By William Pennell Rock
From the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring 1983, 70-84.
Copyright ©1983 by the Association for Humanistic Psychology. Reprinted by permission of the author at www.PlanetWaves.net
Summary. Relationships — and jealousy in particular — provide an opportunity to come to a fundamental understanding of the self. Jealousy is the eruption of attachment. It can be transcended only through awareness. As we move with awareness into the core of this phenomenon, we pass through ungrounded expectations and beliefs, projections and delusions, envy, guilt, the loss of self-esteem, and the threat to security. The core is an existential problem; it has to do with illusion and the essentially fearful nature of the ego. In possessiveness, ego defends itself against nothingness. When we come to know and accept the nothingness at the core, jealousy and the pain of obsessive attachment cease.
Imagine this: You’re very much in love with someone, and you have to go out of town. You know your lover’s habits; you know he or she likes to go to bed fairly early, and that he or she gets up and goes to work in the morning. So you go away on your trip. You’re gone for about a week, and then one evening you call, and there’s no answer. Awful pictures rush into your mind. With great forces of will you stop them. The next morning, you call at eleven in the morning. His or her roommate answers the phone and says, “Gee, I’m sorry, She’s not up yet, She’s sleeping late.” Oh god. Something is fishy. Something’s going on. You don’t know what it is, but your stomach is starting to churn. You’re jealous.
What do you do when you’re jealous? In a fever, you may try to find out if your lover has been with someone else. If he or she has, you go into a rage, a frenzy of blame.
It’s an immediate response. You are angry. You feel violated. You want revenge. You want to stop what is happening, control the situation, manipulate whatever is necessary to protect yourself.
If you can cool down, if you can get hold of the internal automatic reactions that accompany jealousy, you might find out that you can indeed fix the situation. Often, what comes up as jealousy can be eradicated by simple communication. “I need to have more time with you.” “When we go to a party, I don’t want you to be with anybody else.” “I need to have sex outside the relationship.” When we leave these needs unspoken, they lie in wait until a situation exposes them. It is essential to get very clear and explicit with your partner about your needs and expectations.
Such solutions of diplomacy are important, but they remain superficial. A deeper opportunity is missed. Things are happening in this odious passion that present the possibility of entering new levels of self-understanding, to see who you are and what is the source of suffering.
The first step is to clarify what you are about in the relationship. If you and your lover want to evolve into more awareness; if somehow, somewhere, the glimmer of enlightened consciousness attracts you and you want to move in that direction, then you can make an important choice. What you choose is not just to increase your pleasure together, not even necessarily to protect the relationship or to secure it in some way, but to use the relationship as a means of coming to a deeper and more fundamental understanding of what is so.
RELATIONSHIP FOR TRUTH
If the relationship is seen as a means to knowledge, the paradigm shifts: The discipline is to learn to live uncompromisingly in your truth and to love the other without qualification. No easy task, but there is no higher., What you are loving together is truth: Everything real has to be shared; everything else has to be dismantled.
Here is a simple test to see where you are in this matter of relating. Write down all the things you have not shared with your partner. Contemplate this list, and there you will see the limits you place on the relationship, the degree of your commitment to the way of the lover.
LOVE AND ATTACHMENT
Loving someone is glorifying who they are in their uniqueness. Consider a flower. You see a flower that is really beautiful to you. You want to glorify that flower in its own natural setting, or else you want to pick it and possess it. Those are two entirely different ways of being. Love creates a thankful glorification of the flower. You love the other you want to see the other thrive, enjoy, and grow. You want to see them become more of who they are, nor matter what that entails. That’s the truth of love. It is unconditional.
Attachment is quite different. You want to pick the flower, sever it from its roots, and make it yours. You want to appropriate the beloved, make him or her be what you want them to be, conform to what is convenient for you in the relationship. Attachment is not care for the other; it’s care for oneself. This distinction has to be understood: Are you loving, or are you attached?
If you are attached, you are going to experience the pain of jealousy. It follows that jealousy becomes the opportunity to see within yourself the truth of attachment. Not theoretical understanding, but existential awareness of attachment at its very roots. Only through this awareness can jealousy be really transcended.
PENETRATING TO THE CORE
Manipulation of the other is external. Moving inward, we use the situation that created the jealousy as the occasion for clarifying communication and for negotiation. To do so is constructive for the relationship, but still peripheral, still not touching upon the real opportunity presented by jealousy. Moving further inward towards the core, we come to the personal level: yourself and your own reactions. This is the real field for dealing with jealousy: not trying to blame or fix your partner, but seeing who you are.
Really, jealousy is like an onion — so overwhelming, so pungent, so difficult to be near. It cannot be ignored. It makes you cry. Yet the onion is an important food. In blaming and controlling, you are refusing to see that there is an onion. You are trying to avoid. In trying to see who you are, you take the onion in hand. You take a radical, internal view of what happened to you in jealousy. Now you peel off layer after layer of the onion until you reach its center. There at the core is the possibility of freedom.
The fact of the matter is, you are not actually in a loving relationship if you think that you possess the other, because the essence of the other is basically free. Whatever peripheral control you may exert, you cannot touch that inner freedom that a human being is. Whatever peripheral control you may exert, you cannot touch that inner freedom that a human being is. You may control your lover so that he or she appears to love you, but you cannot make a person love you.
Moving inward, look at the situation rationally or realistically. We each have our own sexuality, and we each have to take care of it as we can. Only some people can fit their sexuality into one relationship. So to have the belief that your lover should be able to so conform may already be erroneous. You are not responsible for the sexuality of the other. You can not take control of their sexuality. You do not own it. It is their own. And what they do about it is in a real sense their own affair.
This insight has probably helped me in my own dealings with jealousy more than any other. Somehow I had the idea that my sexuality and her sexuality were tied up as one. That is a beautiful experience. In fact, the relationship may go through a long period where there is a pure union of two sexualities. But to say that that is how it must be forever and oblige the other to behave in accordance with that belief will not work.
Erroneous beliefs inevitably contribute to the pain of jealousy. Take stock of your beliefs, and drop the ones that aren’t functional. That’s the first skin of the onion.
We must learn to peel away the skins of illusion, and get to the core. Really, what I’m talking about is awareness. The discussions of projection, envy, and guilt are pointers, but you have to bring to your own internal situation of jealousy your awareness. Ask these questions and investigate the reality of your feelings. In order to transcend a negative feeling, you must move deeper and deeper into your own authentic experience of it. Not what you read in a novel or saw in a movie. Not what someone has said you should feel. What you are actually feeling.
Becoming aware of the actual feeling and the true source often alleviates the feelings. You may experience what you describe as jealousy, but when you really examine the feelings, what is really there is anger that you were being left out of something that was fun — envy. There’s your partner taking a trip with someone else. You would like to go on that trip, and you’re being left out. Those are not really feelings of jealousy. They are simply feelings of sadness or anger at being excluded from something that’s happening, something that you feel you belong to in some ways.
The outer layers of the onion of jealousy really aren’t jealousy at all. They’re reactions belonging to other complexes. If you can see them, and separate them out from what you’re really feeling, you can sometimes relieve the pain without ever coming to jealousy. What was really going on was moral indignation, envy, guilt or fear, or some other kind of feelings.
Up to this point in peeling the onion, the primary emotions are sadness or anger. Both are created out of expectation. You are angry with your lover, you are sad because he or she has violated your expectations. But you are responsible, because you have created and are holding those expectations. Desire, according to the Buddha, is the source of suffering. A tension is created in your consciousness between whatsoever is and what you would have it be. That tension is the basis of all suffering.
Once the anger and sadness resulting from our fractured expectations are peeled away, once blame is removed from the other and anger disappears, once we see the superficial feelings around ourselves that aren’t really at the core of jealousy, we come to fear.
FEAR AND ANXIETY
The first anxiety comes from the loss of self-esteem. All kinds of self-doubt come up. You don’t have enough money. Something’s wrong with your body. You start projecting your own inadequacies on the other’s actions. If your self-esteem is low, a jealous episode is going to be used as an occasion for proving that you are unlovable.
Examine the ideas that you have. You’ll notice that they belong to all the old mechanisms by which you put yourself down. In other words, you were putting yourself down for these things long before the beloved came along to give you an excuse for doing so. Now you’re just using him or her as a pretext.
So here’s something else that you can do about jealousy: Start being aware that you are putting yourself down and that the inclination to do so is there independently of the jealousy-producing situation. Own your own tendency to put yourself down. Learn to deal with it yourself, and don’t lay it on your lover.
Deeper than fear that comes from a loss of self-esteem is fear for the nest. One of two lovers is usually more concerned about the security of the relationship. Often it is the woman. Usually the function of the female in nature has been to keep the nest. It’s almost as though nature gave her that fear out of protection of its own. The woman fears for her home, fears that the source of biological or family security is threatened. A man can also be possessed by security obsession. As women have become freer and more assertive men experience jealous insecurity more often. This is a deeper level of this onion of jealousy.
You carry within you for the rest of your life memories of these early childhood traumas. Later, as soon as your lover goes for someone else, all that early trauma is triggered. Now if you move into a deep awareness, you can actually experience those childhood traumas, you can see that what you’re experiencing in this present situation actually comes form a deep residual memory of abandonment.
All of these levels of the onion have to do with illusion, not with realities. They’re from the past, from childhood, or they’re illusions about the present, beliefs that are illusory, that don’t relate to here/now reality. This is a very significant aspect of these anxieties that come with jealousy. If you have jealous feeling, and you start looking at them, suddenly you begin to see that they’re not real. You are torturing yourself with unreal fears. What does this mean? What does it come from?
THE CORE ILLUSION
At the core is fear of a deeper kind. In its first aspect, it looks like fear of aloneness. This fear, too, comes from a childhood situation, from memories of when your parents left you alone. There you were, freaked out in your crib, crying, and nobody heard you.
This core fear has also the aspect of fear of death. Again, something is going to be taken away — your own being! That’s how vulnerable you are. There’s something about jealousy, that gut feeling, that is like the fear of death. It’s that immediate, it’s that real.
Something that’s very like fear of death, interestingly enough, is fear of love. When we love, we move so much into the other that we lose ourselves. We use the expression “falling in love” because it’s like falling into a great abyss. You lose your identity, your sense of autonomy. And that is exactly what happens when you fall in love. You lose your autonomous sense of who you are.
The fears of aloneness, of death, of love, all have the aspect of fear of abysmal nothingness — the fear that there isn’t anything. Death suggests this to us. When we die, we don’t know what’s beyond. The only thing we know is that it’s not like here. So as far as we’re concerned, it’s just oblivion. Nothingness is there in our consciousness all the time. Jealousy brings us immediately to this fear of oblivion.
All these fears — of death, love, aloneness, and nothingness — all are like the core of the onion. In fact, they all point to this core. The core itself is existential. It has to do with your existence. Thus jealousy is not fundamentally a problem of relationship, not a problem of love, but a problem of religion. Jealousy is basically, fundamentally, a spiritual problem.
What I mean by “religion” here is not belief or morality. I mean religion in the fundamental sense of how you relate to your own existence — your feelings, your senses, your inner aloneness all of those realities that you experience but can never really communicate. Every human being relates to his or her own existence. Existence is God. In that relationship you’re totally alone. In that you have no company. That is what it is to be a human — relating alone and reflectively to your own existence.
The truth of your religion has little to do with going to a church or temple, but with how you relate to that which you can’t articulate, which is within you, and true. The way you relate to this existence is the basis of religion, and this religious matter is the core of the onion. Jealousy in its core exposes how you, as a human being, relate to your existence.
In the East, they call it the ego. We use the word “ego” in the West in the sense of self-esteem; or in psychoanalysis, it is your capacity to cope with reality. When I talk about ego, I’m talking about something more fundamental. It is that which identifies, that which feeds on self-esteem, that which is the composition of all your expectations, that which perpetuates itself by possessing. In short, ego is that which can become jealous.
Ego and jealousy are both illusory. In your experiences of jealousy, you come to an insight that it is not real. You were jealous, and then all of a sudden you’re not jealous any more, and you look back to when you were, and you feel that it wasn’t real at all. It disappeared because it had no basis. That’s what I mean about ego. Ego is that which we experience which is not real. Jealousy is also not real. Becoming aware is the joy you feel when you actually experience that unreality.
Let us consider envy again. Like all the skins of the onion, envy stands on ego. See how illusion works in envy. First of all, how do you know if you can be envious of another person? You see only outer circumstances and objects. You don’t really know if the other is really happy with what they’re experiencing. When you look at the other, what you perceive is your own projections. Don’t even suppose that you can see another person’s reality sufficiently to compare with yours in the first place. There’s no way — until we reach utter, silent awareness within — that we can go into another and truly know their reality. But the illusion goes deeper.
In envy you are comparing the I — which is your ego — with the ego presented by someone else. Your comparison is based on an illusion that you are an entity and the other another entity, and you can compare the two, Only ego is “comparable.” Only if you see yourself as an ego can you compare yourself in the first place.
Your comparison is based on illusion. The “you” object that you’re comparing with some objectified person out there is really a subject — internal, hidden, uniquely, incomparably yourself. All your subjective reality is being objectified and then judgement compared with an object out there that you perceive to be a certain way.
With envy, possessiveness, jealousy, ego itself, we are not dealing in moral or ethical issues. It is irrelevant whether these or any acts they come from are wrong or right. It is a matter of reality or illusion, of authenticity, of phoniness. When I talk about peeling away the layers of the onion, what I am asking you do is become aware. Through awareness only can we drop this illusion. And that which has illusions, that which can be jealous, is ego.
The feeling of abysmal jealousy is an eruption, a deep catharsis of ego. That’s why jealousy is the great opportunity to stare ego right in the face. But it is difficult. It requires ruthless awareness, because ego is usually concealing itself. With deadly subtlety it masquerades as comparison, as blame, as the fault of the other, as problems that you have. It’s hard even to have any grasp of it, because its hold on you is so subtle, so magical. It’s always casting a spell over you. In fact, you believe that you are ego. That’s why it’s so hard to see. Thus, when jealousy presents the source of suffering itself directly before you, there is great possibility.
What creates ego in the first place? Existence takes care of me as a child in a womb. It keeps “breathing” me. Then why do I develop this illusory me that — in the name of protection — keeps me in pain, keeps me alienated, isolated, separated from others, and unable to trust in existence? Why am I unable to trust that I’m taken care of by the whole, by all that is? All of us live in fear, and that which lives in fear is the same as that which is jealous: the ego.
THE ABYSSTo understand the ego, we must return to the core of jealousy. We “fear” the same in love, death, and aloneness. It is existence, or God, pure being. But because it is not a thing (only ego sees things), it has been called in the East, “nothingness” and “emptiness.”
Let me give you an experience that might give you some sense of this nothingness. When you’re waking up in the morning you are in a twilight. You’re just coming out of sleep, before your thoughts begin to form, some ground is there. Like a tremendous empty vessel, it’s there prior to your thoughts. Things bubble up in it and become realities. They congeal, take on an identity, and form the ego that you think you are.
The words “vessel of emptiness” or “nothingness” sound as though they are describing something that is devoid of content. They don’t have that meaning. They mean that for existence there are no things that are real. In other words, existence presents us with an undifferentiated flow of experience welling up out of a void, an abyss of the unknown. Only with our minds do we pick out things, interpret them, and say that they are real. Our minds say that things out there really exist in the meaning context and values we assign to them. What we actually experience is a moving kaleidoscope of uninterpreted fullness. And this moving, ever-changing phenomenon over which we have very little control, really, is a nothingness. It is a fullness in which there is no thing. So when you get right down to the basic religious question raised by jealousy, you have to question whether or not you really even exist.
In his great work Being and Nothingness, Sartre said that we as human beings so dread this ground of consciousness, this nothingness, that we have to create ourselves to be something. We are nothing. We are undifferentiated out of the great emptiness. We have no content. But this is so frightening, so abysmal, that we create ourselves to be something namely, an ego. Being and nothingness is ego and existence, jealousy and the abyss. We are something fearful created out of nothing. Since somewhere we always know the something to be unreal, nothing is always present to us threateningly. My sense of my death is that it is always presented because nothingness is always there. Death is an accession to nothingness, a return to the source. So here we are, and basically what we come form is emptiness or nothingness. This is our basic angst.
A friend of mine experienced a lot of pain in her relationships. She was very compulsive, and possessive. She asked her teacher, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, about her pain, and he told her this: The ego, which arises out of the nothingness that we basically are, can have a negative or a positive response to the nothingness. The something that we are knows deep down that we’re standing on nothingness. All of you know, deep down, that before the whole, you aren’t anything. The negative response is subliminal terror. Against this fear of nothingness, you create the illusion that you are something. You back this project by preoccupation with realities, accumulating and possessing. That something illusory that you are is the one that suffers in jealousy. The entire structure is a negative or fearful response to nothingness.
But Bhagwan told my friend that this something-ego can also relate positively to nothingness. Only then can we move out of attachment into prayerful gratitude and heartfelt celebration of the other’s being. Only then are we capable of real love. Only by saying a deep yes to nothingness, existence, the whole, do we come to be at home in nothingness. Eventually the positive response enables us to drop the something in favor of nothingness.
You are just a bubble. You were nothing before; you are nothing now. An enlightened bubble is not concerned with its bubbleness. It just is. It doesn’t appear anything special, yet it feels all, sees all just as it is. That’s why it is said to be enlightened. This is a positive, pure response to our given existential situation.
Thus ego in its fear protects itself from truth. This is the core of the onion. It is this core that you’re really dealing with in jealousy. Many illusions are there, many external circumstances distract you from this core, but this is what jealousy is.
Given what is so, you have to turn yourself around completely and fall in love with nothingness. This turning brings with it the greatest religious insight: Nothingness is there to be relaxed into and loved. This is what they call in religion, surrender. You surrender to the nothingness and when you do so, it begins to give forth what you need. You have no control. There is no you that can control.
The you that controls is exercising the illusion of the ego. We are all in it — all of us running around filling our lives with possessing, controlling, and manipulating. We are not really in control. Our manipulations are only superficial, but the ego would have us believe that we must be in control or else there is chaos. If you have much insight into how things around you really are, you will come to see this control for what it is. It is like a molecule thinking it controls the universe.
The whole organism of existence is moving in its own way, and we are just nothing. Nothingness is the organism that is the whole. You are not separate from that organism, and the sense that you are separate from it is the basic illusion of ego. It prevents the richness that the whole gives forth when we let go to it.
You can become possessive about God as you can about a lover. If you become possessive in religion, you lay a trip on God. He will be Rama, he will be Jesus, he will be dialectical materialism, he will be the state, he will be your God. “My religion is the only true one.” “The God I believe in is the one and only.” Anyone who is very rigid in his or her beliefs is manifesting the same principles as that which creates jealousy. In other words, the possessive person and the fanatic are involved in the same game. They build up the same kinds of resistance to the same primordial fear. So, if you are in negative response to nothingness, you’ll become preoccupied with material possessions, you’ll become obsessed with controlling a lover, or else you’ll become very religious and rigid about your beliefs.
When you possess you become possessed. You live in a deep vulnerability based in illusion. The stomach-churning pain of jealousy comes from that vulnerability. That’s what you’re experiencing. The jealous moment is essential catharsii of this existential complex.
TO THE CORE
If you have this negative response to nothingness, the very base upon which you are standing is false. That false base is ego, the seat of jealousy. The possessed person, or the God or principle that you believe in, is only a projection of that ego. It is not real. You are relating to an illusion, a projection that you created to keep yourself from experiencing fear. Your eyes are closed. You can’t really see the beloved.
And this is what happens to us. This is why we don’t communicate in love. Because the lover is a false idol. Whether it’s the person or whether it is a God, somehow it’s false. Our eyes are closed to the reality, and what we’re relating to all the time is our own illusion.
This is the basic mechanism that creates jealousy in the first place. What you really want from a lover, what you really want from God, is bliss. If you possess them, if you lay your trip on them, if you’re relating to your own projection, you’re stopping yourself
from experiencing this bliss. If you can’t know joy through the lover, or through God because of the illusion that you’ve created, you can’t really experience the bliss of love. You have to see this basic mechanism that is happening in your relationship to existence and know that as a jealous person you are making a choice.
Love cannot be channeled to one object. If you have one love object and channel all of your love there, what you are experiencing is attachment. Similarly, if you are jealous, you are not experiencing love, you are experiencing attachment. If you really love, then you’ll experience an overflowing, you will experience love for all. It’s a natural consequence of loving. It is not a natural consequence of attachment. In attachment, you’re channeling all of your love in one direction. In love you’re experiencing something in one direction that frees you in all directions. It’s as if you threw a stone into a pond. Where the stone hits the water, radiations ripple outward. When you really love, it may be directed toward one object, but it radiates into love for all of existence. That is why love is said to be divine.
So this is the possibility that you have as a jealous person. When you work on jealousy, forget the lover and deal with your own relationship to existence. Go deep inside yourself, slowly peel away the outer layers of the onion until you come to the core that is your own relationship to existence. Then you will free yourself to love more.
My own love relationships have been guided by my teacher. In the last five years he has shaped all the significant factors in the development of my love life, because he wants me to reach beyond the neurotic needs of relationship. There was a time when I experienced a lot of pain in loving, a lot of jealousy. I felt that I was always living in fear of loss. I felt like I couldn’t hold on, and I was in constant pain because of it. So I went to my teacher and asked what to do. His answer cut through to the core. “Simply love more,” he said. “To cut right through fear of loss which is infantile in its source, right to the core of the basic relationship what you have to existence, go into more loving.” In other words, if you love someone, go deep into your own unique experience of what that love is, and just let that be who you are. Surrender to it. Build your identity upon it. You are not a person who is jealous. Not someone who’s trying to control. Not even someone who’s fearing. You are love experiencing itself deeper and deeper within its own fullness.
“Your love is a boat,” Bhagwan said. “Just go on, enter loving more, tending, penetrating — and the boat, of its own volition, will carry you to the other shore.”