In a highly polarised society where opposites co-exist – ‘the rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate’ – to strive to be balanced is probably the most subversive human adventure of all.
To observe and detail how a society gets caught up in the politics of envy, the balanced individual needs to seek out and experience each polarity that exists within it. Dualism demands there is an opposite to envy. So what on earth could it be? We can be deeply grateful to the rather cranky and argumentative psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein, for her work in identifying it.
The opposite of envy is gratitude.
If envy is the negative human expression of perceived scarcity and how we respond to it, the polar opposite will have to contain the positive human expression of perceived abundance. In this dynamic, perception is the key that holds our power to choose how we handle these natural experiences. The dance between scarcity and abundance is normal for Planet Earth, with her ages and seasons in constant flux and all our human stories, myths and legends reflect this. As human beings, we are subject to these changes whether we like it or not and any personal or individual power resides solely in how we respond.
We live on a planet that is in the throes of a Life-Death-Life transition. For those of us in Western Society, we are moving from an experience of abundance to an experience of deep scarcity. In the natural cycles, this is normal because it opens the doors for the next cycle of growth or Life. Some things die back in order to make way for the new. This brings unexpected changes as we learn to live with loss, often of aspects or people we hold very dear to us. For those who survive it, the Death cycle teaches us the value of grief by tipping us into the underworld of human experience and forcing us to make choices about how we will live in the future. Freud describes this as Eros and Thanatos – the choice between life and death. What is important here is that life is represented by the god of Love; Eros.
It is not smooth sailing on quiet seas that teaches us about who we are. We only really get to know ourselves well by enduring the storms and tempests of human experience. Death removes the flesh from our existence and introduces us to the bones of our inner selves. It is at these depths that we learn about the choices we make.
In ‘The Politics of Envy’, I explore the negative polarity of loss and scarcity when unexplored personal choices are rooted in envy. Without doubt, this is the underworld of Thanatos where there is no hiding the depths to which humanity can sink. In the realm of envy, the choice is death but this is not the only region in Hades. In therapeutic terms, laying bare the bones of envy serves a very important purpose because it moves the client firmly into the realm of personal choice. Do we cling to our egos or do we move on?
The key question to ask is “What is good about this experience?” In other words, what can we feel grateful for?
Bear in mind that, in a dualistic reality, the glass is always half full/empty. If we can only perceive emptiness, we remain caught in the jaws of egotistical envy because any possibility for creativity (fullness) is denied. When we start seeing the opposite polarity the emptiness remains because it forms part of the reality of loss but we add something new – potential. We can deepen this potential by intensifying the experience through the perception of gratitude. That’s the theory, anyway! In practice, it can be much harder. What I can say is that it is worth the effort.
The cycle of Life-Death-Life is intensely painful and is frequently the cause of significant suffering, especially at the nadir. It is a paradoxical question, asking what might be good about this and my own past reactions have often been filled with astonished and enraged indignation! These are normal human responses to the shocks associated with deep and irrevocable loss that leave us feeling powerless. We are victims of circumstance as well as our own choices and the notion that we could find something to be grateful for in all of it produces outrage. This is a totally, beautifully normal and healthy part of human experience. The grieving process always contains rage because this is the emotion that moves us forward through the darkness. These feelings are how we explore the underworld that exists within each of us. They cause us to look around to see what is left after everything has died. By hunting down even the smallest seeds of gratitude, we are laying the foundations for return and rebirth. We are choosing life; not the old life but a new one based on the wisdom we have gathered through our underworld journey.
These archetypal processes apply to the whole of humanity and they have been very well documented by the likes of Joseph Campbell and Clarissa Pinkola-Estes. The purpose is to teach us the demands of the well-springs of human potential. They come with a price-tag because their wisdom can only be unlocked via repeated personal journeys through the underworld.
In my own experience, the seeds of gratitude come through acts of kindness and generosity between ourselves and our perception of the world. It is a momentous act of personal kindness towards reality when we choose to relinquish our egotistical need for personal control, cease to envy and learn to become grateful for our journey through the travails and triumphs of life. In a world petrified by the politics of envy, this is an act of true power that cannot be equalled simply because it can only be achieved through the unique personal choice of an evolving human being. The new energies emerge as choice piles upon personal choice. From the underworld, we can see all those who literally sacrificed their own lives so we could learn how to do this. From the depths, we can see those who choose to be kind when cruelty was available to them too. Within the darkest places of the human psyche, we encounter fellow travellers who share their nuggets of wisdom, enabling us to take the next step on our return journey to a new way of living. We learn to share ourselves. We learn we have something valuable to share when we do this. We learn that there are better ways of living than those we thought we knew. But, for me, there is one lesson that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The journey through loss, rage and envy teaches us who we are and topples us into the experience of grief. When we encounter deep grief, we meet our natural instincts face to face. Grief is the journey of pain and suffering but it is also the landscape of our capacity for Love. The deeper our ability to feel pain, the deeper our direct experience of Love itself because it is the only power in the universe that can make this journey and live. This is the deepest knowledge of all and it is the wisdom of the Spirit.
I share a very deep empathy with atheists because what is being rejected, in Spiritual terms, are the religious constructs of envy which refuse personal experience of the underworld whilst applying its strictures to others. Nevertheless, within the core beliefs of every religion dwell fundamental spiritual truths about the human experience of Life itself. Not for nothing does Jesus teach that the only way to enter the experience of Heaven is by being born again. It is not a pretty theory; it is blisteringly hard practice. Not for nothing does Islam require Ramadan because it is a repeated experiential teaching in the power of scarcity. Not for nothing does the Buddha teach that the path through Life is found through the balance of Light and Dark. These are lessons in Love itself and they teach us gratitude for the wonder of Life itself.
Where I part with company of atheists resides in the issue of Life after Death. That anything so fine, so precious, so infinitely valuable as these lessons in the fundamental experience of the healthy human spirit-under-fire could be discarded at the point of physical death simply goes against the Laws of Nature. Nature is not wasteful. To imagine Nature casually discarding something so extraordinarily important beggars belief and falsifies perception. Given that perception dwells at the heart of human politics, to deny the essence of the healthy human spirit is to choose the path of envy. To perceive this miracle of humanity is to be grateful for Life itself in all its forms and is how we contribute towards and align ourselves with creative manifestation. This is the process of rebirth and it always has a spiritual component because the dynamic can’t function without it. The atheists can argue about this all they want but the evidence is already in. History is littered with examples of this too.
The process of collective rebirth is as inclusive as the politics of envy is exclusive. When we experience the depths of our being, we stop caring about labels and start seeking the essence. It doesn’t matter what someone is, we want to know who they are. Do I care if someone is an atheist? Not in the least! They are teaching themselves something that only they can learn in their own unique way. Do I mind about some of the hardships I’ve experienced? Of course I do! They are my precious teachers and my most intuitive guides. Am I better or worse than another? How the hell do I know! I aim to be equal because that’s all that’s left me if I am to appreciate what I’ve learned in my gratitude for Life.
Within the politics of envy, I am an unwanted exile which points to the possibility that I, amongst many others, am envied by the rich. Within this paradigm, what on earth could the rich perceive as a quality in me that could never exist in them?
Perhaps it is in the simple grace of finding it within ourselves to be grateful for who we are and not just what we have.