When Akiba was on his deathbed, he bemoaned to his rabbi that he felt he was a failure. His rabbi moved closer and asked why, and Akiba confessed that he had not lived a life like Moses. The poor man began to cry, admitting that he feared God's judgment. At this, his rabbi leaned into his ear and whispered gently, “God will not judge Akiba for not being Moses. God will judge Akiba for not being Akiba.”
—FROM THE TALMUD
We are born with only one obligation—to be completely who we are. Yet how much of our time is spent comparing ourselves to others, dead and alive? This is encouraged as necessary in the pursuit of excellence. Yet a flower in its excellence does not yearn to be a fish, and a fish in its unmanaged elegance does not long to be a tiger. But we humans find ourselves always falling into the dream of another life. Or we secretly aspire to the fortune or fame of people we don't really know. When feeling badly about ourselves, we often try on other skins rather than understand and care for our own.
Yet when we compare ourselves to others, we see neither ourselves nor those we look up to. We only experience the tension of comparing, as if there is only one ounce of being to feed all our hungers. But the Universe reveals its abundance most clearly when we can be who we are. Mysteriously, every weed and ant and wounded rabbit, every living creature has its unique anatomy of being which, when given over to, is more than enough.
Being human, though, we are often troubled and blocked by insecurity, that windedness of heart that makes us feel unworthy. And when winded and troubled, we sometimes feel compelled to puff ourselves up. For in our pain, it seems to make sense that if we were larger, we would be further from our pain. If we were larger, we would be harder to miss. If we were larger, we'd have a better chance of being loved. Then, not surprisingly, others need to be made smaller so we can maintain our illusion of seeming bigger than our pain.
Of course, history is the humbling story of our misbegotten inflations, and truth is the corrective story of how we return to exactly who we are. And compassion, sweet compassion, is the never-ending story of how we embrace each other and forgive ourselves for not accepting our beautifully particular place in the fabric of all there is.
Fill a wide bowl with water. Then clear your mind in meditation and look closely at your reflection.
While looking at your reflection, allow yourself to feel the tension of one comparison you carry. Feel the pain of measuring yourself against another.
Close your eyes and let this feeling through.
Now, once again, look closely at your reflection in the bowl, and try to see yourself in comparison to no one.