In the theme of unbinding the heart, I have found that one of the most self-binding and defeating, hazardous habits that many of us have is the tendency to compare ourselves to others. These comparisons work on many levels: comparing our physical appearance, material possessions, personal life, romantic relationships, career and many other variations. I look at these comparisons as part of a Negative Ego, an internal measuring stick we use to judge and undermine ourselves with imagined shortcomings. These comparisons stand between us and our authentic selves. They distract us from being fully present and from engaging in life in a meaningful way. When we listen to this internal critic, we never feel we have or are enough.
I would like to share some strategies that can help build the muscle of confidence to defeat these patterns. Recognizing this familiar habit pushes us to ask an important question: Where does this internal critic come from, and more importantly, how can we overcome it? The first step is to gain self-awareness, to create some distance between our internal critics and ourselves. Only then can we objectively look at it, and decide to take our power back. Tell it to go for a long swim in the Aegean! Otherwise, if we give in to self-judgment, we feed it and give it energy, and it consumes all of our energy and vitality like a black hole. The way to overcome this Negative Ego is with true presence, finding ourselves in the moment rather than being constantly distracted by self-criticism and comparisons. When we embrace the uniqueness of who we truly are, perfectly imperfect, flaws and all, then there is no room for comparison. It's all about celebrating the wonder of our own "-iness." When I am fully in my "Agapiness," joys spills out of me, and nothing else matters.
This process of embracing our true presence takes daily practice. Don't get frustrated! Realize that such self-judgment is an illusion, an irrational belief. After looking at the perfect, airbrushed images of celebrities and models that are almost unavoidable these days, it is easy to turn on ourselves, to become a hollow desiring machine: I want a better body, a better home, more money, a better job, to be more outgoing and charismatic. This desiring never ends. Instead, if we tap into the real gifts of the self, and appreciate ourselves for who we are we discover a profound calmness that arises from being ok with who we are just as we are. If we can focus ourselves on becoming the best we can be, rather than trying to be better than others, we will have no reason to compare.
As we filter out that critical voice and become more present, we gradually build the muscle of confidence. And there's no better way to gain confidence than by doing, by pursuing and developing our personal strengths. When my sister and I were young, one of the greatest gifts my mother gave us was to never compare us to each other. Instead, she reinforced our individual gifts, nurturing what we were best at, and developing our innate abilities. What my mother clearly understood was that the real question isn't how gifted a person is, but how a person is gifted. One of the most damaging things parents can do to their children is to critically compare them, establishing and engraining a negative pattern of comparisons that will potentially harm their children's self-esteem throughout their lives.
When we shift our attention away from ourselves, focusing on making superficial comparisons to others, we abandon ourselves and deny our joy and enthusiasm. Catch yourself when you find yourself slipping away! Pull yourself back to you. As we create and cultivate our inner environment to make it a safe and nurturing haven, it is easier to be with ourselves. Let's make our inner environment so wonderful and warm that we want to hang out with ourselves. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, let's value others for the inspiration and knowledge they have to offer.
When I started my career as an actress, I saw how ingrained comparisons are within the profession. It was impossible not to ask, "Why did she get the part and not me," or "What does she have that I don't have?" This pattern was quite a challenge for me to overcome. It took a lot of awareness and self-coaching to keep from turning against myself. I decided to take matters into my own hands, and produced my own one-woman show called "Conversations with the Goddesses," and gave myself the leading role! I found my true passion and self-expression.
It was interesting that after that, I was offered a small role of the French housekeeper in the play "Surviving Picasso." Having just played the leading lady in my own show, I was hesitant at first, until I remembered what the late James Ivory told me. He said that there are no small parts, only small actors, and that our presence in the role is what makes the role important. Even though I was playing a smaller role, I felt like I was playing the leading role. That is when my perception changed about what it meant to be the "leading lady." It does not matter what we do, but how we do it. The same holds true for our lives. My mother used to tell me a person could do the dishes and feel enlightened, if they did so with enough presence and devotion. I love the monologue In Shakespeare's As You Like It, where Jacques famously observes, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." By letting go of comparisons, we can all step into the leading role of our own life. After all, in the higher cosmic play, who are we to say whose part is bigger than the other?
Share with us how you overcome comparisons and how you bring yourself present. Tell us what qualities in you shine the brightest when you are fully expressing who you are, when you are in your own unique "-iness." My "Agapiness", for example, is when I'm fully expressing my joy, vivaciousness, wisdom and presence. What's your's?