I hate to admit I’m jealous. But the physical feeling is unmistakable. There is clenching in the belly and jaw, a fight-or-flight response in the limbs. A stab of pain in the heart. The ancient Greeks thought that an overproduction of bile, which turned the skin a pale, putrid green, caused such emotions as jealousy. Green is the color of jealousy still—and of poison. This is what jealousy does: it poisons our hearts and minds, often toward those closest to us.
We know anger is painful because it forcefully separates us from threats, whatever the cost. We know that desire is haunting because we so desperately need someone or something. But jealousy is more complicated; it puts us in a quandary. When we’re jealous, say the Buddhist teachings from Asanga’sAbhidharmasamuccaya, these contradictory emotions of hatred and desire seize the mind, creating a kind of twisted logic about everything. We desperately want what we don’t have, while hating the one who has it. This twist creates cascades of reverberation that tear through us mentally and physically.
Shakespeare understood jealousy, as we can see from his masterpiece Othello. The rebuffed Iago plots revenge on Othello by sowing seeds of jealousy and mistrust toward Othello’s wife, Desdemona. Even as he hatches his scheme, Iago warns Othello about the devastating qualities of jealousy:
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
It is torturous to hate when desire is at the core of the emotion. Underneath this twist of emotions lurks the mocking quality of jealousy. It is truly the “green-ey’d monster,” mocking us while feasting on our very flesh. When we are jealous of our lover or spouse, we create a wedge that makes it impossible to express love to them. When we are jealous of a colleague or friend, we alienate that person from our affections. As a result, jealousy can easily appear to be antipathy—we snap or lash out at the object of our jealousy—which separates us further from how we desired things to be in the first place. This makes jealousy particularly insidious and particularly difficult to contain.
When jealousy gets out of control, it drives us to do the most vengeful things. Actions triggered by jealousy can be disastrously damaging to our relationships, to our dignity, and to our sanity (just think of Othello). Jealous rages fuel murders and suicides, property damage, all sorts of criminal activities. Gripped in the jaws of the green-ey’d monster, we feel crazy. Our minds are barred from the rationality that might anticipate the negative consequences of our actions. Ignoring any accountability, we are caught in aggressive acts in an attempt to gain what we desire, plots and schemes that are clearly at cross-purposes, doomed to failure.
This article is available to subscribers only. Subscribe now for immediate access to the magazine plus video teachings, films, e-books, and more.Subscribe Now
Already a subscriber? Log in.