Color me green

Short of being a monastic like the guys that have little else but the robes on their backs and their begging bowls, I have been trying to find a similar mental state (I’m not cut out for the real deal) of stripped down desires and finding satisfaction in the life I have. Believe me, it’s not a hardship as I have a quite nice wardrobe, a kitchen full of multiple sets of dishes (even red ones just for the holidays), and the larder is full. аHardly monastic.а

Green - solarize

I’ve been working on developing a sort of mental monasticism. The kind that does not crave more than it needs, nor hold on too tightly to what it has. аSo far, I’m a crappy mental monastic. It’s not because I like nice things. Nothing wrong with that. But the worm really turns when, on occasion, I see what good fortune others have, and which I could not hope to match. That’s when the green-headed monster, envy, rears its head. It’s that status thing against which you measure yourself – whether it’s the kind of house you have (with Hawaii’s median price for a middle of the road home at $679K, it’s a struggle), the car you drive (OK, so I drive a Lexus, but it’s almost nine years old), the bling you wear (thank goodness, not a problem for me anymore), the school your kids (or in my case, grandkids) can afford to go to, or the places you haven’t traveled (with air rage rampant, who can afford first class?). It never seems to end.

Envy is an insidious little beast, but when it hits, you know it. Your body knows it as it curls up into a tight ball of resentment, and you start to hate the other person just a little bit. аOr a lot, depending on the degree of envy and the state of your own fragile ego.а

By the way, I would often use “jealousy” and “envy” interchangeably.а My research (Wikipedia) explained the difference.а Jealousy is the fear of losing someone or something to someone else (usually it’s a love interest), while envy is the resentment of someone having something that you don’t have and wish you did. Does that clear it up for you?

It’s amazing how a little scientific spotlight will illuminate your murky emotions for what they are.а

Carrying on -- did you know that there are two types of envy according to psychologists? There’s malicious envy and benign envy.а The bad kind (malicious) can lead to anger and aggression – by taking it out on the offending person. While the good kind (benign) can boost your brain power (I’m not making this up) and motivate you to learn from the other’s success so you can go on to achieve the same results.а That sounds like “keeping up with the Joneses” to me.

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell said that while envy is one of the most potent causes of unhappiness, he also believed that it was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and that we have to put up with it to achieve a more just social system. Is that what we’re doing? I know there’s more to the theory, but it reminds me too much of what’s going on in our so-called democratic society today.а It seems to me that the just society is losing ground to the power of money and greed.

But back to my original point. Do you suppose there’s a 12-step program for people with bad envy?а The Buddhists have one antidote called the practice of mudita or sympathetic joy, where you work on taking joy in another’s good fortune.а They also admit that it’s the toughest of the virtues to acquire. For my own peace of mind, I’m willing to give it a try, which is why I like meditation teacher Jack Kornfield’s practice of wishing someone well, even the one you resent.аIf you prefer, you can use your own words, like “I wish you well. I wish you success. I wish you happiness.”аThis is a good place to end this little reflection on envy. Time to meditate.

May you be joyful.

May your happiness increase.

May you not be separated from great happiness.

May your good fortune and the causes of your

аjoy and happiness increase.


(From Jack Kornfield: The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology)


Such a little life

Confession time: I’ve been so busy with my “real” work that I’ve been hard pressed to carve out time to think up a new blog.а If you recall, even the last post (Where you fear to live) was a rerun. So, I decided to dig through my archives again for another oldie but goodie. I found this one, which seems like a perfect follow up to that last blog. аIf you already read this, ah well.

аA little over 21 years ago, I went on what I hoped would be a “vision quest,” looking for a new direction in my life. It had been rudely interrupted just a few years earlier by a painful divorce that had left me emotionally adrift.а I thought I needed a change of geography, and possibly a new life.а So I went to Greece.а

Why Greece? Don’t laugh. I was inspired by a 1989 British romantic comedy movie, Shirley Valentine. Shirley – played by the amazing Pauline Collins who created the role on Broadway and won a Tony for her performance – is a middle-aged Liverpool housewife who is so ignored and taken for granted by her family that she talks to the kitchen wall just to have a conversation. When a girlfriend wins a trip for two to a Greek island and invites Shirley along, she chucks it all and says “yes.”

215px-ShirleyValentineMovie Poster

The movie takes off from there, with her girlfriend hooking up immediately and leaving Shirley to fend for herself.а She stumbles onto a taverna, where she asks the owner, Costas, to help her fulfill a dream of drinking wine by the sea.а He obliges with a glass of retsina and a table and chair down on the shore. Reality, she discovers, doesn’t live up to the dream.а She delivers a wonderful soliloquy in which she’s forced to admit, “I’ve lived such a little life… I’ve allowed myself to lead this little life when inside there is so much more.”

What unfolds next is Shirley breaking out of her little life. Because it’s a romance, the inevitable happens. Costas seduces a bemused Shirley with the funniest pick up lines ever used. She spends the rest of her vacation dallying with him until it’s time to leave. But once at the airport, she finds herself unable to go. She turns back and heads to the taverna, where she finds Costas handing the same lines he’d used with her to another tourist. Shirley is amused, because it’s not Costas she wants, but her life. So she asks Costas for a job.

The movie ends when her husband, Joe, comes to the island to take her back to England. Walking to the taverna, he doesn’t recognize the new Shirley, who watches him as he approaches and thinks dispassionately, “I hope he stays for a while. He needs a holiday.” Calling out to him, she invites Joe to sit with her by the sea and have a glass of wine. We don’t know if she leaves or stays. I suspect she stays. Whatever the outcome, we know Shirley Valentine has reclaimed her life.

The movie got mixed reviews – Roger Ebert dubbed it “a realistic drama of appalling banality,” while a Washington Post reviewer called it “an uncommonly warm, relaxed little movie … with a cloying artificially sweetened aftertaste.”

The Post reviewer also said “The story … affords a great many comfortable and comforting laughs, and may even serve as a wake-up call for some.” It certainly was a wake-up call for me. аExcept, unlike Shirley, I didn’t find a new life in Greece, because as Costas said: “Dreams. They are never in the place you expect them to be.”

I think I’ll get the movie on Netflix and watch it again.а


Talking to the wall

is not such a dumb idea.

Your heart may answer.

Where you fear to live

I recently saw a post on Facebook of a quote from the Persian poet Rumi written on a USPS priority mail label, and apparently pasted in a public bathroom.а It said: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.” It even has two hashtags: #onebathroomatatime and #sodamndeep. Rumi would be amused!

Rumi on FB

This reminded me of a blog I wrote in 2012 and posted on my WordPress site, which since went belly up thanks to technical snafus. I’ve resurrected and updated it, as it seems like a good follow up to that bathroom posting.а Here it is.


Where you fear to live

“Forget safety.

Live where you fear to live.

Destroy your reputation.

Be notorious.

I have tried prudent planning

long enough. From now on

I’ll be mad.”

– Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

I couldn’t help doing a mental fist pump the first time I read this poem by the brilliant 13th century Persian mystic, Rumi.а It’s so counter-intuitive that my second instinct was to bring up my hands in a defensive stance and duck my head. Forget safety? Be notorious? Are you mad?

Except for the truly, brilliantly mad – artists, scientists, mystics, fools – this sounds more like social suicide to mere mortals like me. The fact is that this wildness of spirit and boldness of mind has been bred out of most of us.а

I have a theory that because of the way the world works, we are conditioned to live in a constant state of fear. Fear of failing. Fear of not getting what the other guy has. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of not finding love. Fear of losing it once we find it. Hating our job, but afraid to quit. Fear of being different. And fear that if we do try to be different, we’ll be like the proverbial nail head sticking up begging to be hammered down. Better to pull our heads in and be satisfied with having unrealized lives. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them.”

Is this any way to live?а Enter Rumi, the subversive dissident with a revolutionary idea. аWhat would happen if we all decided to screw safety and live where we fear to live?

Can you imagine? Whatever you fear, do it anyway. You may be anxious about coming up with a truly honest list of the things you fear. So, let me start.

One caveat: I have an advantage over most of you as I’ve lived long enough to check off all the ones I’ve already listed. I will admit that fear has been a powerful motivating factor in my life, which may well be part of the reason why I am where I am today. For example, I’m modestly well off and still working, even though I’m still afraid of not having enough and maybe even losing it all.а I’m in pretty good health for my age and do take care of myself, but dread the idea of frailty and dementia – not to mention incontinence and the humiliation of adult diapers!а Where once I might have been afraid to be different, now I’m terrified of being ignored as older folks tend to become invisible. We may joke about it (“Yeah, I’m saving up my stash of drugs!”), but we all fear ending up in an old folks home where everyone is drooling and waiting to die.а

Depressing, isn’t it? Except that …

I once had the amazing pleasure of meeting 92-year-old Jim. Tall, slim and elegant, he would ride the bus followed by a short walk to our painting class wearing his jaunty straw cap and aided by a stylish cane.а He said he always looked forward to class but sometimes he would take a morning nap and lose track of time or forget. But he showed up. And he would stand for two hours, totally immersed in his painting. аHe had mastered many things in his long life, but painting was not one of them. He was afraid to try because he didn’t think he would be “good enough.”а Yet, there he was, at age 92, daring to dive in where he feared to live. He has since had his work exhibited in a small gallery.

“Life is so beautiful,” he said.

Yes, life is so beautiful. Too beautiful to live in fear and longing and regret.а Perhaps the real challenge is to let go of all our fears. As one Buddhist teacher said, “Fear is the resistance to letting go of yourself completely.”а

And for those of us who’ve never allowed ourselves to sing by letting go completely, it’s never too late to discover the music in us.а

Let go of your fears

and sing the song in your heart.

It’s so beautiful.

ай Maya Leland 2014