The mind likes to do a lot of comparing. Am I doing as well as that person over there? My yoga poses suck. I am the best in the class! Their car is nicer than mine. It would be easy to write pages of this, wouldn’t it? It’s all too familiar.
In my years as a counselor, it’s become apparent to me that comparison is the root of depression. We wish things were different than they are, and we tend to focus on what we don’t have, or what isn’t happening right now. This is a sure-fire way to ruin your mood, and it does nothing for creating what you really want.
The Buddha might say that by comparing, you are creating more suffering, for you create the desire to be a certain way or have certain things. Patanjali, the father of yogic philosophy, would point out that Raga – attachment – and Dvesha – aversion – are two of the five causes of affliction, the Kleshas. When we get into comparison, it’s just another disguise for how we cling to what we want and push away what we don’t.
How do we get off of the hamster wheel of comparison? Pull all your attention back to your center. Be where you are. Don’t resist what is – when you embrace it, and learn to be with it, it will begin to shift.
Part of why undesirable situations continue is that we continue to resist them, which gives them more power in our lives. When you bring your attention back within to the Self, that which watches all these mental games, we begin to see things from a different perspective. Then, with clear perspective, you can choose how you want to respond, rather than be in reaction to what is.
One great choice is the practice of gratitude. It is scientifically shown in studies that gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to relieve depression.
Comparison is the opposite of gratitude – it takes us away from recognition of the good that is, and either makes us feel lacking, or makes us believe that we’ve got something that someone else doesn’t. Either way, it takes us out of the deep appreciation that comes from receiving blessings in our life and seeing others receive, too. The deepest practice of gratitude is when we can feel deep appreciation and celebration for what others have.
Start with the little things – gratitude for the sunrise in the morning, for the gas in your tank, the next door neighbor who picks up your mail when you’re gone. Perhaps you can feel gratitude for your next breath… or just being able to get out of bed in the morning.
How about gratitude for your underwear? A little sense of humor can take you out of that comparing mind into simple appreciation in the present. Laughter happens in the here and now, and when we laugh, the mind can’t stay stuck in feeling better or worse – it just is being with what is.
We take ourselves so seriously, and when you step back and think about it, there’s a lot of humor happening there. Like, why do I get so serious when flossing my teeth? Or why do a few ants in the kitchen make me behave as if the world has come to an end? And why do I still unconsciously avoid cracks in the sidewalk like I did as a child? Isn’t that silly?
You can ask yourself the same questions when you find yourself comparing. Why does it matter whether I did that yoga pose better or worse the other day? You’re in this moment, not the past. Who else is judging except you?
Don’t despair if you find yourself in “comparing mind”. Let go, be with what is. Bring yourself back to your center, the place where you’re watching what is happening, and recognize that it transcends comparison. Feel gratitude and appreciation for everything you can. And find something to laugh about, because the universe is full of absurdity, including how seriously you compare yourself to others. Then you can let go of comparing – I am not better or worse than; I just AM.
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