself what you see as worthy.

These are all beautiful avenues of discovery, all fueled by your longing that was revealed to you through another. Sadly, we tend to just keep scrolling instead of connecting with what it is we deeply long for.

Photo by  Milan Popovic  on  Unsplash

 A life without longing would be boring. What we long for is what drives our work in the world, the relationships we build, and how we grow.  It’s why we decide to make less money so we can pursue art. Why we decide to work for racial justice in a rich white town. Why we make plans with friends even though our tendency is to stay at home all the time. It is how our lives are shaped by our deepest desires.

It is our longing that fuels us, that shapes us, that readies us for change. Living with longing is challenging, but it is a sign of our willingness to be transformed and a testament of our desire to grow. 

 

Here’s a step by step guide for transforming compare & despair into an honoring of what you most long for.


 

Coaching for a Just & Sustainable Future

 

The reason I became a life coach is because of the disorienting, disturbing, and demanding idea that my contribution is desperately needed. Somehow, I need to make a positive impact in the world in a way that is an expression of my unique gifts. This, of course, is the purpose of every human being in a healthy society. Given that we do not live in a healthy society, it is even more imperative that some folks are able to mature fully in a way that allows this.

Photo by Photo by  Jazmin Quaynor  on  Unsplash

Photo by Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

Personal development and activism are often considered separate arenas. Folks like Layla Saad, adrienne maree brown, Chani Nicholas, and Joanna Macy are helping me realize that they must be one pursuit if we are to create lasting, transformative, just, and ecological futures.

Self-help that promotes positive thinking as an escape from racist trauma only helps maintain a world in which white people stay comfortable in their bubble of privilege while people of color continue to suffer. Activism that runs on urgency and growth, operating from the top down, recreates a power structure and work that denies natural limits. As adrienne maree brown says, “we have to actually do everything differently”.

Photo by  LUM3N  on  Unsplash

Photo by LUM3N on Unsplash

Something I’m doing differently these days is being white. I mean I’ve always been white. But like most white Americans, I didn’t think about it too much beyond checking the box on applications. Given that this country was set up to benefit and serve white people, we are given default status across the board, hiding that whiteness is a race, too.  

White invisibility doesn’t hold for long if you live in Oakland, CA. So I’ve been learning more about white privilege, about the history of whiteness and how it works in the world, and how I might show up as a white person in a way that doesn’t perpetuate systems of privilege and oppression, both in my day-to-day life as well as in my coaching.

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One thing is for certain – I do not have it all figured out. This is a steep learning curve, one through which the story of my life, and my identities are being challenged. How delicious! albeit at times uncomfortable. This is truly how we grow as people.

If we are able to fully step into conversations – with people, issues, the Earth, our ideas and sense of selves are always being challenged.  When we participate in a conversation that shakes us, or rather, when we allow the conversational nature of reality to shake us, troubling times of introspection ensue, after which we emerge as a new version of ourselves that is better able to meet the world. We have to say yes to this if we want to grow and we have to say yes to this if we want to build an equitable future for all creatures.

Photo by  Yoal Desurmont  on  Unsplash

Because of the growth and softening that results, and because it is the only way to fully honor the human experience, I advocate showing up for our “negative” emotions.  Some of the emotions that have come up for me as I’ve dived into this are – grief, guilt, self-loathing, fear and sadness.  

The one that has hit me the hardest is sadness and remorse that I am only now truly waking up to this. That is the power of white privilege – we can go on our merry ways, even be “good” people. It is deeply troubling to wake up one day, realizing that simply existing as a white person causes oppression, much like simply living in the industrial world causes environmental destruction.

I imagine BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or people of color) reading this can only extend their compassion to me so far – the grief of my wasted time is but a blink in the expanse of centuries of grief from lost homes, separated families, police brutality, institutional discrimination, and bigotry. And that realization only deepens the sadness and remorse I experience – emotions that are long overdue for us whites benefitting from a system that causes great harm. For me, that sadness is morphing into a deep longing to participate in antiracism and liberation.

Photo by  Yoal Desurmont  on  Unsplash

If we want to create a world without oppression and environmental destruction we have to confront these crises both out in the world and within our consciousness and sense of self. Our personal growth cannot be divorced from the growth of our movements. If you are wondering how I’m going to integrate that philosophy into my coaching, you are asking the same question that is directing my life right now.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to learn more about whiteness. This is not a step-by-step guide or comprehensive list (obviously). I am very much still learning and am not an expert on antiracism. I'm just sharing where I'm at that it might be a launching point for you too.

Seeing White
This podcast series unpacks the history of whiteness, how and why it was created, and the ways it has been deployed to establish and perpetuate systems of power. It is moving, accessible, and imperative. If you have no idea what I'm talking about in this post, listen to this series!
http://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white/

You & White Supremacy
Writer, speaker & mystic Laylaa Saad has an incredible Instagram community where white people can learn and reflect on the ways racist systems benefit them and how they are complicit. Her You & White Supremacy challenge, going on right now, is a great way to dive in and has fueled powerful introspection for me.
https://www.instagram.com/wildmysticwoman/

Social Media
Follow lots of people of color on social media. What are the approaches of organizations led by POC? What is important to them and what challenges do they describe? How do different individuals talk about racism and whiteness? Listen and learn from these folks. Truly listen.

Instead of reading their posts with a critical eye, approach them with the recognition that you stand to learn a lot. Operate from the position that what they say is true. DO NOT JUMP IN. Do not share your opinion or experiences unless explicitly asked. If you feel defensive, just notice that and use it as an invitation for introspection rather than sharing.

An emotion I've felt strongly in response to following POC on social media is hope. The creativity, resilience, and heart that POC bring to this world despite incredible challenge is inspiring and beautiful. 

SURJ
Showing Up for Racial Justice is an outstanding group of white folks that offers fundraising, outreach, and support to POC-lead organizations and projects. They have a study group to learn about racial injustice, and many platforms to participate. SURJ is a national organization with many local chapters.
https://www.surjbayarea.org/

 

Overwhelm as a Gateway

 

Let’s be serious. If you are living in the world today and never feel overwhelmed you are probably psychologically unwell or a guru.

Of course there are beautiful moments when we feel we are a part of something special, when we know in our hearts things are changing, or feel in our bones a connection with Earth. These are the gifts of the great turning, the peaks.

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But the valleys of business as usual are deep, and social and mainstream media dig into familiar ruts, bombarding us with tweets from our abysmal president, photos of emaciated polar bears, news of another innocent black police killing.  If we watch sad story after sad story scroll by, or replay the sad components of our lives in our minds, feelings of overwhelm, disempowerment, and depression are not far behind.

It is so easy in those moments to turn on the television, crack open a beer, or find cute cat pictures. Of course there is time for all of those things in our varied and exciting lives! But changing the subject doesn’t get us anywhere with the overwhelm, it just reschedules it for another day. 

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For me, feeling overwhelmed is one of the worst emotions, the one I’m most likely to try to avoid. But just like anger or grief, avoiding overwhelm is a recipe for more of the same only worse, moving away from your experience and your true self, and never feeling much better. All emotions are gateways to knowing yourself better, seeing the world with new eyes, and to opening our full capacities as whole humans. If we can welcome overwhelm, something beautiful can emerge.

I think of it like Rumi’s poem The Guest House.

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There is a lot of messaging in our culture about good emotions and bad emotions. Happiness, joy, sexiness, confidence, are all good things to feel. Sadness, despair and loneliness are bad. No question that feeling sexy has more positive sensations than despair. But life isn’t about being happy. Life is about feeling so deeply that we are changed.

Never feeling sadness or despair is not only impossible, it’s not human. Feeling overwhelmed is as much a part of humanness as is joy. When we deny the “bad” emotions, we are saying “no” to an aspect of ourselves. We are telling ourselves, “feeling this way is not okay” or  “you shouldn’t feel this way,” when it is the most natural thing in the world.

Actually, a congratulations is more in order. Lots of things aren’t going well, but you are present enough to be a witness to the world. The overwhelm means that what you’ve been witnessing has had an effect on you. You know totally and completely that something is wrong. Lots of folks today have no idea, are still invested in business as usual. But you are in touch with your humanness such that you know. This is incredibly healthy and powerful!

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We might also revel in the wonder that we can be overwhelmed at all! We have a uniquely human capacity to see the larger picture and be sad for it. No other creature sees how the whole Earth is interconnected in one magnificent ecosystem. No other being can see how the plights of peoples on opposite ends of the globe are related. It is our responsibility to feel on this planetary level. No one else can.

And no other human feels it exactly as you do. The intricacies of your overwhelm speak of your unique vulnerabilities, the place where the world touches you. Overwhelm is an opportunity to access the parts of us that are most distressed with the times, in other words, most fully in love with beauty, justice, and ecological sanity. It is from this most vulnerable and most devoted place that we become agents of change. If we are able to accompany ourselves through our overwhelm, we can explore those tender facets of ourselves. Those facets have a lot to say about who we are and where to go from here.

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When we reach the point when we’ve witnessed too much and haven’t allowed the emotions in, they pile on until we break down, overwhelmed. Overwhelm is a message that says, “you love the world too much to see this and not feel it”.

So let it in – feel the emotion of being overwhelmed, let it wash over you. Sit with it quietly alone. Or maybe you want to yell or cry - go with it. Awaken your compassion and comfort yourself. Not reassurance that everything will be okay, but reassurance that you are feeling what you are feeling.

If a child felt overwhelmed you wouldn’t try to talk her out of it. You might say to her, “Wow, I hear you are feeling overwhelmed. There is a lot of upsetting stuff going on. It can be really overwhelming.” You could give yourself some affectionate pats and say, perhaps out loud, “This is an overwhelming time.” And just give yourself the space to feel that emotion, to sit with yourself as you feel it. We need our emotions to be felt and validated.

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At this point, you might go deeper into it and ask – what is the heart of the matter here? And lean into that feeling. Maybe underneath everything that feels overwhelming is the sense of utter lack of reciprocity with Earth in mainstream culture. Feel the sadness of that, the grief. Feel the longing of relationship with Earth in your own life, and for humankind. Feel the hurt of the beings who suffer because of this abandonment.

Or maybe what really stings underneath it all is the inequity of our civilization. Lament for the people whose lives have been dictated by the school to prison pipeline, for our culture that is suffering without their wondrous contributions. Whatever it is that is at the heart of your overwhelm in this moment, meet yourself there. Meet the total sadness of it, or the terrible heartache.

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It is helpful to do this work out in nature or with others. Earth can hold such big feelings. Find a place on the land that reminds you of what it is at the heart of your overwhelm, or perhaps a place where you feel totally held and supported.

Sit there and take the place in – open yourself to the possibility that it has something to share, or some way to comfort you in this moment. Tell the land what is troubling you, give the Earth your tears. Speak out loud all the ways this hurt is touching you. Then take some time to listen. Listen to the wild ones around you and to your own body. And be a witness to how these feelings move through you, and are received by or mirrored in nature.

This is a simple recommendation. It is kind of hilarious actually. You tell me you’re overwhelmed and the remedy I’ve proposed is an invitation to feel overwhelmed!

But this process changes you. It makes you more human. It makes you more yourself. It helps you realize what is really important. And it sends an essential message to yourself, “It is okay to feel however I feel”. “When I feel something, I’m invited to really feel it”. “I have the strength and compassion to meet myself where I am”.

Where you are is your unique place in the world. Feeling overwhelmed can be the gateway for sharing this unique place. Perhaps the center of your overwhelm cracks you open wide and breaks your heart. Heartbreak is one of the most transformative things we can endure, if we are willing to show up for it. The world doesn’t change because you truly allowed yourself to feel, the world changes because you are now a different person birthed from that allowance.

Interested in how you can work with your most feared emotions to shed light on your unique gifts?

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