Yogi Assignment: Mudita, Joy
Do you ever look at someone else’s success and think, why not me? I do. All the time. Maybe you’ve even looked at me and felt something similar. People often describe me as successful and having accomplished a lot. But I see myself as a kind of perpetual underdog who often gets glossed over for the kinds of opportunities and under-target for the milestones I’ve set for myself.
Here’s an example—I love writing and treat it very much like a craft. Yet, despite having written four books, I haven’t been able to find the right combination to make it to exclusive NYT best-seller list. Meanwhile, lots of other “influencers” list NYT best-selling author by their names. When I happen upon that title in someone’s bio I often think, “Why not me? What do I have to do make that happen?”. At that moment I can either lapse into the all too familiar doldrums of self-pity or I can let the moment teach me. Sometimes I lapse into self-pity (don’t we all) but more often than not I find a way to learn from the experience.
I’m not here to offer you ten steps to be the best author, yoga teacher or anything. Actually I believe all these “best of” lists foster a competitive mindset that can be harmful to everyone’s sense of self-worth. And yet, sometimes those “best of” lists are really helpful. I often consult a “best vegan food” blog in any city I visit to find out where to taste some yummy treats. I check the list of Pulitzer Prize winners each year as a guide to new books to read. So, there is an element of usefulness in these ubiquitous “best of” lists—knowing which are the top rated cafes or yoga studios or books can save you from unnecessary suffering. But what do you do if you’re a struggling cafe (or yoga studio or hotel or author) when you see everyone else getting A+ five star ratings and no one even cares enough to rate you or, even worse, you get negative reviews?
I’ve been there, scrolling through the endless glowing comments left about your peers standing in stark contrast to the critical comments about left you. Magazine profiles and TV invitations being sent out for everyone but you. While it’s not ever advised to play the comparison game and life is not a competition, sometimes you just can’t help it. In fact, it’s totally human. Comparison and healthy competition has the potential to motivate you to do better and be better. But comparison and unhealthy competition breeds bitterness, judgement and a dog-eat-dog mentality. So what to do?
You could decide to drop out of the game entirely, quit any effortful striving and opt-out to a remote beach or mountaintop somewhere and forage off the land. You could swallow a bitter pill and keep going but never heal the hard-heartedness that develops from all those wounds. Or, you could try something different entirely and delve into yogi wisdom.
This week’s Yogi Assignment is Mudita, Joy. Patañjali advises yogis to cultivate an attitude of joy (mudita) for the successful (punya). The Sanskrit word “punya” also means virtuous or blessed. According to ancient yogic wisdom, the way out of jealousy isn’t to rip the thing you want out of someone’s hands, it’s to practice being joyful right here and now. The idea that your joy is dependent on worldly success or being the “top dog”
Is limited and false. Your joy is independent of external circumstances and flows easily when you remove obstacles like jealousy and animosity. Try this—next time you see a peer accomplishing something you desperately want for yourself, pause and congratulate them. The act of being joyful for someone else’s success is mudita. Celebrate them by sending a message or leaving a supportive comment. Try it today. Write a grateful email to or leave a positive comment about someone who brings up your jealousy.
Next, ask an important question. What can I learn from this situation? What are they doing right that I can let teach me about how to do what I do better? If you feel comfortable you could even ask for advice from the person who has accomplished that what you dream of doing. You might find that successful people are often happy to share their secrets with a sincere listener. Or, if you’d rather not ask the person directly or if they don’t respond, ask yourself and your close friends, business associates or colleagues for feedback. Be willing to let it all in. If you get triggered, don’t run away. In fact, the stuff that triggers you is often the very thing that you need to hear most. Work on being receptive and undefended when people take the time to answer your questions or offer you pointers.
Framing your experience in terms of learning changes the paradigm of your thinking. When you’re jealous and feeling self-pity a “lack” mindset it at play. There is an idea that their success is actually your success but it was taken from you. Tied intimately in to this premise is the notion of scarcity. If you think there is only a limited set amount of success out there, then you’ll end up feeling cheated whenever anyone else is lifted up. But if you reframe the interaction as a learning experience you’ll see that there is an unlimited amount of success to go around and that, if you are a fast learner, you may even be able to piggyback on the momentum set in play by the person you’re most jealous of.
Lastly, put these ideas into action because love and light without actually taking any steps to effect change is as hollow and vapid as smoke rising from subway tracks. Mimickry is a form flattery. Give credit where credit is due but have no shame in implanting a proven technique that you didn’t invent. There is also something that feels so good about doing something. It doesn’t have to be monumental, but the simple function of taking action helps you regain faith in yourself and your dreams.
In the great pantheon if self-help books designed to break down the paths to be the “best” I feel like we need a whole new system. Instead of everyone clamoring to reach the top of the podium I feel like we could benefit from a real discussion about how to be happy wherever you are. If all you want is to win and you’ll do it all costs, then perhaps it’s time to question where the need to comes from. So many people conflate achievement with happiness and worthiness. But that’s a flawed way of thinking that casts the limitless resources of joy, happiness and spiritual worthiness as a limited resource guarded by a select few. Joy and happiness are your spiritual birthright. They are yours for the taking, but you have to speak up and claim your inheritance. And, if you haven’t figured it out yet by now, you are worthy. Not because you did this or that, or went to this school or that, or because you look like this or that, or because you have money or not. You’re worthy just because you, as a Divinely-created being in the spirit, have joy and happiness built into the circuitry of your being. Love, my dear, is who you are and what you’re made of, and no one can ever take that away from you.