image by DoGoLaCa
I had an amazing dream the other night. I was walking through a fancy Safeway store, in the produce aisle. There were giant bins of vegetables – eggplants the size of your head, zucchinis galore. When I woke up, I had that feeling you get after incredible flying or sex dreams: wow, that was wonderful. But, how terrible, it’s not real.
I envy people with ready access to grocery stores. Where you can buy whatever you want whenever you want. I haven’t had that in over a year.
Envy is one of those emotions which gets a bad rap. You’re not supposed to be envious of others; you should be happy with your lot in life. And, certainly, I have no cause to complain about my life. I’m usually on the receiving end of envy, especially lately. As I write this, I”m at anchor in the unique and beautiful Galápagos islands, watching penguins, seals and blue-footed boobies hang around my boat. I know a lot people who wish they were here, and I can’t blame them.
The thing I’ve realized about envy is that it’s useful. Being envious of someone shows you what you want. I want hot and cold running fresh vegetables. Some people want a better job or an iPad or a supermodel’s body. Those things are all typical desires. The trouble is when we focus on these little envies instead of our real goals.
The key to envy is that you can use it to figure out the difference between what you’d have if you could have or do anything and what you really, truly want. In my experience, figuring out what you really, really want is one of the hardest things in life to do.
If I really wanted the Safeway store more than anything, I could have it. Sell my boat and move back to Victoria, where there were several fabulous grocery stores, plus a bunch of great weekend markets. It wouldn’t be all that hard to do, if I truly wanted it. But, of course, I don’t want grocery stores more than anything. I’m perfectly happy to give up easy shopping for my life on the sea. I have other envies where the decisions are less clear, but thinking about what I’d have to do to make them happen throws into sharp focus what I really want and what I don’t.
To go sailing I’ve had to give up on other desires, at least temporarily. My writing career has had to take a certain shape, and I’m not able to focus on it the same way I would be able to if I were a landlubber. And I’m often envious of my writer friends who are able to promote their work more than me, who are going to cons and working on a gazillion projects. But, like with the grocery stores, I know exactly what I would have to do to fulfil that desire. And so the choice becomes easy, and the envy doesn’t consume me, it helps me.