We compare what we want to see
We compare and contrast people with ourselves on what we chose to focus on at any given moment. Often, what we see in others is conditioned to what attracts us. Suppose you fancy the idea of travelling around the world. You will feel validated whenever you read or listen to those who approve your idea. It feels even more significant if more people share your idea. If you happened to meet a man who actually has travelled around the world, even without personal familiarity, suddenly it feels like he has it all, while your life seems inadequate. What starts off as a fancy now seems like a true judgement of your self-value.
In reality, we have no knowledge of the true well-being and satiety of other people. We do not see the baggage others carry. Consequently, we form mental images of people from just fragments and not the whole. We use these mental images as our internal narrative, in which other people always seem to be in a better situation than us.
Seeing a fragment as the whole
Many people often wonder why high-profile persons would commit suicide when they seem to have the so-called perfect lives. The presumption is that they must be happy because of their achievements – often stories about them revolve around having an accomplished career, a celebrity status, a beautiful spouse, an enormous wealth and so forth. But that does not preclude people from having pain, stress, disillusionment and suffering.
Acquired affluence and pleasure are only temporal appearance around people; an outer effect of people doing what they do in life. But it does not reflect what lies beneath it; who people are. The individual experience includes incontrovertible aspects of the effect of actions that are not visible to other people; their thoughts, conflicts, pressures and feelings.
Circumscribed perspectives and narratives about how others are come from fragmented knowledge. That is to perceive and confine things selectively and superficially as the complete whole, while ignoring many other variables and its underlying fundamentals constituting a person. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (18.22): yat tu kṛitsna-vad ekasmin kārye saktam ahaitukam atattvārtha-vad alpaṁ cha tat tāmasam udāhṛitam, ‘While that ‘knowledge’, which cling to a single effect, as if it were the whole, without reason, without grasping reality and trivial, that is declared to be tāmasika.’
Those who form viewpoints that are tāmasika (tamasic) in quality, take a single facet as if that’s all there is to it. The more tamasic psychologically people become, the more they are obstinately restrictive, delusional, not grounded in truth and confident of their own ignorance. More importantly, when we trap ourselves in tamasic narratives, it causes us to shrink into a dark place within. We feel terrible about ourselves. We suffer frustration, self-pity, resentment, insecurity and other self-inflicted miseries.
If truth be told, what someone is thinking, feeling and experiencing, even if it is conveyed, you may not grasp it entirely. Furthermore, understandably we all tend to be careful to not display the negatives in our life, simply because other people may not respond with empathy and understanding. For example, a person may be suffering from depression but it is well concealed by an amiable demeanour. Moreover, you are oblivious of things that are not present in what you see. Just as, you may not see how a person behaves irresponsibly with one’s kith and kin, but is otherwise seems dedicated and dependable at work. Would it be justified to base your value off of other people’s life?
Be at ease with yourself
Ask yourself if you would feel bad about yourself if those people whom you are comparing and contrasting cease to exist from your memory – on the contrary, you will feel whole and free. Therefore, if your self-value is dependent on others, then all your suffering of self-inadequacy is actually, not only a denial of the right to be at peace with yourself, but also a resist to choose in life what is authentic and good for you. As such, you cannot be truly happy, if you devote your life in a ‘wild-goose chase’ of trying to be like other people.
I came across this quote that says, ‘A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.’ Likewise do not trouble your mind with what other people are doing in their lives. Live your life. Each person needs to decide one’s own way of life. You do not need to prove anything or seek approval from anyone to find your value. Be at ease with yourself. It will help you to be at ease with other people.
Rakesh Nair (Yogi Rakesh) is a life mentor and teacher of Vedic philosophy and yoga. A lifelong practitioner since childhood, he studied and trained for many years in the authentic Vedic tradition, primarily in the lineage of Advaita teachers. He holds a Masters degree in Sanskrit studies. He also has a degree in Computer Science majoring in Software Engineering. He founded yogirakesh.com to help bridge the knowledge in ancient scriptures to modern life.