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The Rhythm of Constant Comparison

Many of us have probably heard of comparative suffering. In short, it’s the idea that we compare our suffering to others’ suffering to help us better make sense of our own pain, and ultimately we find that we often downplay our experiences. We may compare the extent to which we allow ourselves to suffer based on comparing our particular circumstances to others’ (we may deem that death of a loved one allows us to suffer more than totaling our car for example). I want to discuss, however, the suffering that comes from constant comparison. Rather than comparing our suffering, I’m investigating the nature of suffering from comparing, the kind that places causality in the opposite direction. It’s the act of comparing that causes the suffering to begin with.

When we place ourselves in positions to be compared side by side, apples to apples, to another person and their experiences, we’re asking ourselves to work extra hard at feeling secure in our own pursuits. When we begin to consider that “the other” has more, looks better, travels more, takes more risks, has more friends, makes more money, has a better relationship, is more skilled, we’re questioning the security of our own choices. Objectively, when there are more options to consider, it’s easier to fall victim to the overwhelming feeling of “which of these is the best option of all the available options?” (If you’ve ever walked into an American grocery store, you can probably relate to the feeling of too-many-options.) At the heart of this matter, when we butt up against the “too much” that occupies our modern daily lives, we’re challenged to tap back into our inner security that guides us in our choices unconditionally, regardless of others’ choices. 

Each time we encounter the “other” as an option to consider in this game of comparison and wonder if that might have given us more of what we wanted, we’re challenged to return to our security over and over and over again. So the practice then becomes two-fold: how do you do that and how do you actively avoid comparison traps as much as possible? Exactly. That’s what self-inquiry and inner resources work is all about. That’s the work of discovering your own center of gravity, the part of you that exists without condition. Learn how to access the part of you that has the ultimate say in the face of a rapidly expanding network of options.

One way to look at life is as a series of choices we make. Pause yourself when comparing to an external source as a way of deciding what comes next and redirect the inquiry inwards. Ask yourself what helps you discern which choice to make next and get clearer and clearer about how to read your inner compass. Learn it. Practice it. Refine it. Devote yourself to it and avoid the unnecessary suffering that comes from comparison.

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