“Think of comparing yourself to other people like a zit, Barbara — the more you poke and prod at it, the worse it becomes.” I sit sullenly in the passenger seat of my partner’s forest green Subaru, wishing that instead of heading back to campus to my Land of Comparisons, I could be getting lost in a forest instead.
In my Land of Comparisons, I let my mind play tricks on me. Like the optical illusion of checkered squares, I insist that the squares are different colors, relative to each other — when in reality, they are the same, musty gray.
We are all generally the same shade, but find vast differences in creating relationships between two things. It’s simply how our mind works to make sense of the world and create borders and groupings. “She is more clever and entertaining at parties. He gets more sexual experience. They are better at getting results at school.” X > Y. Y > Z. Either, we are worse than someone or better than someone. There is no in between, and we are left with a win-lose situation where we can gain “ego points.” Even while helping someone in need, we can be “better” than the one we are helping — and in turn, shielding ourselves from asking for help in the future for fear of being worse than another.
However, let’s turn toward self-compassion, and it’s connection to comparison. I make mistakes. I regret them. I wish I had done things differently. But why is it so much easier for me to give compassion to others than to myself?
As Pema Chödrön writes, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.” Instead of seeing compassion as the “light square” helping the “dark square,” we must realize that this is an illusion. We are all gray squares.
And inside of ourselves, we are not a mixture of “good” and “bad.” Our strengths can be weaknesses; our weaknesses strengths. Recognize that your “light” strengths do not have to help your “dark” weaknesses. Recognize that the more that you step into your suffering, your glory, and your humanity, the more you can give compassion to yourself and others around you.
The next time you find yourself making comparisons, remember: it is all an optical illusion. We are all grey squares.