I attended a Wayne Dyer lecture many years ago, grabbed a front row seat to mine the wisdom that I was there for, and walked away with one particularly resonant statement that I took at face-value for years. He said: all unhappiness is caused by comparison.
I found so much truth in that statement and saw it in conversation after conversation. And it’s true, now more than ever, as the current emotional temperature of the world we live in is being stoked by many people hell-bent on being the leading authorities and influencers in our lives. But deep diving and questioning things is at the very heart of who I am. So after spending enough time seeing the truth of this statement just as it was pronounced, I began to stretch out my thinking about comparison and found that lying inside the practice was an inherent invitation to use it in a more constructive way.
As a two-sided coin, comparison can be used to either measure or clarify.
Comparison used as a measurement generates unhappiness; it’s obvious and true. In this practice, the ego is striving to find a foothold for feeling better by pitting us against things and letting us sit there churning in dissatisfaction, absolving ourselves of any deeper understanding or action. It takes our insecurities and seeks a place of relief through judgment, superiority and ultimately, separation. Its main goal is to soothe our perceived inadequacies and unworthiness by calling into play our small-minded competitive critic who takes no prisoners.
While it can either offer temporary relief at someone else’s expense or relentlessly stoke the fires of our shortcomings in self-destructive ways, comparison – when used as a measurement – eventually leaves us falling short, in our wound with unresolved emotions, disconnected from what we want, with nary a plan to get it.
Alchemy comes the moment we decide to be in relationship with things in a new way.
Comparison becomes a powerful tool when we choose to use it as a clarifier. This elevated heart-based practice is where we are revealed to ourselves in the emotions, needs and wants that are sparked in our reactive moments. It’s where, when we connect to a deeper understanding of what we’re feeling and what it is we prefer instead, and then marry it to an action, we can eventually do, be or have something different. This is comparison’s potent purpose!
An example of what this might look like is when we see someone who we perceive as “having it all going on” and we feel a pang of jealousy, of not measuring up, of feeling that very familiar painful space inside of us where we are hopeless, wounded or disassociated from what we want in some way. When, in a moment like this, we are able to take a deep breath and allow this person to serve as a very valuable clarifier, showing us what aspects of us we want more resonance and alignment with, or healing around, we responsibly begin the journey to a higher state of well-being.
There is always a preference tucked in the higher act of comparison; our soulful summons is to illuminate what we DO want, rather than continue to live in the familiar emotions of what we don’t want or have.
So when we stand at the crossroads of choosing our pain or our potential, we are called to the meaningful work of putting comparison to work in purposeful ways by clarifying:
- What we observed
- What core emotion was once again triggered
- What it reveals we are missing and wanting in our life
- What are we willing to do about it
Take to your journal with this work. Making sense of our reactions is both necessary and cathartic. Being able to re-visit situations, see consistencies and patterns, and track our interpretations and choices is a very helpful way to grow and change ourselves!
Significant shifts occur in our lives when we wake up to our behaviors and then adopt new ways to interpret, process and resolve emotionally charged situations. As a good steward of your own well-being, it’s time to apply that truth to how you partner with comparison. When tempted to fall into your old strategies to judge, yourself or others, and separate from what it is you unconsciously want, choose instead to use the situation to your advantage.
We all long for connection to everything that is meaningful to us. When we have the courage to use comparison in more productive ways, we step into the worthy energy of partnership with and compassion towards ourselves, and others too. The world sure needs more of that!
And most important, we’re called forward to that sacred space where we can now recognize that even triggers have great purpose, and the power in our lives continues to reside within us as we take responsibility for our emotions, desires and actions that are designed to take us deeper into the fullness of ourselves.
Thank you Nancy for such a thoughtful and valuable way to use comparasion for growth. I took your suggested “clarifying” perspective to my journal and found many pearls.
Fabulous article Nancy, this sure resonated with me. You know how to get right to the core with sincerity and eloquence. I’ve been doing some of this work over the last few months and beginning to see who I really am with joy and gratefulness. Thank you for who you are.
Thanks Nancy – sure great to hear from you and receive your gems of wisdom. Interesting how things seem to fall into place – yesterday had a very full day – which I hope at some time in the future I can share with you. But one thing that kept popping up for me was how to alter perceived challenges into opportunities – and I think ‘comparison’ really aligns with that – When
perceive others of having more fun, better relationships and a fuller life – it brings me down – how to clarify what I am missing and take steps to fill it – much better than just feeling jealous. Facebook is not my friend.
Great article, profound insights and wisdom, Nancy! I was just leaving a comment on someone’s FB post on an Albert Einstein post that says “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid” My thoughts to that were how when we can let go of the comparisons, we are freed up to be who we really are. I like how you take this further and use comparison as a tool to inquire for ourselves what it is that within ourselves that we transform in order to move forward and out of the comparison mode. Thank you, dear friend!