Friday, March 27, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

Well, it's Friday morning and time for Kay's (Perhaps We Learn) Seven Deadly Sins meme. This week's sin is envy. Oh, dear. I was feeling pretty smug about my relationship to envy and jealousy... until I checked the definition which reads: a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another's advantages, success, possessions, etc. Ok, so I'm not quite so above it as I thought I was. But I would like to rationalize a little... or maybe I am, I guess it depends to some extent on how you read that definition.

I think there are two kinds/levels of envy - I'll call them banal and toxic for want of any better terms. Banal envy involves craving what someone else has without resenting them for it. I'm not sure I think that's particularly "sinful," perhaps because I indulge in it quite a bit and I'd rather not think ill of myself for doing so. What I think of as true or toxic envy not only craves what someone else has but wishes they didn't have it and resents their good fortune.

I'm more than capable of coveting cool things other people have. Last year my friend Nate got himself a camera with zillions of pixels and a 15x zoom. This was shortly before Tara Grace (bless her) smashed my zoomless, pixel-poor antique digital camera into a million pieces. I SOOOO wanted one like Nate's. I coveted pixels and zoom and I coveted them badly. Until I saw Nate's new camera, I had wished vaguely for a nicer camera but it hadn't been a big partof my consciousness. But once I actually saw what zooming could do and the quality that extra pixels gave a picture, my desire got pretty obsessive. I kidded Nate a lot about how jealous I was. And I confess with no shame to being almost (almost?) euphoric when Tara broke my camera so that I could rationalize spending money I didn't really have on a cool new camera. I've had so much joy from that camera.... sometimes foolishness isn't so foolish. I'm grateful that Nate created that envy in me and that it led to something which has expanded the way I see the world and opened up a whole new world of creativity to me. It doesn't feel sinful (negative) to me. Religious zealots might tell me to pack my bags for Hell, but I got joy in Nate having the camera, I enjoyed my envy and I LOVE my camera. Part of why I feel so adamant about this is probably because I was raised to feel guilty if I wanted anything. It has taken a lot of work to rejoice in my desires and hopes. I don't always manage it, but this was one case where - after a lot of back and forth about whether I could afford it and a lot of angst about getting it for myself and a certain amount of guilt about wanting it so badly, joy has won. But back to the topic of envy.

What I think of as real envy (toxic envy), she rationalized, is resenting what another person has. That, I'm not prone to. I was thrilled that Nate got his camera. I was happy for him. If I had my druthers, everybody who wants one would have a good camera. In fact that's one of my fantasies for when I win the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. A photo program for some of the local schools which would give kids who were interested a good camera and teach them how to use it creatively.

True or Toxic Envy to me involves not just a coveting of what someone else has but a resenting that they have it and/or desiring that you have it instead of them. Envy in it's most toxic form assumes that the universe is small and stingy and doesn't have enough for everyone. Envy in it's toxic form is ugly and reflects a sense that your worth is based on what you have or what your job title is or some other false definition. Envy in it's most toxic form resents someone else's success or happiness. I think that kind of envy has to be terribly painful and it fits my definition of sin (separation from God) because it means you are disconnected from your own inherent goodness and worth and from God/the Universe's abundant Love.

I have a profound belief in the power of gratitude. People like Louise Haye, Wayne Dyer and the Abraham-Hicks people, most modern mystics, all talk about the power of attraction. In other words ... we bring to us what we focus on. Serge Kahili King, who teaches Hawiian mysticism, expreses it this way: "Energy flows where attention goes." Using this theory, the toxic form of envy is not only ugly and unpleasant, it's counter-productive. In toxic envy you are focused on what you don't have.... and you continue to draw not having to you. And it's just an unpleasant way to live.

I think I've always been prone to gratitude and being positive, but some years back when I was at one of my lowest points - I was out of work, out of pension, living under the power of a stingy and mean-spirited landlord, not yet ready to face the truth of how disabled I was or willing to reach out for help... my life was a real mess - I came across an essay called Thank You for Everything that had a powerful impact on me. It was written by a man named Alan Cohen and talked about a mantra taught to him by a wise teacher. It goes "Thank you for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever." I practiced it constantly. The worse things got the more I gave thanks for them. Two strange things happened. First, when I gave thanks for something - even if I didn't quite mean it - my attitude changed. I found I didn't feel so bad about it. Secondly, my life began to shift. I dont' know if it's true or not, but I think that when we give gratitude for even things that seem like disasters, it opens a path for the Universe to be creatively generous, to move beyond. Resenting our situation, wallowing in us, glues it to us and us to it. Which sort of brings me back to envy... (I know, I digressed. I always digress. I can't help myself.) Anyway, oddly, I think Toxic Envy really is among the most destructive emotional states we can experience. It carries within it a bit of many of the other sins: lust for what other s have, anger that they have it, greed, pride (inverse pride, maybe, but pride). It's ugly and in it's toxic form can eat away at your spirit and your joy.

That said, I think we should be careful not to confuse toxic envy with a joyful love of life, with seeing something wonderful that someone else has and wanting to have it too, not to lessen them or with resentment of them, but for the joy and delight of expanding your own world and life.

So that's my thoughts on envy. I don't know if I've made any sense or not. Not going to go back an reread, just hope that there's a coherent thought or two here and there.


On another note: Tomorrow from 8:30 to 9:30 you might want to participate in something called "Earth Hour," an effort to focus on global warming. For one hour, you are asked to take the simple step of turning your lights off. That's it. Save an hours worth of energy... multiplied by hopefully a million other people around the world. Not much of a sacrifice and good food for thought.


Kaylia Metcalfe said...

Earth hour again? I wrote about that last year I think....

Good essay on envy. One of the things I like about this meme is getting to see how different people get different things from the same concept.

You have given me much to think about.

It is interesting... I think envy is the only deadly sin that makes it into the 10 commandments with "thou shall not covet".

Anyway, happy Friday!

Anonymous said...

Wow Raven...good thinking material for today

Anthroslug said...

I like your distinction, and I think that you make a good point between motivating envy and "toxic" envy.

Beth Coulton said...

I just had to comment..I am an avid amateur photographer, and could totally relate to your coveting of pixels and zoom. I did the same thing for over a year- I was sure I couldn't survive successfully without upgrading from my Kodak EZshare (which did a really nice job but looked as amateur as I was)to an Olympus Oh-So-Pro :) I wasn't sure where I was going to get the money though..

One providential day after stopping at Wawa for my daily dose of M&M's, I backed into a work truck which was carrying a piece of pipe that neatly and quickly punctured my bumper. The insurance settlement check? It was in the exact amount I'd been looking for. My new grand Olympus digital SLR was purchased as quick as my fingers could press "submit" on my online order. I've been happy photographer ever since.

My friend later looked at the gash in my bumper and said, "So, that's your camera, huh?" Amen!

Nessa said...

This is my worstest one.

bettygram said...

I don't envy things as much as talents. Not the toxic envy, another can have talent I just want some. I would like to play piano well and to be able to sing and to write.
The scripture says give thanks in all things.

Unknown said...

So much to think about here ... thank you : )

Carletta said...

I had time tonight to read this Raven. Well done.
I so agree about the level of envy.
I've envied another's home or car but I don't wish they didn't have it. Often times envy such as that makes you try harder to attain what makes you happiest.
If I wished otherwise - I think I'd be packing my bags for hell as you say.
I've wanted to pursue some kind of photography for years. Through blogging I see lots of images that are gorgeous. I may never be as good as those photographers who have way more talent than I have; but they make me try harder and that enriches my life.
Many people will only see envy as envy and consider it a sin regardless. I like that you chose to see two sides.

Linda Murphy said...

I am glad you wrote this entry! And believe me, I have had serious camera envy! My husband has some computer envy too, with his dinosaur of a computer.

But toxic envy is an interesting topic and something that I have tried in my wiser years to expunge. Sometimes it is a conscious effort to remain joyful, but it's been such a lifted burden to just be happy with what I have.
Great post-you got me thinking!

maryt/theteach said...

Oh, Katherine, that was the BEST essay (Kay's was really good too) I've read on ENVY. You are so generous. Your banal envy description is certain right on target! Excellent! :)

Unknown said...

Hi, Raven

I'm with you on gratitude. It's been transformational for me.

But about envy. My post is on Dante's version - you can imagine! I don't subscribe to it but I'm finding The Divine Comedy and Dante's version of Hell, really fascinating. What a profound influence that work has had on religious thinking and art.

Have a good week,

P.S. I'm glad you bought that camera. You use it so well!

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