Jealousy exposes the limits of our love. Combining elements of egoism, greed, sex, instinct and fear, jealousy forms a potent and poisonous cocktail that drains our energy, enslaves our inner world, harms our relationship, causes suspicion and mistrust, and is sometimes based on a misinterpretation. Egoism’s grasping and possessive attitude projects itself onto our mate, endeavoring to turn this other human being into “my” property, not to be shared. Powerful instincts jump into the fray by seeking to protect our prospects for transmitting genes. Furthermore, we fear our mate’s infidelity could lead to the loss of the relationship, the abyss of loneliness, and the destruction of trust, loyalty, commitment, and our own self-worth. Given that suspicion reinterprets events and almost inevitably finds or creates hints that justify it, jealousy, like the rapid onset disease that it is, overtakes our heart and mind all too quickly, sometimes even burning out of control with disastrous consequences.
Yet jealousy directed at our “loved” one bears the seed of its own destruction, for jealousy kills love. Indeed, jealousy is a negative love in which we become completely identified with our own needs, desires, and demands. In the grip of jealousy, we entirely forget that the true nature of love is to give and not to demand, to consider the loved one before ourselves, to be united with our loved one, and to share in our loved one’s joy, even when that joy involves a third person. This last, unconditional joy in the loved one’s joy is a true and hard measure of love. We can readily envision or even experience such love for a child, but in the context of two lovers it is rare. Yet we can hold in our imagination this potential of unconditional joy in our loved one’s joy, and consider it as a sign of the perfection of love. Jealousy, by contrast then, shows us how far we have to go.
To work with jealousy we need, as always with the destructive emotions, to recognize it for what it is, as it occurs. Then we see its various manifestations in body, heart, and thought. This presents us with the opportunity to not identify with it, to not believe the thought “I am jealous,” but rather just to see it as a process in our body-heart-mind. We can make efforts to turn the energy pouring into jealousy toward more constructive channels, by taking the impulse of jealousy as a reminder to change our focus in that moment toward work at sensation and presence. We can also perform reality checks to see if the events that sparked the jealousy are truly grounds for alarm, or are they simply exuberant friendliness, for example.
And, finally, what if the reality checks turn out as we feared and our “loved” one actually is moving toward another. Do we fall into depression and anger, desperation and shock? Perhaps we try to remedy any problems in our relationship. And what if that fails? This unwelcome event presents a difficult opportunity. We may open to the inner sacrifice of our self-interest, letting go of the jealousy and seeking our heart of unconditional love. Perhaps you think this is only for the saint, but what is the goal of the spiritual path if not to become that? The relationship may die and we will mourn it. But in the process, our being can grow.