This week in my conversation with Debs we talked about comparison–a close cousin to judgment. She asked me to write something about this subject. Upon reflection, I would have to say my experience is that comparison comes before judgment. We compare ourselves against another (or others) and then we judge who is right, wrong, better, worse. We tend to attack the wrong/worse one and put the right/better one on a pedestal. This creates suffering for both us and the other. We can also compare situations, people, things, animals, etc. with similar results.
What creates the suffering? Isn’t it true that some of us are better at certain things than others, or we possess qualities/things others don’t? Isn’t it so that we like some situations, people, things, animals better than others? Sure. It’s what we do with that information which can cause suffering.
I learned the most about comparison on my yoga mat, so I’m going to go there for some examples. My teacher said to me, “Be on your mat in each moment with your body as it is in each pose. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, including me. Your business is on your mat.” It was then that I became painfully aware that I was always on everyone else’s mat. How were they doing compared to me, me to them? Was I more flexible or them? Who was stronger? Who could hold their balance longer? If I came up less than, I attacked myself, put them on a pedestal and felt envious. If I came up better than, I put myself on a pedestal and looked down on them. This goes against every principle and value of yoga there is! OUCH!
Then began a long practice of staying on my mat. More and more, I can be there. And then a new challenge will come and I stray into comparison again. Lately my challenge is my new hip and all the changes it has brought into my life and onto my mat. I am not as flexible, strong or balanced as I was before. Now my comparison is with a previous self who no longer exists. Who, honestly, may never exist again, not in her previous form. This causes me great suffering and I can weep on my mat. But, it is my choice to make this very unfair comparison and find my current self lacking.
Another choice is to be with where I am on the mat in each moment without comparison and judgment, but with discernment and compassion. What can I do? Where is my new edge? What happens when I drop the judgment about that edge and just breathe into it, embrace it, wrap lovingkindness around it, be grateful for what I can do? Well, my muscles relax and I can drop more deeply into the pose because I am not fighting my own body. My body can trust me and stop pushing against me in order to protect itself. Sometimes it tells me to do another pose, or to give it a rest and just go straight to savasana (relaxation pose).
I have found when I stop pushing on other people or animals, I get a similar response: relaxation, trust, warmth, a drawing closer instead of pulling away. We often compare others with who we wish they were or with someone else we like better. We can wish we were with someone else, somewhere else, or that we were someone else if we are on the short end of the comparison stick.
Debs called me at this point in my writing this post… She asked me to talk about lasagna vs. grill cheese sandwiches (that woman is all about food). She finds herself craving “lasagna” both the food and people she loves who she considers the “lasagnas” of her life. But she finds cheese sandwiches boring, both in food and people. When she’s with a cheese sandwich, for example, all she can think of is the lasagna and why can’t this person be more like the other one I prefer?
I pointed out that we all need a balanced diet to be healthy, both when it comes to food and people! We need grilled cheese, lasagna, fruit & veggies, chocolate, granola, wine, and the list goes on. Even though we may have preferences for lasagna over cheese sandwiches, it takes all of it to make the world go round, give us the experiences and nourishment we need, and help us appreciate lasagna.
Then she said something very profound, “I need to be the lasagna. Then I’ll bring more lasagna into my life.” This is another golden truth about comparison. Sometimes it leads us to see, usually through envy, what it is we would like be.
Today’s enlightening practice:
Drop the comparison stick. When you find yourself comparing, be aware that is what you are doing and STOP. Breathe deeply into your belly and focus on your heart. Open it. Open your mind. Find something you can appreciate and be grateful for in yourself, in the other, in the situation. Shift your focus more to your gratitude than what is lacking. Be 100% present in the moment with acceptance of what is.
NOTE: Sometimes we are in a situation or with a person where our discernment tells us to get out of there, to withdraw, to move away from. In those situations it can be unskillful and dangerous to remain trying to find something good to appreciate! I personally find my body, especially my gut, is a good indicator and I’ve learned to trust it.
NOTE 2: If the comparison stick has helped you realize that you need to cultivate some quality in yourself that you envy in the other, stop despairing and get to work!
What I will do today:
Go eat some lasagna at my favorite Italian restaurant with my sweetie!