Question: I am beginning to be suspicious of a certain type of vitality-stealing thought… I find myself feeling discontent about my life when I compare myself to others, or even to some younger version of myself!
Answer: One of the ways in which our peace is stolen is in the endless comparison of our lives to those of others, friends and strangers alike. Hoping to find a sense of peace in any form of comparison or anticipation is like waiting for a dark, overhead thundercloud to rain sunlight. We must begin to recognize how much grief we have come to take for granted, as though being perpetually negative is somehow natural.
Much of our time is spent identifying the so-called cause of our discontented condition, and the rest of our time is taken up trying to change our unwanted situation into what we imagine will better suit our pleasure. Of course this description puts a kind of positive spin on what amounts to one's never-ending whirl of wishes, but the facts are that these dreams of a better time to come do not originate with our True Self. They are the incessant creation of one's unconscious thought nature, that ever-seeking, never-quite-satisfied self whose endless aspirations we all know too well!
This level of self knows only the kind of comfort that it can imagine into being. This imagined contentment is fine, if we believe an imaginary umbrella has the power to keep us dry in a downpour! To become conscious of this unconscious dynamic effectively cancels its authority over us. We don't have to live from any such self that is always seeking to exchange what we are in the moment for its more idealized conception of what it imagines can complete us. Key to this finding is that this would-be contented nature is inseparable from the discontentment that it breeds as it drags us through its comparison of what is to what should be.
Excerpted from Let Go and Live in the Now
Question: Why are we always measuring ourselves against others? How does this painful way of thinking get established in us?
Answer: The root of our suffering in life is the comparative mind. A comparative mind is that which knows itself by what it is not. If I'm sitting with a group of people, and apparently I'm not important enough because no one is talking to me, I'm defined by what I'm not in that moment.
Nothing can be defined without comparison. Think of the definition of anything, and it doesn't exist without comparison, which means all definitions have their root in a form of comparison. You might wonder, "what's wrong with that?" Nothing, when it comes to practical thought, to hot and cold, and the natural things we need to do as human beings. But when you start talking about "who am I?" or "what's my life about?", if the only way I can know who I am, what my true nature is by comparing it to something else, then am I not the subject of whatever it is that I've compared myself to?
Do you ever think to yourself, "I'm not enough. I need more money"? So you go and make more money. Then something happens because you've defined yourself by that condition, and as soon as what defined you goes away, what happens to you? You go straight down. You crash. And then you have to find something new to define yourself by again. This is what it means to live by a comparative mind -- a mind that always gives us a sense of ourselves by thinking about something else.
For the rest of your life, you're going to want to be awake and watchful of what we're talking about, so that little by little you can start to see that you see life in parts, apart from yourself. You see your life as being this, as not being that, and everything that you think about life being, you arrive at through comparing it to something.
Who and what we are can't be defined by any one thing. How can who I am depend upon the kind of home that I have? The kind of car that I drive? The way people think about me, no matter who they are? Because if who I am, my true self, depends upon those kinds of relationships in which the simplest change causes me to compare myself again to what was, and now I feel as though I've lost something, do I own my own life, or do my ideas about those people, conditions, and circumstances own me? That is what a comparative mind is. It is a mind that knows itself through thinking about itself.
Question: Comparing myself to who I think I should be, I often come up short… but isn't the drive to improve ourselves natural? How can just thinking about myself and wanting to be better create conflict and pain?
Answer: You tell me. How would you describe someone in a ceaseless war within himself, about himself, other than someone who lives in self-created conflict? There can never be a winner in any battle when there's only one contestant! Lets see how such an internal war comes to exist in the first place.
Self-comparison, and the internalized conflict it naturally breeds, can't exist without the presence of conflicting images and concepts about yourself within yourself. Some of these concepts of self include what you think is good or bad about your character, how you think others perceive you, and what you hope to change about yourself. But, by far the most devious of these concepts, and in a special sense, parent of them all, is this last great deception: that the "you" who is involved in this constant conflict called self-comparison is different from everything else within you that's being compared. And it's not. That "you" -- that familiar sense of self that's either satisfied in any given moment, or who's in some kind of torment over having to be you -- isn't the real you at all! And neither is the false sense of life these incessant sufferings provide your real life. The whole painful package created by these unseen works belongs to the "me" mind. It derives its un-life through the ceaseless mental comparison of what was to what is. And then, from this dissatisfied mental platform, envisions a new you in the future that will live punishment free. But I repeat, this persecuted nature is not you. Which means that neither are any of its heartaches, anxieties, and endless fears, a part of who you really are. This true spiritual finding is the foothold by which you can climb to your freedom.
Excerpted from Freedom From the Ties That Bind