One of the insights I realized while at last month’s meditation retreat (they don’t call it Insight Meditation for nothin’), was that I spend a lot of mental time comparing and judging. It’s a strong tendency for me. For others, they may spend their time reformulating the past, or strategizing their future. But for me, my mind falls into a well-established groove of constantly checking on how I measure up with others, or how others aren’t measuring up to my standards.
I guess that’s really the difference between comparing and judging: when I compare, there are two distinct subjects – myself and others, with the myself part of that equation being quite strong and explicit. Whereas in judging, the I is more implicit. The I sits in judgment of others. I assume that my I is correct and is the supreme arbiter of all that is good and right in this world. So, for example, at my retreat, since a big part of my identity is the idea that I’m sincere spiritual practitioner (I know, I know, I’m missing the point) I found myself comparing myself to my co-retreatants in terms of their ability to sit still, stay awake during the sitting and the level of knowledge displayed during the Q&A sessions. And while this mind could have focused itself on those whose performance and knowledge were superior to mine, my ego prefered to focus on those people to whom I felt superior. And then there were those with whom I couldn’t compete at all, in particular, the young, nubile yoga chicks in their stretchy tight pants and impossibly firm buttocks. My I (or my butt) was not even in the competition, yet I felt completely free to judge them as being shallow or there for the wrong reasons or having an eating disorder. My mind was not kind to the yoga chicks.
Of course, at their core, both of these minds, the comparing and judging minds, come from the same place. From a Buddhist perspective, one would say that source is the self-grasping mind that sees the I as quite real, and therefore develops all sorts of machinations to prop up and make this I feel good (self-cherishing). But, from a less intellectual and more gut level perspective, you can say these minds arise from insecurity, a fear or belief that I’m simply not enough.
But, it’s one thing to recognize this, it’s quite another to reduce the volume or silence this constant chatter in my head. Lately, though, I’m trying to challenge those voices. For me, the comparing mind can be quite insidious and keeps me locked in what is safe and known, because it wants to be in situations where it can feel superior. So, I’ve started taking a writing workshop, Writing from Real Life – Personal Essay Workshop. The very idea of sharing my work and taking criticism from real flesh and blood people who are in the same room as I am is absolutely terrifying. But, as my teacher, Alison Luterman said, when we get to a certain age, we have to start doing stuff that scares us. So, in taking this class, I’ll be challenging my comparing mind. Or at the very least, having some amusing conversations with it. Perhaps even challenging it to a debate. And hopefully, one day, having realized that I am indeed enough, telling it to shut the hell up.