Monday, February 26, 2007

"Make No Comparisons" - Brugh Joy's Spiritual Lesson #1

Since my post of Feb. 20, I've been thinking about how I couldn't stop comparing myself to others, knowing that other people on chemo have a hard time, or an even harder time than I am. It brought to mind some spiritual lessons I keep learning over and over again. I know it's human to compare our experience to others, but it's not always that helpful.

When I was taking workshops with W. Brugh Joy, I read his book Joy's Way: A Map for the Transformational Journey. An Introduction to the Potentials for Healing with Body Energies. In the third chapter of the book, Brugh describes a cosmic experience of a woman who came to talk with him about her challenges in life. A few months earlier, she had been walking along a beach, saw an iridescent light, and heard a booming voice deliver three injunctions. She thought she was going mad. The voice said, slowly and repetitively, "'There are three injunctions for you. Pay attention to them. Make no comparisons; make no comparisons. Make no judgments; make no judgments. Delete your need to understand; delete your need to understand.'" (p. 59)

Today I want to share some of my thoughts about the first injunction: Make no comparisons. Like many spiritual lessons, I feel that I have been learning and relearning this lesson for decades. My comparing myself to others on chemotherapy is an example. I feel that the reality is that my task, my spiritual work right now, is to be present to my experience and to see what it has to teach me. I can empathize with the experience of others, but making comparisons is not useful (human, but not useful).

In his book, Brugh makes a few useful points about this injunction. He says "The tendency to live in ideas about reality isolates the mind from the true reality of the physical level . . . self is - the self is true, without question - but ideas about self may be true or false, . . . If the individual insists on holding on to ideas rather than harmonizing with what is, pain must follow." In these words, I hear him saying that believing things about ourselves, in comparison to others, isolates us from the truth about our self. I hope I'm not making this too ponderous, because it's a lesson that has really served me.

For some of us, perhaps many of us, this comparison comes in looking at our physical attributes and judging them as wanting in comparison to friends, family, societal ideals, etc. Brugh gives an example of this for himself in his book by talking about his dissatisfaction with his physical appearance for years. I was doing this in a small way when I felt overdressed for the weather on Feb. 20, and didn't like what I saw was the way others were seeing me. For much of my life, I have judged my physical body by cultural standards and found it wanting. Now that the calendar year says I will turn 60 if I live until my June birthday, I can get caught less in that, but it's still there. Last fall, I saw an old friend whom I hadn't seen in perhaps 20 years, and a mutual friend commented back to me that she thought I looked old. Well, we are the same age, but I have let my hair turn gray. I haven't completely accepted my aging body, but I do recognize that making comparisons with younger bodies accomplishes nothing. Aging is something we baby boomers don't always do gracefully, I fear.

On a spiritual level, making comparisons can mean seeing others as more spiritually evolved than we are, and feeling hopeless to achieve what someone else has achieved. For me, with my gallbladder cancer diagnosis, there is this desire not to be facing the challenges I have. I want to live a longer life, I want to see my kids grow up, I even want a less serious cancer if I have to have cancer. But none of that wishing changes the reality. Can I give up those comparisons to the life I wish I had to, to the life others have, to allow myself to benefit from the life I do have?

Toward the end of the section on this injunction, Brugh adds "It is especially important that one not interpret the injunction against making comparisons as an exhortation to live in a state of complacency, where everything that the outer mind sees is rationalized as being perfect or right, without need for change. Complacency is the way of the ignorant." I've never thought of this spiritual lesson as encouragement to accept everything the way it is, without question or concern, but I can see how it could be read that way.

Make no comparisons. Be true to oneself, and be willing to look under the rocks of consciousness to see what is hidden from awareness. Under those rocks lie the possibility of transformation, of true change that allows us to fully unfold into the person, the spiritual person, we were meant to be, we were created to be.

On another day, I'll add Brugh's thoughts - and my own - about the other two injunctions.

Today is a pretty good day for me in Chemo World, as I grade some papers, make up a midterm, and try to stay off my feet with their "hot spots." Three and a half days remaining in this cycle of chemo . . .


  1. Anonymous9:33 PM

    hey, cool - i get to be the first comment !!! not that i have anything particularly profound to say, but i was very touched by this post- i love that you remain spiritually alive, excited and challenged in the midst of side effects, hot spots, etc. I LOVE that about you !!!!
    i find when i can stay in the minute and question less, i have more peace and more connection to spirit in whatever form that takes-
    comparisons are kind of like questioning instead of simply BEING, i think-
    and i just Love you girl !!!!!!
    love, alice
    ps- i saw three BIG hawks today!!!!
    got to pay attention, i guess-
    i'll let you know if anything BIG comes my way from the divine-

  2. Anonymous11:02 PM

    Wow..but it has taken me over fifty years to get to the point of not listening to the "jury" inside my head, judging and comparing and condemning things I do,or don't do, or say or don't say or the way I look or can't look anymore...or could never look!! It still happens occaisionally but I am getting better at telling "them all" (voices) to stop!
    I read this great book called "A Soprano On Her Head" (I think that's what it was called...gosh, but the memory is not cooperating with me anymore!) and it addressed that inner "jury" of voices from our childhood...from our life-experiences or whatnot that constantly stand in our way to move beyond what we are afraid of and in the way of learning to succeed in spite of ourselves!
    ( ha! )
    I just auditioned tonight for a solo in the chorus with which I sing. I always manage to get to callbacks and then....listen to my inner voices and listen to the other voices and compare myself...and fail before I even open my mouth.
    I think this time, however.....I may just sing because I LOVE to...and not because I want to prove anything...or win something.
    Maybe learning to love the life and the being you are
    ....with it's limitations and it's weakness and dissapointments.. might be the hardest lesson of all.

    I, too am
    grey-haired...although....I prefer to think of it as....SILVER! (grin)

    A couple of years ago I walked into a beauty salon of an old childhood friend . We hadn't laid eyes on eachother in probably forty years. I went in with a bouquet of flowers to thank her for being so kind and supportive to my mom when she was undergoing her chemo for breast cancer and was losing her hair. The first thing she did was GASP! and say..."CORINNE!! ...Look at all your grey hair!!"....I just smiled and told the demons to shut up and said .."YES! I just love it, don't you??"...heehee...I really don't think she agreed...but you know what? didn't matter.
    I love watching the changes in the seasons of my life. Why be stuck in forever summer? Look at all you would be missing! And think of all the energy that you would waste trying to compete with those who are still so far behind us. We have the wisdom of life's experiences and somehow I think that takes a lot of the struggle out of life and allows us to relax into it and see where we indeed fit into this world. Pretty cool that we find these things out before it's too late, huh?
    I'm not complacent...Rather,I'm working with what I have to make a difference and trying to improve my ability...mentally and physically to reach out and make a difference for those I touch.
    Ok...that's my story and I'm stickin' to it!!
    Your long-winded friend,
    ps...I think you are beautiful...inside and out, Lynne!

  3. Anonymous6:45 AM

    I completely agree with Cori's statement that you are "beautiful inside and out". Don't you find that the "jury's" opinion begins to matter less and less as you pass the half-century mark? A friend's mother once told me (when I was far too young to appreciate her meaning), that she LOVED turning 50, for from then on, people began listening to her as if she possessed some kind of WISDOM! I won't say that that has been my experience, but I will say that I can appreciate the fact that aging does, by its nature, bestow wisdom, and I can smile indulgently at my hairdresser when he suggests for the umpteenth time that I "really ought to at least put some highlights in". :-)
    Keep on keepin' on, Lynne!
    Mary McCarthy